Rhett Lashlee had dreams of becoming a star quarterback like his boyhood idol — San Francisco 49ers great Joe Montana. That didn’t pan out but real life has been pretty good.
On Tuesday, Lashlee was honored in Little Rock at the Broyles Award banquet as one of the top college football assistant coaches. In a few weeks the Springdale native leads Auburn’s offense in the BCS National Championship Game. The rise has been rapid. In 2009 Lashlee wasn’t even coaching football, he was running VYPE High School Sports magazine in Northwest Arkansas. A few years later the 30-year-old former Shiloh Christian High School star quarterback has played a vital role in turning a dreadful Tigers team into contenders.
“I just got an opportunity and have a lot of people to thank,” the Auburn offensive coordinator says. “I have to thank coach [Gus] Malzahn for giving me the opportunity, obviously, and even Gene Chizik [former Auburn coach] and Houston Nutt [former Arkansas coach] gave me opportunities to work on their staffs. There’s a lot of great coaches that can do some great things, but it is who gets the opportunities. I feel very blessed and fortunate to be at a place like Auburn where football is very important. It matters — the fans are passionate. You can play and win a c
hampionship. I feel like I’m living a dream and am blessed. I’m just trying to take advantage of it.”
Not only has Lashlee’s coaching career flourished in the past five years, but his wife, Lauren, gave birth to twin boys — Hudson and Thomas — during the 2010 season in which Lashlee served as a graduate assistant during the Tigers’ National Championship run.
Some monumental events have
happened during that time. Some events that some wait years for and some never achieve. Lashlee is thankful and humble.
“God chooses to bless everybody in different ways for different reasons,” Lashlee says. “You can’t explain it sometimes, but I am blessed. I have an amazing wife and awesome boys, who love football and their dad and mom. Right now, we are very blessed.”
With the way Lashlee’s fortunes have turned lately, he may have been a favorite to win the award, but Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi claimed the honor. However, Lashlee enjoyed the trip, the interaction with the coaches and Broyles, who he knew well growing up around Arkansas athletics, and seeing a large group of family who traveled from Northwest Arkansas.
In his second year as a coordinator under Malzahn, Lashlee has done a bulk of the game-planning with Malzahn’s innovative up-tempo offense. Malzahn lauded his former high school quarterback for the job he’s done taking a weak Tigers offense and making the unit No. 7 in total offense nationally. Lashlee has helped coach the offense as a student assistant at Springdale High School and as a graduate assistant at Arkansas and Auburn. He was the offensive coordinator for one season at Samford University.
Lashlee has a unique advantage orchestrating this offense. He not only knows how to coach it, he knows how to play in it since he ran the system for three years as a prep signal caller.
“Josh Floyd [head coach at Shiloh Christian] is the only other guy to play and coach in the system,” Lashlee says. “I think that gives me a great rapport with the guys. Not just the quarterbacks, but all of them — especially, the quarterbacks, though. I’m not asking them to do something I haven’t probably done. I don’t have the ability of [Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall], but i think that gives us a great relationship and some credibility. It’s like, ‘Hey, not only does he know the system, but you’ve done it.’ I think that always helps.”
Lashlee faces a tough task when Auburn hooks up with the Seminoles. The FSU defense ranks No. 3 in total defense, yielding just under 270 yards per game. Lashlee got a chance to meet Seminoles defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, who was also a Broyles Award finalist.
“Coach Pruitt and I stayed away from the X’s and O’s part,” Lashlee says. “He’s a fantastic coach. I knew him before this — his background is from Alabama. What he has done this year at Florida State was phenomenal. They have the most attacking, aggressive defense in the entire country. We have a great challenge ahead, and I am glad we have some extra time to prepare.”
Regardless of what happens in Pasadena, Lashlee’s future is bright. Expect him to be one of the Broyles Award finalists that becomes a successful college head coach. The way things are moving in his life, expect it sooner rather than later.