The game featured Oregon – the Tigers’ challenger two years ago – and Kansas State, but the pregame festivities featured an eagle flyover, mimicking Auburn’s beloved tradition.
It was just that kind of day for Auburn, whose fans had to feel like flying high with back-to-back big-time hires to restore its fallen football program.
The rebuilding project continues with former Auburn quarterback Dameyune Craig, hired Thursday night as co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach, and well-regarded NFL veteran Rich Bisaccia, named Thursday afternoon as assistant head coach, running backs coach and special teams coordinator.
Shortly after introducing his head coach Gus Malzahn one month ago Friday, athletic director Jay Jacobs swore he’d spare no expense compiling the finest staff possible. He wasn’t kidding.
The Tigers pried away Craig, 38, even though the second week of December, reports rose that he would be staying at Florida State, where he’d been quarterbacks coach and recruiting coordinator for three years.
But two days after the Seminoles’ 31-10 Orange Bowl victory over Northern Illinois, Craig changed his mind.
“This is a great opportunity for me and my family to come back home to Auburn,” Craig said. “I have a tremendous amount of confidence in Coach Malzahn and the staff he has assembled and I look forward to getting Auburn back to being a force in college football. Auburn speaks for itself and I’m excited to returning to a place that holds a special place in my heart.”
A four-year letterman from 1994-97, Craig still holds a couple of major Auburn passing records with 216 completions and 3,227 passing yards in a season, as well as a single-game record for most net yards gained with 445 vs. Army in 1996. Craig led Auburn to an 18-7 mark in 25 career starts and earned academic all-SEC honors as a senior in 1997.
But that’s not why Craig represents a plum pull. The Seminoles went 31-10 in three years with him on staff, while Craig coordinated the No. 1 and No. 2-rated recruiting classes the past two seasons, recognized by Scout and Rivals as the ACC Recruiter of the Year in 2012.
“We’re extremely excited to welcome Dameyune back to Auburn,” Malzahn said. “Dameyune is one of the top young coaches in college football and has established himself as one of the best recruiters in the country. He is very passionate about his alma mater and will be a valuable asset to the Auburn football program and the entire Auburn family.”
Craig reportedly made a $205,000 salary at Florida State. Auburn did not immediately disclose its financial terms with Craig.
The continuity trend continues, as Malzahn seeks assistants who have some familiarity with each other — even when they’re brought in from either coast or the professional ranks. Bisaccia joins the Tigers’ staff straight from the San Diego Chargers.
“This is a tremendous opportunity for me to return to the college game at a program like Auburn,” Bisaccia said. “I had previously worked with (Auburn co-defensive coordinators) Ellis Johnson and Charlie Harbison, so I knew the type of staff that Gus was putting together. I’m excited and ready to help Auburn return to a championship-caliber team.”
Bisaccia, 52, said he met Malzahn in the spring of 2010, months before Auburn’s then-offensive coordinator helped lead the Tigers to a national championship.
“I have an incredible amount of respect for Auburn and coach Malzahn,” Bisaccia said. “I have followed his cutting-edge offense and what he’s accomplished as a coach since he started coaching in college. He’s a man of character.”
Bisaccia is considered a special teams guru — this will be his 25th consecutive season coaching the kickers, punters, returners and coverage units at six different locations.
Those include both the college ranks — South Carolina (1989-93), Clemson (1994-98) and Ole Miss (1999-01) — as well as the pros. Bisaccia was with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2002-10 — earning a Super Bowl XXXVII ring his first season — and then with the San Diego Chargers in 2011-12.
The Chargers’ staff is being dismantled after a 7-9 season and the firing of general manager A.J. Smith and head coach Norv Turner. Two former Auburn greats Bisaccia helped coach are Tampa Bay running back Cadillac Williams and San Diego linebacker Takeo Spikes.
“Rich’s resume speaks for itself,” Malzahn said in a university statement. “He has been a part of some outstanding teams … he has coached several running backs and special teams players that were among the very best in the game at both the collegiate and professional level.”
Auburn’s release was clear to mention Rodney Garner, already named recruiting coordinator and defensive line coach, will have the title of associate head coach, which technically is a step above Bisaccia’s assistant head coach label.
Auburn has one coaching opening left, presumably for tight ends.