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February 16, 2009

Curtis Luper speaks …

And the media listens intently in Part III of our fireside chats with Auburn’s assistant coaches.

We did Trooper Taylor and Ted Roof last week. Today was running backs coach and recruiting coordinator Curtis Luper, who was cool enough to pull off wearing orange sunglasses indoors during the interview.

Here’s the rundown of what he said:

  • Why did he come to Auburn? Two words: Gene. Chizik. That’s 80 percent of the reason I’m here. The other 20 percent is just that Auburn is Auburn.Coach Chizik was my mentor. I tell everybody that he called me back for the last 15 years every time I called him. Even the ’04 season and the ’05 season when he was undefeated, irrespective of how busy he was, he would give me a call. He was instrumental and me getting every job that I got since we left. I guess we left Stephen F. Austin after the 1997 season. Every job since I got from there, since then he called and recommended me. As he progressed in his career, his calls carried a little more oomph behind them. We always stayed in touch.I knew that is was inevitable that I would be able to come back and work with him at some time. I never knew when and where, obviously. So when this job came open and he got it, I was waiting on the call needless to say.
  • On the new staff’s recruiting reputation and how that’s beneficial: “I think the most important thing is we have people we can bounce ideas off.
  • Luper thinks Auburn is behind in its 2010 recruiting, just for the fact that it was busy trying to put together a solid 2009 class before concentrating on next year. They tentatively have outlined recruiting areas.
  • Auburn Junior Day is March 7. “It’s very important because there will be some that come on Junior Day that that will be their only exposure to Auburn,” Luper said. “We have to make sure we roll out the orange carpet.”
  • On the difficulties of recruiting that first year: “A lot of times it’s not a perfect science that first year and ultimately you end up with getting the best players that you can get. We don’t want to salvage a class. That’s an overused expression. ‘I always want to salvage a class.’ We wanted to have an impact class and we think and we think we did that, especially in certain areas for sure.”
  • Luper, a former Oklahoma State coach like Taylor, watched Gus Malzahn‘s offense operate just 60 miles away at Tulsa. He was impressed. “His system calls for a lot of versatility. Guys are multiple, move them around. Really, guys that can catch the ball, guys that can throw the ball, guys that can play quarterback. The most multiple players give him the opportunity to really move them around and keep defenses off balance.”
  • Luper liked the toughness of Auburn’s returning backs, Ben Tate, Mario Fannin and Eric Smith: “They’re tough, physical runners which is what you need in this conference. The defenses, here, dominate this conference. Very seldom does one guy carry the load in this conference. I guess maybe Knowshon Moreno last year is one that I can think of. He alone had 250 carries and 1,400 yards or whatever he had.So we’re going to use multiple backs, but those two in particular are tough, downhill runners, deceptive speed. You’ll see them this spring. They’ll be better than they were last year.”
  • Of the incoming backs, Luper liked Onterio McCalebb‘s speed, Dontae Aycock‘s versatility and ability to make a defender miss and Brandon Jacobs‘ size and strength (in fact, he compared him to former Auburn and current New York Giants running back Brandon Jacobs). He also said Demond Washington will likely begin as a running back becuse he is “explosive.”
  • Does Luper have a five-year plan like Taylor? Not exactly. “For me, personally? I really only look for the next year. That’s not trying to be cliche-ish or anything. It may sound really simple, but my focus is squarely on this season. Actually, this spring. That’s it. My focus is on this spring and what we can do with our team. All the other stuff will handle itself.”
  • Luper said he never thought about the recruiting coordinator title he was given by Chizik, saying that all it means is Auburn needs “the No. 1 recruiting class in the country.”
  • This part was definitely interesting: Chizik has repeatedly said recruiting rankings don’t mean bubkus. Luper has a different opinion when asked if they are important? “Oh yeah. If they’re keeping the score, you want to win, right? I think they keep score on those things. Now, you can’t get caught, four-star, five-star, you still have to evaluate if he fits into your system. If he’s a three-star and you think he’s the best offensive tackle in the country, then you take him. A lot of people get caught up in, ‘He signed so many four-stars, or so many five-stars.’ You still have to do a thorough evaluation process.”
  • Here is the plan of attack in recruiting areas (remember, this is tentative):
  • The staff will split Alabama into seven areas — two down south, one in Montomgery, two up north, one in Birmingham and one that is Lee County/Columbus/LaGrange (I guess West Georgia will count as Alabama).
  • No decisions have been made about who will recruit what area.
  • Five coaches will recruit Georgia.
  • Four will recruit Florida.
  • Luper will take Texas, Oklahoma and out West.
  • Somebody else will have the East Coast.
  • Don’t expect Texas and Oklahoma to be pipeline states anytime soon. “There might be 10 athletes from that way that we’ll recruit a year. We have a definite connection there. … But we won’t recruit Texas like we did at Oklahoma State, where there were six of us in that state — nah. We’ll do Alabama.”
  • Seven in Alabama? That seems like a lot. But here’s his defense. “Well, you know I’m a military man, right? Did you know that? One of the basic elements of the military is that you protect your border. So we got to protect our border. We’re going to start right here in this state. There’ll be seven of us, and actually there’ll be eight, because Coach Chizik will be the eighth.”

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