AUBURN, Ala. – Gus Malzahn has about half the puzzle pieces he needs to complete his staff. He’s just not exactly sure where each piece will fit.
“We do have one left on the defensive side,” Malzahn said. “We are putting the pieces to the puzzle, one by one.”
With defensive line coach Rodney Garner’s arrival Friday, he joins defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson and defensive backs coach Charlie Harbison. Logically, a linebackers coach would be the final hire, though Johnson theoretically could manage that position to make way for a second D-line coach, or someone specifically for safeties or cornerbacks.
“When we hired Coach Johnson, I wanted him to have some ownership in the positions,” Malzahn said. “We have a little flexibility there. We are trying to find the right fit. We are trying to get that done in the near future.”
Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, who likely will guide the quarterbacks, and offensive line coach J.B. Grimes are also in place.
Malzahn did officially declare redshirt freshman offensive lineman Christian Westerman has been granted his transfer from the program. Over the past week, the Arizona native has told media outlets covering Arizona State he will enroll at the university in January, though Auburn had not commented up to this point.
“We did release Christian,” Malzahn said, “and we wish him nothing but the best.”
Junior defensive end Corey Lemonier has been dubbed a potential first-round selection in the 2013 NFL Draft by some pundits, if he decides to test the waters. Lemonier said in November his decision will be based upon personal performance – he recorded 5.5 sacks in 2012, but just half a sack for three yards in the final eight games.
“I had some conversations with Corey, and we will have some more,” Malzahn said. “We will figure out what is best for his future once we get all the factual information.”
Many verbally-committed players to Auburn have re-opened their options since Gene Chizik’s firing and since Malzahn was brought in. But some prospects have expressed their encouragement for Malzahn at the same time.
“There have been a lot of good conversations,” Malzahn said. “I was very familiar with the offensive recruits. The defensive recruits have been waiting on who their coaches are to try and develop those relationships. We are still in that relationship-building mode right now.”