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December 9, 2012

Eight key Auburn questions into ‘a new day': Rhett, Yox, Jay, Ellis, Kodi, Jay, Aubie and Bo

AUBURN, Ala. — Boy. That escalated quickly. I mean, that really got out of hand fast.

Don’t blink, or you’ll miss Gus Malzahn either acquiring a new assistant coach or dismissing somebody from the Gene Chizik’s dominion.

Totaling reported and official staff transactions, Malzahn has brought in four new staff members — three with previous Auburn ties, like himself — and cleaned house with 11 firings, including all nine of Chizik’s coordinators and position coaches. (UPDATE, as of late Saturday night: Make it five new assistants, with Charlie Harbison.)

Malzahn blessed his welcome home Tuesday by saying it’s a “new day” in Auburn football. Let’s take a look at some of the potential changes fans can look for heading into 2013.

What to do about this ballyhooed recruiting class?

Blue-chip linebacker Reuben Foster from Auburn High School is already gone from this class of 2013, opening up his recruitment.

A few jumped ship previously when Chizik was fired. Now that top recruiter Trooper Taylor is gone for good, others may follow Foster’s lead.

“It’s important that we get the right guys here. We’re not going to be caught up on stars,” Lashlee said. “But yes, that’s my first priority, and coach Malzahn’s and coach Johnson’s, is getting on the commitments now and other potential recruits.”

Shortly after Foster’s announcement, Carver-Montgomery quarterback Jeremy Johnson — a U.S. Army All-American who previously wavered on his verbal commitment during Chizik’s rocky road this season — shouted out on Twitter: “Tryin to make sure all of our defense commits stick wit Auburn cause I’m going to need them”.

Why get rid of Yox?

It sure stumped former tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen, who tiraded against Kevin Yoxall being let go after 14 years as Auburn’s head strength and conditioning coach.

“Yox deserves no blame … he’s a legend” Lutzenkirchen tweeted, among other passionate, edgier expressions. Lutzenkirchen wasn’t alone in his thoughts, with other former players sticking up for ‘Yox.’

Without knowing the intracacies of Auburn’s football infrastructure, it appeared on the surface the Tigers weren’t physically prepared for this 2012 season. They faltered time and time again in the fourth quarter, and injuries piled up late in the year.

If nothing else, maybe Malzahn just needed a change of voice. A Yoxall apprentice and former Auburn assistant, Ryan Russell, will reportedly be pulled from Arkansas State’s staff to head up strength and conditioning, though Auburn has not made an official announcement yet.

What might Jay Prosch’s role be in this new offense?

No longer will a traditional fullback be necessary. However, an H-back could be right up the bruising Prosch’s alley his senior year. He won’t win any 100-meter dashes, but the fan favorite proved he is a capable runner, blocker, and pass-catcher this year.

How is Ellis Johnson different from Brian VanGorder?

In some ways, they have commonplace philosophies in terms of only utilizing two linebackers, scheming an attacking defense to disrupt the quarterback, etc. But instead of a nickel cornerback, Johnson will employ a third safety in his primary 4-2-5 formation.

“It will be our foundation,” Johnson said. “You can only be as multiple as your talent allows you to be. As we evaluate personnel on this football team, we’ll find ways to create packages that complement that 4-2-5.”

How about Kodi Burns making a comeback?

Auburn’s leading passer in 2008 and a receiver on the Malzahn-led offenses in 2009-10, Burns tweeted he is coming home to the Plains in the role of offensive graduate assistant. Great fit for Burns, both as an experienced pupil in Malzahn’s system and a respected resource for the current quarterbacks.

Is athletic director Jay Jacobs’ job safe?

Yes. For now. He was the one immediately tasked with making this hire, and president Jay Gogue would be doing a disservice to Jacobs and the whole department if he didn’t see how this Malzahn hire plays out.

What about Aubie, Spirit and Nova?

Yes, the mascot and War Eagles expect to be back next year. Although Spirit really needs to work on its flight patterns (See: 2011 Mississippi State, 2012 Texas A&M.)

How many wins for Auburn football in Malzahn’s return?

Bo Jackson was adamant: don’t expect 9, 10, 11 wins next year.

“If they do that,” Jackson said, standing a cluster of reporters away from Malzahn at his introductory press conference, “even I will be shocked.”

Is it that far-fetched? With five home games on the docket in the first half of the year? With a run-of-the-mill non-conference schedule whose toughest foe just had its head coach return to Auburn? With Arkansas and Tennessee — two of the Tigers’ four roadies — facing similar struggles?

Yeah. It is. This will be a process. Auburn will take some lumps. The Tigers should win out in non-conference, and take care of at least one of the Mississippi schools at home.

But there’s not one single SEC game you can point to and say, it’s in the bag. Not LSU and Texas A&M on the road, and certainly not Georgia and Alabama at home.

The guess from my gut: Tigers scrape out a 6-6 season, but just 2-6 in the SEC.


  1. I’m predicting 7-5 reg. season like in 2009 – Malzahn’s first season as OC.

    Comment by Aubiester — December 9, 2012 @ 9:29 am

  2. How will Ellis Johnson differ from Brian VanGorder? Hopefully Johnson will actually go to work and coach the team he’s got. All VanGorder did was whine because his players weren’t as big, fast and old as he wanted them to be.

    Maybe Johnson’s defensive players will actually hustle and act like they want to play football instead of wandering around leaderless during games like VanGorder had his players doing.

    Comment by MikeP — December 9, 2012 @ 10:19 am

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