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December 26, 2012

These are SEC-seasoned defensive coaches

AUBURN, Ala. — Look, I wasn’t here covering Tigers football when Gene Chizik hired Tommy Thigpen to his original staff in 2009, or when Mike Pelton came home to Auburn in 2011, or when Brian VanGorder and Willie Martinez hopped on in a transition offseason of 2012.

I don’t know how long each of their replacements will be here.

But what I do know is Gus Malzahn clearly wants continuity on this coaching staff – Rhett Lashlee, Kodi Burns and Ryan Russell, anybody? Should Arkansas State’s caterer start househunting in Auburn? – and he clearly gave Ellis Johnson the rope to do the same.

The former defensive regime had six decades of coaching experience: two each for VanGorder and Martinez, who each bounced around in the NFL, mid-majors in Michigan and high school ball, and one each for Thigpen and Pelton.

The current defensive regime has ten decades of coaching experience: three for Johnson, two each for Charlie Harbison, Rodney Garner and Melvin Smith, all with extensive experience coaching here in this very Southeastern Conference.

The former defensive regime’s combined SEC coaching years going into 2012: 17.

The current defensive regime’s combined SEC coaching years going into 2013: 68.

Seventeen times four is sixty-eight.

Symmetrical, no?


The rundown of Auburn’s defensive staff for the 2013 football season

Coach              Hire date     Position                 Age     Coach years   SEC years

Ellis Johnson       Dec. 6      Def. Coord./LBs      61          31               16

Charlie Harbison  Dec. 9    Co-DC/safeties         53          21                11

Rodney Garner    Dec. 20  Asst. HC/D-Line       46           23                23

Melvin Smith       Tuesday   Cornerbacks           54           23              18

TOTAL                                                                        98                   68

Here’s another eerie nugget which might have a lot to do with Malzahn/Johnson’s hirings, or might not:

Mississippi State beat Auburn in but one football game from 2001-11. That’s one win and ten losses for the Bulldogs. The lone victory was in 2007: MSU 19, Auburn 14, at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

On staff for that Mississippi State team, under Sylvester Croom? Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, safeties coach Charlie Harbison, cornerbacks coach Melvin Smith and offensive line coach J.B. Grimes.

All four are now in orange and blue.

What’s next in the parade from Starkville to Auburn? Is the War Eagle flight going to be accompanied by cowbells?

(Don’t answer that.)


  1. Thanks for your detailed, up to date coverage of Auburn football. Keep up the good work. Happy New Year

    Comment by T. Downey — December 26, 2012 @ 10:56 am

  2. …..That 19-14 loss was more about panic on Tuberville’s staff than MSU coaching magnificence, to tell the truth. We had very shaky protection on the O-line with several new starters, including true freshman Lee Ziemba at left tackle.

    …..Brandon Cox threw a pick six early on, that seemed to rattle him. The ball was thrown right to tight end Cole Bennett, but bounced up in the air for the interception. Cox threw a second pick into triple coverage on the next series, and the coaches yanked him in favor of true freshman Kodi Burns, who had a package of maybe three plays.

    …..Trailing 13-0, Auburn ran the keeper up the middle, the rollout fake pass keeper, and the zone read to a 14-13 halftime lead. MSU adjusted at the half, and Auburn bullheadedly went three and out repeatedly. The Tiger defense wilted late, and allowed a drive on the ground for the winning points.

    …..Then, with time running out trailing 19-14, the coaches went back to Brandon Cox, who put together a drive that run out short of the goal line. Frankly, that loss looked like the offensive staff and the head coach were pulling in different directions. What was the most shocking thing about that season is that two weeks later, the team went to Gainesville and beat the defending national champs, the Tim-Tebow-led Florida Gators!

    Comment by Acid Reign — December 26, 2012 @ 12:00 pm

  3. I’ll echo T. Downey—Great work and please keep it up!

    Comment by MikeP — December 26, 2012 @ 12:16 pm

  4. Happy Hoilidays, Aaron!

    Comment by Rick Steinman — December 26, 2012 @ 2:17 pm

  5. Great work Aaron, have a Merry Christmas….

    Comment by Roger Rader — December 26, 2012 @ 2:54 pm

  6. Acid Reign: I gotta tell you: That’s one of the most accurate football posts I’ve ever seen and I’ve seen a lot. I don’t know if you reviewed a game film for this post or have perfect recall but either way I’m impressed. We need posters like you that can absolutely rule with the cold hard facts. Happy New Year dude.

    Comment by Terry Mac — December 26, 2012 @ 4:03 pm

  7. Aaron I enjoy your articles, keep up the good info and reporting! War Eagle

    Comment by Jimmy G — December 27, 2012 @ 1:23 am

  8. So were any of those coaches there for that 3-2 lack of offense struggle in 2008? I think it was more of a lack of offense and a good defense for Auburn than it was a lack of an offense for MSU.

    Comment by joesmoe — December 27, 2012 @ 8:34 am

  9. I will have to say this was a very good article and that acid reign knows his AU football history. I have been concerned with the fact that there are so many ties to the MSU staff under Croom. Let’s face it MSU has not been an SEC powerhouse. Which like acid points out they may have benefited more from TT’s staff making bad decisions than them making good ones. However I will say this, MSU has never been able to recruit the kind of players AU can, so I am anxious to see what they can do with the talent they can now get anf have available on the plains. Plus everyone knows Croom did it the right way and had well disciplined teams, something AU lacked last year. So as a true Blue Auburn man my hopes are high that this staff will turn things around

    Comment by DJ4AU — December 27, 2012 @ 9:55 am

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