How did you get the offer to return to Auburn to coach?

Carnell “Cadillac” Williams ’14: It was Jan. 23, 2019 at 12:30 p.m. I was standing in the middle of a football field in San Antonio, Texas and my phone vibrated. It was Gus Malzahn. I knew the running backs coaching position was open at Auburn and now the head coach was calling me, so as soon as practice ended, I called him back and we talked about the position. The next day he flew to Texas and we had dinner together, but he didn’t offer the job to me. Around 11:30 that night, he called – and I was on the first flight out the next morning.

Travis Williams ’05 (right): I didn’t get a call; I called Coach Malzahn myself. I heard there was an analyst position open, and I wanted it to get my foot in the door. So I sent in a resume, got the job and came back as a graduate assistant.

Jessica Braswell ’10: I was working for a national insurance company in Virginia when I got the call. I knew I didn’t want to be a horse trainer and even though I had been a graduate assistant at Auburn, I had never even considered coaching until Greg [Williams] called. I had only been working in the corporate world for six months, but when Greg gave me the chance to come back to Auburn as his assistant, I jumped at it.

Wes Flannigan: I had tried before and didn’t get the position, but I stayed in touch with Coach Pearl, sent him text messages, etc. When the position came open again, I let him know I was the right man for the job. He brought me on campus, but I still didn’t know if I was going to get the job. When Coach Pearl let me know he was offering the position to me, I accepted on the spot.

Gideon Louw:  I got back to Auburn through years of hard work, not only on pool deck but also in the classroom to achieve my master’s degree in exercise physiology. The collection of knowledge, experience and hard work helped me reach your dreams, and coaching at my alma mater is a dream come true.

What is the biggest difference between playing and coaching?

Gabe Gross ’12 (left):
The switch from player to coach has really been humbling and rewarding. I have learned how to teach the drills and concepts that I was taught. The hardest part for me is not being able to control what happens on the field. When you’re a player, you are in the middle of the game and you feel like you have the power to make things happen. As a coach, you can only watch. I can’t pitch or throw or catch or hit, I can only watch. It’s a little unnerving, but when things go right, it’s also very rewarding.

C. Williams: I struggled with not being able to control a situation. I can teach, and I can tell them things that worked for me when I was a player, but in the end, I can only stand on the sidelines and watch.

Wes Flannigan: The responsibility you feel to help young men play and represent AU.

Jessica Braswell: When I was a rider, I was only responsible for myself, but as a coach, I have to worry about all 40 of the girls. About what is best for the team dynamic as well was what is best for each individual rider.

Gideon Louw: As a coach, I now enjoy teaching student athletes how to swim at their fullest potential. Sometimes, its expressing what my experience was like as a student-athlete on the team, and how to avoid making the same mistakes I did that I now believe potentially hindered my performance at the time.

Travis Williams: Seeing players run routes and make plays that I made here at Auburn. I get so excited when they execute a play, especially when they run it better than I did when I was a player.

What are the advantages to coaching or recruiting for the school you played for?

Kodi Burns ’11: I’m not telling a kid or his parents what I think it’s like to play and be a student at Auburn, I’m telling them what I know it’s like because I was there. I faced a lot of challenges when I was at Auburn and I can speak to that, and how I was treated and how the fans reacted to me after my role changed. I can speak about it firsthand; I lived it. I’m ‘selling’ what I know and what I believe; it’s genuine. I always tell players that they will love Auburn, and that Auburn will love them back.

T. Williams: I can tell my story to a recruit. How (former) Coach Joe Whitt drove all the way to North Carolina to tell me Auburn didn’t have a scholarship, but he just couldn’t do it. That shows the kind of personal relationships the coaches develop with the players and their families. I am so grateful Coach Whitt believed in me.

Rodney Garner ’90: The players can see your genuine love for the university and see how much it really means to you. They believe what I’m telling them, because they know I lived it. As a former player and now a coach, I am a testimony of what this university has done for me and my family.

Gideon Louw ’11: When you recruit for your alma mater, the deeply embedded love for the town, community, university and team jumps out at people considering calling Auburn their home as a student-athlete. It makes it easier to express and describe what sets Auburn apart from other universities.

J. Braswell: When I came back, there were still riders on the team who, less than a year earlier, were my equals. So that was a different dynamic. But the players had already told Greg they wanted me to come back as his assistant, so the transition went very smoothly.

What is your most memorable time at Auburn as a player?

K. Burns: The 2010 Iron Bowl. Being down by 24 points at the half on the road in Tuscaloosa. Our chances of coming back to win were slim to none. At halftime, our seniors really stepped up. We came out in the second half with fight and toughness and came back to win that game.

C. Williams: The whole 2004 season. That was a special season, one of the best in Auburn history. It was the perfect model for “riding for the brand” (the 2019 team slogan). We were riding for Auburn and we had the most unselfish, close-knit team; we were genuinely in it for each other.

G. Gross (left): There are so many. Sweeping Alabama my junior year (2001) because we had to win all three games just to make it to the tournament. Winning the regional title my freshman year (1999), which still is the only time Auburn has won it at home; so many games, so many moments.

Wes Flanigan ’97: Beating Arkansas in 1995, Coach Cliff Ellis’s first year. They were the reigning national champions, and beating them was just so fun.

Will McCurdy ’12: There are actually two for me. My sophomore year, we won our first tournament under first-year Coach [Nick] Clinard. We were coming off a down year and we had a new coach, so winning that tournament was huge for us. Coach Clinard’s reaction and excitement made it even more memorable. The second was my senior year when we got through the regional tournament on an amazing comeback win. We were down five shots with six holes to go and came back to win. Auburn has made it to nationals every year since then.

Gideon Louw: The experience I had with my 2008-2009 teammates when we won numerous NCAA titles, set several NCAA and U.S. Open records and ultimately won the overall NCAA Championship team title that year.

Jessica Braswell: First national championship in 2006. I was just a freshman, but it was so exciting to experience that with my teammates.

What is your best memory as a coach at Auburn?

W. Flanigan: Definitely the Final Four this year. I have watched every game of the finals since I was a young boy, and it was just incredible to be there. That’s a memory that will be hard to beat.

K. Burns: Simple. The Kick Six.

R. Garner: The whole 2013 season was just so remarkable; the Miracle in Jordan-Hare followed by the Kick Six two weeks later. The main reason my wife [Kim Garner ’88] and I came back to Auburn was because we wanted to give back to the university that gave both of us so much; it was just incredible to be a part of that turnaround season. 

G. Louw: Watching our women’s team win the 400-meter freestyle relay by four seconds at the 2019 SEC Championships, setting a new SEC Championship meet record.

J. Braswell: Even though I had been a rider on the team that won the first national championship (2006), the first championship as a coach was really special. To bring these ladies in as freshmen and watch them grow up, learn to manage practice, school, meets, come together as a team and work hard to accomplish the ultimate goal is my favorite thing about coaching. Winning those championships as a part of it from this side is so rewarding and memorable.

Is coaching what you set out to do?

J. Braswell: Not at all; never even considered it. I loved being around the horses, but I didn’t want to be a trainer. It never occurred to me to be a coach. I got my MBA and got a job in the health field. And then, Coach (Greg Williams) called…

C. Williams: I never really thought about coaching, but after retiring, I found myself wanting to serve and to empower people and football was the place for me to do that. I loved the relationships I had with my coaches and wanted to develop those kinds of relationships with athletes playing the game today.

K. Burns: Yes and no. I always wanted to coach because my coaches had such an impact on my life growing up, but I also saw how much time it takes and how these coaches are never with their families, especially during the season, so I had reservations about it. But, God opened doors for me and I am so glad He did.

Who influenced you the most to become a coach? How was that decision influenced as a player?

Wes Flannigan: Definitely, my Dad. I had a lot of great coaches growing up in elementary school and middle school and I took a little something from every one of them, but my Dad was my high school coach and he influenced me the most in the most ways.

T. Williams: I had great coaches all my life. From peewee to middle school to high school, I was fortunate to have great influencers. Then at Auburn with Coach (Joe) Whitt, Coach Chizik and now Coach Malzahn; I have been blessed with the best and they have all influenced me and made me the man – and the coach – I am today.

Did you ever think you would coach at Auburn?

C. Williams: It was always in the back of mind, especially after I retired from playing in the NFL. The seed was planted a long time ago. This university had a huge impact on my life and knew I wanted to give back and pour into the lives of others what was poured into mine. I didn’t think it would happen this soon, but I am so happy it did.

K. Burns: “Yes. I set a goal to coach at Auburn by the time I was 30 and I did it at 27. Like, Cadillac, I wanted to give back to the school that has given so much to me.

What is your ultimate coaching dream?

W. Flannigan: I’m living it right now.

J. Braswell: I think I would like to be a head coach someday. I’m very happy doing what I’m doing now; have the best assistant coaching job in the country.