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February 9, 2013

Signing Day was a dog-eat-dog wild ride

Photo by Todd Van Emst

Photo by Todd Van Emst

AUBURN, Ala. — One of the southeast’s most experienced recruiting gurus will remember this particular football offseason — or, this “on-season,” if you follow recruiting closely — for a long, long time.

“There was a lot of crazy stuff this year,” said Chad Simmons, Fox Sports South and Scout.com national recruiting analyst. “This 2013 class, the numerous top uncommitted players, so many kids that decommitted, recommitted, opened up, so much chatter about kids flipping on signing day.”

The wild ride slowed to a crawl Wednesday, and as usual, the SEC dominates the team rankings as a few stragglers continue to make their final decisions in the aftermath of national signing day.

Recruiting, as it stands in the NCAA’s current landscape, is very much a dog-eat-dog world. The conflict was magnified for any school going through a sudden change of regime, notably Auburn for the past two months.

“With a coaching change, kids are a little more vulnerable, and coaches try to take advantage of that,” Simmons said. “At the same time, kids aren’t very shy about listening and taking other visits. Kids aren’t done with the process until they sign that letter of intent on signing day or enroll early.

“Especially in the south, it’s very cutthroat.”

Auburn has survived and thrived through the war of attrition. The Tigers managed to flip six players from commitments to other schools in the final few weeks, and only losing one themselves on signing day while recovering from other decommitments much earlier in the process.

“I’d really like to compliment our staff; they did a wonderful job on a short period of time,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said Wednesday. “We had a lot of obstacles as far as trying to develop relationships and a lot of different things. Any time you’re coming in this thing, and you’re four or five weeks in, and you don’t have the foundation of relationships, stuff can happen.

“But our coaching staff did a wonderful job developing those relationships in a short period of time. Pretty much went as planned today when we got up.”

It helped Malzahn having three years as Auburn’s offensive coordinator from 2009-11, so he knew what he was getting into going against the likes of Nick Saban, Les Miles and Mark Richt. Certainly, luring Rodney Garner from Georgia and Dameyune Craig from Florida State had a positive impact too.

“The fact that we didn’t have a full year to recruit against a lot of these guys that had a full year to recruit,” Malzahn said, “and to get the players signed like we did, I’m just very pleased and tickled to death with our staff.”

Now comes the long, hard journey of work to recover from a dreadful 3-9 season, and quickly. One man who knows what it’s like to live through a coaching change — from Tommy Tuberville to Gene Chizik — is a firm believer in his alma mater.

“I’m confident the program will get back to where it should be,” said Josh Bynes, a four-year linebacker from 2007-10 and newly-minted Super Bowl champion with the Baltimore Ravens. “I think this coaching staff they’re putting together, what coach Malzahn’s doing, it’s going to be amazing.”

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