‘Feel the excitement:’ Q&A with Gus Malzahn as UCF enters Big XII

Head football coach says moving to new conference has been game-changer

Central Florida head coach Gus Malzahn calls a play during the second half of the Gasparilla Bowl NCAA college football game against Florida Thursday, Dec. 23, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) (Chris O'Meara, Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

ORLANDO, Fla. – UCF football coach Gus Malzahn recently sat down with News 6 and discussed a number of topics ahead of the university’s move to the Big XII conference on July 1.

Q: What have you learned about UCF throughout this process?

Malzahn: First of all, it’s been really fun to get to this point. When I was hired, I knew there was a good chance we’d be in a Power Five conference in a short period of time, just didn’t know it was the Big XII. As July 1 is getting closer, you can feel the importance of the date, and from all the players and coaches and who helped us get to this point, and just the excitement of moving forward in a Power Five conference like the Big XII — it just feels really good right now.

Q: Has there been something or someone behind the scenes that you’d like to give a shout-out to for all the work that’s gotten you to this point?

Malzahn: I’d just say the players. The players and the coaches that have started out at Division II and went up and got us to this moment. Really appreciate everybody who has helped at this point, so it’s really exciting from that standpoint.

Q: Why is the Big XII such a good fit for UCF?

Malzahn: First of all, it’s one of the better conferences. Last year, one of the teams played for the national championship, so you can get there from this conference. It’s just really, from top to bottom, a very strong conference. So, it’s really good football.

Q: If you were talking to a fan of the Big XII right now, and they asked, ‘What are we getting in UCF?’ what would you tell them?

Malzahn: It’s a huge school with a young fan base. It’s very unique. This place has played great football before I got here, and this place is a gold mine, and I think the sky’s the limit, and I’m honored to be the head coach here.

Q: The landscape is kind of like musical chairs in terms of which conference is looking at which school. How important is it to have a seat at the table right now?

Malzahn: It’s very important. College football has changed the last two or three years, like you said, with everything from one-time transfers to NIL to conference realignment, and we’re one of those schools... we’re embracing the change, and I think that’s very important.

Q: Do you sense a change of demeanor within your guys?

Malzahn: You can feel the excitement. Obviously, we’ve been gearing up for this moment for a while as a program, trying to get a competitive roster going into the Big XII.

Q: How will you define success?

Malzahn: It’s about championships at this place. Every year we’re going to talk about winning championships. That’s our goal, that’s our dream. It’s going to be a challenge. We’re talking about some real programs, we got a real schedule, we got five conference away games. The new kid on the block’s always going to get the short end of the stick, we knew that. Then, the fact we’re going to Boise State, that’s six real road games that we’re going to have to play. So, we’re going to have play really good football. We’re going to have the ability to win close games, and that’s what we’re gearing up for.

Q: What do you think of the schedule, in general? Do you like how it lays out?

Malzahn: I’m just glad to be in the Big XII. The reality is we’ve got one of the more challenging schedules in, really, the country. I don’t know that there’s very many teams that play that many quality opponents on the road, so we’re going to have to play real good quality football.

Q: Every team talks about having a chip on its shoulder, but there really seems to be something to that here. How important is having that mentality as you go into this new challenge?

Malzahn: You’re exactly right. This school has a chip on their shoulder, there’s no doubt. I’m a former high school coach. Coached 15 years of high school football and then went to college. I had to have a chip on my shoulder, so I think it’s a real good combination, and I think that’s what makes this place special.

Q: What impact has going to the Big XII had on the recruiting trail?

Malzahn: It’s been a game-changer. We had a really good recruiting class last year but we’ve got a real chance to be in the top 20, possibly in the top 10, with the way things are lining up. This is such an attractive place anyway, and that opens the door -- being in a Power Five conference -- to the best players in the country. All you have to do is come on campus and just see it and feel it and get around our staff. If we get them on campus, we’ve got a chance.

Q: So much of roster-building is through the transfer portal. Going to the Big XII has to be a feather in the cap for that, too.

Malzahn: There’s no doubt. This place has been very successful, even before I got here, as far as transfers. And this is a great transfer destination, along with the high school guys, and that’s why sitting here today I can tell you that we’re going to have a very competitive roster going into the new league.

Q: What’s the response been from the alumni about this process and about jumping into the Big XII?

Malzahn: When we go out and have our ChargeOn tours, you can just feel it. You can feel the excitement that we’re really part of something special, that we’ll be able to look back and say, “This is when everything changed.” It just feels really special to be part of that.

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About the Author:

Ryan Welch joined the News 6 Team as a sports anchor and reporter in July 2017. After nearly 15 years in the industry, Ryan gladly brings his passion for sports to Central Florida.