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September 3, 2013

Auburn notes: Rhett Lashlee disappointed with offense, Ellis Johnson discusses Justin Garrett’s status

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala.Rhett Lashlee didn’t offer any false praise Monday night.

Auburn’s offensive coordinator said his unit has a long way to go. About the only positive he could take from Saturday’s season opener was that the Tigers came out on top of a 31-24 decision against Washington State.

Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said his unit isn't close to playing to the level the coaching staff expects this fall. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said his unit isn’t close to playing to the level the coaching staff expects this fall. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

Other than that, Lashlee said looking at the film was rough.

“I just felt like every time we had a chance to really put some distance between us and them (we didn’t do it), whether it be missing a deep ball or having a touchdown called back for a penalty,” he said. “We could have gone up 11 or 14, but we just sputtered and didn’t take advantage of those moments. That’s not good enough. We have to be in those positions in the future where we’re in a position to kind of separate ourselves. We have to press forward and get some distance between ourselves and the opponent.”

Yes, Lashlee conceded the offense “made enough plays” to seal the victory. Yes, some of the mistakes could be attributed to first-game jitters. That didn’t excuse a late turnover by Tre Mason, however, which gave Washington State one last chance to tie the game following Robenson Therezie’s interception in the end zone on the Cougars’ previous possession.

Those are the types of miscues, Lashlee said, that must be corrected soon.

“We’re not where we want to be yet. There’s no doubt about that,” he said. “We’re making strides.”

To get to where Lashlee and head coach Gus Malzahn want them to be, the Tigers will have to meet the coaching staff’s goal of running at least 80 offensive snaps per game. Saturday, Auburn had just 65. Multiple factors played a hand in that, Lashlee said.

Take the Tigers’ one-play drive in the second quarter, when running back Corey Grant dashed 75 yards for a touchdown. Or take another play earlier in the same period when the offense never had a chance to take a snap, since Mason returned a kickoff 100 yards for a score.

There was another area the Tigers controlled where they simply didn’t produce.

“We’ve got to stay on the field and convert third downs more,” said Lashlee, alluding to Auburn’s 4-for-13 showing. “If you don’t convert third downs, you’re not going to stay on the field and get more plays. If you don’t get those third downs converted, you’re (not) going to get your tempo going.”

Johnson talks about Garrett’s absence

Ellis Johnson was disappointed “Star” Justin Garrett wasn’t able to play Saturday.

But he was far from surprised the junior didn’t suit up.

“His foot has been just sort of a strange thing,” Auburn’s defensive coordinator said. “It’ll feel good one day and all of a sudden he’ll turn on it the wrong way and the strain on it comes back in.”

If it was necessary to play him, Johnson said Garrett would have been on the field. That being said, Johnson acknowledged it meant Garrett likely wouldn’t have been “full-speed” physically or mentally to play at the level expected of him.

That’s why the coaching staff was more than happy to give Garrett more time to heal.

Besides, they had the utmost faith in his backup, Therezie.

“We just felt like Robenson was playing really well,” Johnson said. “The only problem is he probably had to play too many snaps.  He was on every coverage team in special teams, and he played every defensive snap almost to about the end of the fourth quarter. We had to try to get him off the field, give him a blow. That was the only thing.”

As to when Garrett will return?

Johnson had didn’t announce a timetable, deeming the Georgia native’s status as “day-to-day.” Given how well Therezie played Saturday — hauling in two interceptions and tying for the second-most tackles (seven) on the team , which earned him the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Week award on Monday — Johnson was asked whether the two “Stars” could eventually see the field together in the team’s base 4-2-5 formation.

“We’re probably not at a point of figuring something out like that right now,” he said. “We’d just like to get (Garrett) healthy. It’s been frustrating. We talked about the player being one of our most dynamic players in the spring, and there’s no production on the game film, and it’s been going on for two years now. So we’d like to get him healthy, get him on the field and find out if he can play. We’ll have to cross that bridge when we get to it.”

Johnson: Frazier has ‘leveled off’ at safety

Quarterback-turned-safety Kiehl Frazier has earned nothing but high marks since switching to defense during fall camp. Coaches and teammates alike noted how quickly he had picked up the defensive’s schemes and concepts. He had even progressed to the point he was listed on the Tigers’ two-deep depth chart entering last Saturday’s game, pegged as the backup to Josh Holsey at boundary safety.

His growth has finally hit a wall, though, as Johnson said Frazier has “leveled off” in the last week.

“Right now, he’s not comfortable where to line up and what to do,” Johnson said. “It’s not  a physical issue. He’s shown in drills and a couple of scrimmages he can tackle when he gets in the right place, but right now it’s not coming too clearly for him. Hopefully, another week of practice that light will turn on and he’ll get better.”

Quick hits

Johnson wasn’t ready to say whether defensive end Dee Ford could be back for Auburn’s SEC opener, which will see them host Mississippi State on Sept. 15. “That’s a medical decision. We’re certainly not good enough to hold anybody that can be a great player on a given day,” he said. “But right now it’s all on rehabilitation and when they’re ready physically.”

August 26, 2013

Auburn football: Coordinators discuss positional rotations prior to depth chart release

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn has yet to release a depth chart heading into its season opener against Washington State on Saturday.

Until that time comes — it is expected to be released at some point Tuesday — which players will fill out the two-deep lineup remains a mystery. One of those positions is safety, where the dismissal of senior safety Demetruce McNeal left a gaping hole.

Senior cornerback Chris Davis (11) was one player Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson had no worries about heading into Saturday's season opener versus Washington State. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

Senior cornerback Chris Davis (11) was one player Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson had no worries about heading into Saturday’s season opener versus Washington State. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

Former cornerback Josh Holsey stepped in at the spot during the spring and stayed there for the duration of fall camp. With McNeal gone and barring any issues arising between now and the opener, Holsey will take the field as the team’s starting boundary safety.

As it stands, defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said he was comfortable with three safeties as Saturday nears.

“You’ve got Holsey, Ryan Smith and (Jermaine) Whitehead,” Johnson said. “So I think right now, it would have to be some kind of a three-man rotation. Unless one of them got hurt, and then Kiehl Frazier will be ready to go.”

It was the same story at the two linebacker positions, Johnson said, at ease with the trio of Jake Holland, Kris Frost and Anthony Swain.

“I think Jake could move to the Will (line)backer if he had to,” Johnson said of the likely starter at middle linebacker. “Swain’s had a pretty good week of practice. I think first I’d probably put Swain on the field if he played well and did OK. If not, I’d move Jake over there. Frost and Holland are (the) only players at Mike right now.”

Johnson reiterated that view when asked whether weakside linebacker Cassanova McKinzy would stay on the field in Auburn’s dime package and shift to the middle, where he played last season.

“Cass hasn’t worked any at that,” he said. “It’s just too much for him to learn right now. When we go to dime, whatever Mike linebacker is on the field stays out there. They’re not asked to do anything outside the box. There’s really nothing they physically can’t handle, but we’ll usually leave that mike linebacker on the field. It’s about the fewest number of guys going on and off the field.”

The three-man approach didn’t stop with linebackers and safeties, though. Johnson said it also extended to cornerback, where the Tigers are content with Chris Davis, Jonathon Mincy and Ryan White. Auburn is still trying to find a replacement for Jonathan Jones, who broke a bone in his ankle in an off-field accident near the end of fall camp. No timetable has been announced for his return.

The three players vying for time in Jones’ absence all lack experience, comprised of a redshirt freshman (T.J. Davis) and a pair of true freshmen (Kamryn Melton and Johnathan Ford).

Ford in particular has continued to impress Johnson since moving from running back to cornerback following Jones’ injury.

“Johnathan’s still learning. He’s not ready yet, but he physically is the most impressive of the bunch,” Johnson said. “You never know how much improvement they can make when we restrict the game plan and cut it down for them mentally. Sometimes that hesitation and confusion can lead to playing poorly fundamentally. If we clean that up, I think he is really going to be a good player there.”

Unlike the defense, the offense has few positions still undecided.

One is at right tackle, where Patrick Miller and Avery Young split reps throughout fall camp. Young, however, started to switch between tackle and guard as fall camp came to a close. Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee couldn’t find enough good things to say about the sophomore, who sat out spring practice while rehabbing from shoulder surgery.

Though the average person may not know finer points of what it takes to be an offensive lineman, Lashlee believed Young would be easy to spot even to the untrained eye.

Young’s talent stands on its own merit.

“He’s an athletic guy,” Lashlee said. “At guard he can really pull. At tackle he’s very athletic, really good in the run game. Shoot, he hasn’t done it yet, but he would probably be a really good center. He’s just a real versatile guy.”

August 23, 2013

Miss anything? Links to all recent Auburn content in one place

Auburn 31, ULM Louisiana-Monroe 28

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Some may remember a post on WarEagleExtra.com two weeks ago which linked to 19 different stories at one time.

Well, it’s the same deal here. There have been 22 additions to the blog since Monday (not including this post, of course), and with almost 48 hours remaining until we get to speak with any of Auburn’s players or coaches again — we’ll be speaking with coordinators, Ellis Johnson and Rhett Lashlee on Sunday evening, for those wondering — it would be a good time to get caught up on all the latest goings-on with the Tigers.

So don’t frustrate yourself by trying to scroll down to take in every piece of content that’s been produced in the last four days. That’s what this post is here for: to make it simpler for you, the reader, by having everything compiled in one place.

If you’re looking for a notebook, we’ve got it. A feature? That too. Videos? Yes sir. Whatever you want, you should be able to find below. (And as per usual, each item is sectioned accordingly.)

NEWS & NOTES

8/19 — Injuries to keep Dee Ford and Jonathan Jones out of season opener

8/20 — True freshman Johnathan Ford switching from running back to cornerback

8/20 — Former Tigers Demetruce McNeal and Ricky Parks find new schools

8/20 — Gus Malzahn looks back at first fall camp as Tigers coach, feels team covered ‘all of our situations’

8/21 — 2014 schedule has Tigers hosting Arkansas in opener, traveling to Georgia and Alabama

8/22 — Six Tigers selected to coaches’ All-SEC preseason teams

8/22 — Demetruce McNeal officially enrolled at West Alabama

8/22 — Kiehl Frazier ‘in the mix’ for playing time in season opener, Justin Garrett returns to practice

VIDEO INTERVIEWS, POST-PRACTICE

8/19 — Gus Malzahn: Head coach says Nick Marshall ‘was a lot more vocal’ in first practice as starting QB

8/19 — Nick Marshall feels ‘blessed’ to start at quarterback for Tigers

8/19 — Rhett Lashlee says Nick Marshall ‘taking it and running with’ quarterback responsibilities

8/20 — Ellis Johnson has seen improvement ‘with past four practices’ after spate of injuries disrupt cohesiveness

8/20 — Auburn offense finds ‘best rhythm that we’ve had since I’ve been back’ in final practice of fall camp

8/21 — Junior defensive tackles Angelo Blackson and Gabe Wright

8/23 — Gus Malzahn pleased to see Nick Marshall ‘just as disappointed as the coaches’ when he makes a mistake

PLAYER/POSITION PROFILES

8/19 — Jonathan Wallace ahead of Jeremy Johnson in fight for backup QB spot

8/22 — Cassanova McKinzy believes weakside linebacker spot will showcase ‘everything I can do’

8/23 — Tigers not lacking for options in the backfield

MISCELLANEOUS ANALYSIS & SUCH

8/21 — Five questions (and five predictions) as Tigers head into regular season

8/22 — Replay Thursday’s live chat

8/23 — 4 at 4: Links to help the day pass by

May 6, 2013

Garner still keeps up with old Georgia mates, but focused in on restoring Auburn football

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

COLUMBUS, Ga. – Rodney Garner’s not about to wipe away 15 years of memories at Georgia. But he always was an Auburn man, and once again he’s got the appropriate windbreaker to prove it.

The featured speaker for the Columbus Phenix City Auburn Club’s spring meeting Monday night, Garner took time out from his never-ending duties as Auburn recruiting coordinator to visit the Green Island Country Club – settled close to the Georgia-Alabama border, and thus the SEC West-SEC East boundary.

Before he shook hands, shared smiles and delivered his remarks to a few hundred guests over dinner, the Tigers’ new defensive line coach and associate head coach reflected on why he made his move to his alma mater – less than a month after Auburn completed a 3-9 season.

“Me as an Auburn man, I didn’t like what they experienced last year, because whether you’re actually going through it or not, if you’re an Auburn person, you do experience it,” Garner said. “Even though I was at a rival school, it still hurt me to watch my school have the struggles that it did last year.”

Make no mistake: Garner’s still got Georgia on his mind. He’s got to, after a continuous stint since 1999 in Athens – an eternity in coaching circles to spend in one place.

Leading up to the NFL Draft April 25-27, Garner spoke to former Bulldogs Alec Ogletree (a first-round pick to the Rams), John Jenkins (third, Saints), Abry Jones and Kwame Geathers. On the recruiting trail last week, Garner caught up with Georgia offensive line coach Will Friend, who’s not considered the enemy.

“I really care about those guys and care about the coaches,” Garner said. “You develop relationships. I was there 15 years, which is a long time.”

Whereas many coaches bounce around from job to job a few years at a time, and can zone in on the present day, Garner’s fine with reflecting on where he spent the last nearly third of his life.

“It’s a good place, a special place. Definitely, I enjoyed my time there, left on really good terms,” Garner said. “It’s no animosity or anguish against them. I’ll definitely pull for them, except when we have to play them. It’s a bunch of good guys on that staff, a bunch of good guys on that team.”

In a separate line of questioning, Garner was quick to point out he’s got a bunch of good guys in his current position group. The rigors of spring football behind them, the Tigers are hoping to make swift and sweeping improvements from 2012.

“By no stretch of the imagination did we feel like we’ve arrived. But I really felt like our kids bought into what we were trying to do, what we were trying to teach,” Garner said. “I think they’ve bought into the culture.”

Senior pass-rusher Dee Ford and other defensive linemen are using their precious few days off to visit Chuck Smith, who played defensive end for the Falcons in the 1990s and is now a personal trainer based in Atlanta.

That’s the Garner-Georgia connection at work; an Athens native, Smith trained Bulldogs under Garner’s watch. Now Auburn players capture the offseason edge.

“The perception is they underperformed, for whatever reason. That’s why change came,” Garner said. “I think they are prideful young men, and I think they want to reach their expectations. I think they have high expectations of themselves.”

Junior defensive tackle Gabe Wright produced a light-hearted moment leading up to spring practices, when he joked Auburn’s got no nice coaches. Garner doesn’t take that personally – not with his no-nonsense style going from one SEC outpost to another.

“It’s not a nice league. I mean, it’s not. That’s why they chose to come to it. It’s a demanding league. I know these guys don’t like what they experienced last year,” Garner said. “So we’re going to do everything in our power to change that. The only way I know how to do it is through hard work, not taking shortcuts, being disciplined, being fundamental, and being tough.”

March 23, 2013

Auburn roundup: WNIT game Sunday, six new All-Americans, O’Neal struggles, and more

UAB vs Auburn

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

AUBURN, Ala. – Continuing to set up camp nicely in the WNIT, the Auburn women’s basketball team (17-14) looks to prolong its season once again Sunday at 3 p.m. ET in the second round against Western Kentucky (22-10).

The Tigers are now 9-2 all-time in the postseason event, including a perfect 4-0 in the first round following Wednesday’s 80-57 demolition of UAB, which was done in by a local girl – Auburn junior guard Tyrese Tanner from Birmingham, who poured in a career-best 29 points.

Now it’s on to the Hilltoppers, who boast two sophomores with gaudy numbers. Alexis Govan (20.3 points) and Chastity Gooch (16.0 points, 11.3 rebounds) will try to take down the host Tigers, who at home are 6-1 all-time in the WNIT and – more importantly – 13-3 at home this season.

“Alexis Govan is an unbelievable player and a tough matchup for us,” Auburn coach Terri Williams-Flournoy said. “She is playing the four spot, which for them really is not a post player, she is a guard at the four. As well as Chastity Gooch inside, she is playing extremely well for them. Their guards are steady, it will be a tough matchup for us; we are going to have to sit down and defend.”

The winner will take on either Arkansas or Tulane in the quarterfinals, late next week.

Walk-up tickets are available – $10 for reserved seating and $7 for general admission. The game will be aired at AuburnTigers.com.

Six All-American swimmers

The Auburn women’s swimming and diving squad landed six All-America honors in Saturday’s conclusion of the NCAA championships in Indianapolis.

Seniors Katie Gardocki (1650 freestyle) and Micah Lawrence (200 breaststroke), along with the Tigers’ 400 free relay (Hannah Riordan, Emily Bos, Megan Fonteno, Olivia Scott) finished in the top 16 of their events on the last day, helping Auburn to a team finish of No. 13 in the final standings.

Scott won the 100 butterfly Friday night, Auburn’s only individual championship of the week. The Tigers had a total of 19 All-American qualifying times over three days, including five for Bos and four for Scott.

NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships

O’Neal, Tigers baseball tumbles

Michael O’Neal is figuring out, after a phenomenal start to his Auburn baseball career against non-conference opponents, the SEC is a whole new ballgame.

O’Neal (4-2) took his second straight loss Saturday night to a top-three opponent in the Tigers’ 5-1 defeat at No. 3 LSU at Alex Box Stadium.

The Pacelli and CVCC product was 4-0 with a 1.40 ERA, six walks against 14 strikeouts, before the SEC slate began. After scraping together a quality start vs. No. 2 Vanderbilt last weekend, O’Neal went just four innings Saturday, yielding seven hits and five runs (four earned) in defeat, seeing his ERA rise to 2.78.

Offensively, Auburn (15-8) is developing a habit of creating opportunities but failing to capitalize. The Tigers had 10 hits, but left 10 men on base and scored just one run.

“We kept the game close and that’s what you have to do against good teams,” Auburn head coach John Pawlowski said. “I thought we gave ourselves plenty of opportunities, we just weren’t able to come up with something. I was hoping someone could find a hole and we could score some runs but it didn’t happen. These guys keep battling hard and hopefully tomorrow we will be able to get something going.”

Auburn’s in serious trouble in the league standings, dropping to 0-5. The series finale is Sunday at 2 p.m. ET.

Soccer coach extended 

Karen Hoppa, who has brought Auburn women’s soccer to seven consecutive NCAA tournaments and back-to-back SEC title game appearances, will remain with the Tigers through the 2017 season, awarded a five-year extension late Friday night.

“While we take great pride in what we have accomplished here during my tenure, we know there is more work to do and I will work tirelessly to take this program to the next level,” Hoppa said. “I am blessed to work at such a wonderful institution, and I look forward to the next five years.”

Auburn is 164-111-24 in 14 seasons under Hoppa, who came to Auburn in 1999 – the longest-tenured women’s soccer coach in the SEC.

Record score

Still on the upswing, Auburn’s gymnastics squad recorded the program’s highest-ever SEC meet score with 196.55, good for fifth in the league Saturday in Little Rock.

The Tigers await their regional destination, to be announced Monday afternoon.

March 18, 2013

OLD SCHOOL: Rebuilding Auburn WRs, former Tigers QB Dameyune Craig preaches consistency on and off the football field

AUBURN FOOTBALL

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – One day, Dameyune Craig forced himself out of bed to run a few miles as a morning wake-up call. The first time, the second and third and fourth and fifth, they were challenging.

“When I first started off, I had to be consistent,” Craig said. “Now I’m used to it.”

Distance running is a skill and hobby of Craig’s, but it’s not his full-time craft. His is coaching, educating, and mentoring the wide receivers at his alma mater Auburn, a crew of highly-touted young products who largely underachieved in 2012.

Chat live with WarEagleExtra.com’s Aaron Brenner, Thursday 3 p.m. ET

Craig also has four incoming freshmen he convinced to follow him to the Plains – it took two tries, but head coach Gus Malzahn pried Craig away from Florida State to become the Tigers’ co-offensive coordinator.

Consistency, willpower, accountability … these aren’t tangible skills taught and learned in a few practice sessions. Craig refuses to preach the same values day after day – he insists on making it a mindset, swearing to be great no matter what.

“It starts off the field: every day when you wake up, what’s the first thing you do? Brush your teeth, wash your face, comb your hair,” Craig said. “If you do it every day, you’ll become consistent. We want to become consistent doing the small things. If you do the little things right, you go to class every day, it becomes a habit.

“We don’t talk about being consistent; we just make it happen.”

Craig’s former program is a model of consistency – Florida State has the nation’s longest active streak of consecutive winning seasons (35), bowl appearances (31) and bowl victories (5), capped by its 31-10 Orange Bowl domination over Northern Illinois the night of New Year’s Day.

Dameyune CraigTwo days later, Craig, 38, was wooed to Auburn, where he was a two-year starting quarterback in 1996-97. He still remembers idolizing Bo Jackson, Tracy Rocker, Reggie Slack and Stan White among others, primarily for their work ethic.

“I’m from the old school,” Craig said. “They were hard-nosed guys. They were talented, but they worked hard. My first day of practice here, I would see guys running 100-yard sprints after they got the ball. I was like, ‘wow, I’ve got to pick it up.’ So I understood from day one what it took to be an Auburn Tiger.”

That unwavering commitment to greatness may have, well, wavered in previous years, allowing the unthinkable to unfold – embarrassing losses to Arkansas, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama by a combined 167 points.

The new staff, adamantly, isn’t concerned with recent history. Ancient history, however, helped mold Dameyune Craig, who won the Independence and Peach Bowls his junior and senior year, as well as the 1997 SEC Western Division crown.

“I think what we always hung our hat on here: we outworked everybody,” Craig said. “We felt like going into the game, that week, nobody had worked harder than us in the offseason, and during the week, and we felt good about the game. That’s what we’ve got to get back.

“So I’ve got to work these guys as hard as I can so when they step on that field, they feel like they’ve prepared because you’ve outworked everybody you’re going to face.”

One step in the process is complete: landing signed letters of intent from four-star receiver Tony Stevens from Orlando, his high school teammate Dominic Walker, fellow Floridian Marcus Davis and in-state product Earnest Robinson. Another commit from Alabama, Jason Smith, could eventually play receiver, though he’ll start his career working at quarterback.

It’s the Tigers’ greatest position of need; no returning receiver had more than 14 catches in 2012.

“We met the demands,” Craig said. “We got the guy who attacks you deep, we got the guy that stretches you horizontally and we got the guy who makes you miss and stretches the field vertically. Everything we wanted, we hit on all of (it.)”

When Craig joined new head coach Jimbo Fisher’s staff in December 2009, the Seminoles had just sent Bobby Bowden into retirement with a 7-6 season. The program was still on sound footing, but far away from its heyday in the 1990s with 14 consecutive double-digit win seasons.

“It was a shock to me when I stepped on that campus and saw the talent level that was there, what we had to work with and where we had to go,” Craig said. “But we turned it around really, really quick – because we were able to go out to get some great football players that bought into the system, trusted the coaches.”

Fisher, of course, was Auburn’s quarterbacks coach from 1993-98 under Terry Bowden. The coaching tree has branched its way back to Auburn, and Craig is fixated on restoring Auburn to its customary levels of success.

“My coaching style and expectations won’t change for these guys,” Craig said. “I am who I am. It’s ingrained in me. We gotta make them do it, or we gotta find somebody that can. Those are the only two options.”

March 12, 2013

How much do Malzahn’s assistants bank? Just a little bit less than their Auburn predecessors, and less than Tennessee & Arkansas staffs

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – As much experience and star power Auburn’s esteemed group of assistant football coaches bring to their new school, it’s still a less pricey bunch than its predecessors and a couple of conference rivals.

Former head coach Gene Chizik ($3.5 million) led a nine-man staff with annual salaries combining for $3.635 million, which translated to the sixth-most expensive coaching crew in America per USA Today’s salary database.

New head coach Gus Malzahn ($2.3 million) has hauled in big names like seasoned defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson ($800,000), Auburn lettermen Rodney Garner ($500,000) and Dameyune Craig ($350,000), and former recruiting coordinators Charlie Harbison ($425,000) and Tim Horton ($250,000).

The nine new coordinators and position coaches will make approximately $3.41 million, according to figures obtained through Open Alabama Financial Reports. Adding Malzahn’s deal, the total price of Auburn’s 2013 coaching staff settles in at roughly $5.71 million.

That would mean Malzahn’s assistants bring in $225,000 less per year than the previous staff.

Gus Malzahn 9

Auburn has yet to release official contracts for seven co-coordinators and position coaches, despite the other three SEC institutions with new regimes (Tennessee, Kentucky and Arkansas) doing so in January.

Tennessee and Arkansas, led respectively by Butch Jones and Bret Bielema, are paying their entire staffs (head and assistants) more than $6 million, while Kentucky’s price tag for Mark Stoops and company is just under $4.7 million.

Rich Bisaccia, who was hired Jan. 3 to coach Auburn running backs and special teams, banked $38,044 for three weeks of work before leaving to coach the Dallas Cowboys’ special teams. The NFL coaching veteran stood to make half a million dollars this year had he stayed.

Bisaccia’s spot was replaced by the promotion of Scott Fountain from support staff to an on-field coaching position, though Fountain does not appear to have received a raise from last year’s $210,000 salary based on the financial report.

29-year-old offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee’s salary is $350,000. The staff is completed by offensive line coach J.B. Grimes ($275,000) and cornerbacks coach Melvin Smith ($250,000).

The Tigers’ ten coaches have been in college coaching for a combined 197 years, including 99 in the SEC in some capacity.

Photo by Todd Van Emst

Of course, Auburn University still owes hefty buyouts to Chizik and his assistants after firing them in early December. Via their contracts, any income earned through coaching, broadcasting, publishing media or any other type of football-related endeavors through the expiration of those contracts will be subsidized from Auburn’s financial commitment.

Chizik and ex-assistant head coach Trooper Taylor remain unemployed, though Chizik was part of ESPNU’s National Signing Day coverage as a guest analyst.

The other eight Chizik assistants have found full-time jobs: defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder is coaching New York Jets linebackers, Scot Loeffler (offensive coordinator) and Jeff Grimes (offensive line) are at Virginia Tech, Tommy Thigpen (linebackers) and Willie Martinez (defensive backs) are with Tennessee, Curtis Luper (running backs) is at TCU, Mike Pelton (defensive line) is with Georgia Tech and Jay Boulware (special teams/tight ends) made his way to Oklahoma after initially being hired by Wisconsin.

Some but not all of their new contracts have been released. Based on Open Alabama Financial Reports released for the month of February, those eight coaches figure to subtract upwards of $1.5 million per year from Auburn’s buyout as long as they remain employed.

Chizik’s buyout, which opened at $7.7 million when he was terminated Nov. 25, will be paid in monthly installments through Dec. 31, 2015. The Loeffler, VanGorder and Taylor buyouts last through June 30, 2014, while the other six assistants are off the books on June 30 of this year.

February 27, 2013

Kodi Burns: “I am Auburn. It’s in me.” | Offensive G.A. talks about new gig with Tigers

Auburn Football

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – Kodi Burns knows what it’s like to be a five-star quarterback prospect with a world of expectations on his shoulders, like Kiehl Frazier.

Burns knows what it’s like to take off the redshirt as a precocious true freshman and suddenly lead his team into battle, like Jonathan Wallace.

Burns knows how to find whatever role he must to help Auburn succeed, so it was no surprise in early December when coach Gus Malzahn, his former offensive coordinator at Auburn and head boss at Arkansas State, invited one of the Auburn family’s favorite sons to come back to his college stomping grounds.

He calls Fort Smith, Ark. his native land, but Burns feels just as home at Auburn, a 2007-2010 letterman who is beginning his second year as an offensive graduate assistant, and first with the Tigers.

“The memories really never left. Being in a place like this, it becomes your family,” Burns said in a sitdown with reporters Wednesday. “The team has become your brothers. I woke up every morning, I sweat, bled, tears, on that field every single day.

“So I am Auburn. It’s in me. It’s (great) to be back and to be around these people … once you leave Auburn, it never leaves you.”

Burns, 24, started his career as a quarterback, running in the game-winning touchdown to beat Clemson in the 2007 Chick-Fil-A Bowl. He ended it by famously caught a touchdown pass in the 2011 BCS National Championship victory over Oregon.

After taking a year away from football and finding a job in medical sales, Burns was drawn back into coaching by Malzahn as part of his inaugural staff at Arkansas State, four hours east of Burns’ hometown. Burns is joined by offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, offensive line coach J.B. Grimes and strength and conditioning director Ryan Russell as Malzahn’s retentions from the Red Wolves.

“It’s a smooth transition because we know each other now,” Burns said. “We’ve got great chemistry together from that year at Arkansas State, and now coming back home I’m familiar with coach Malzahn, it’s just a really good feeling to be back.”

Burns was engaged to his four-year girlfriend, Keista Hough, on Feb. 16. He chuckled as he told the story of meeting Hough when both were Auburn students – after exchanging numbers outside a downtown bar and restaurant, Hough didn’t return Burns’ affection for two months.

But Burns was persistent, and got the girl. Now he’s got the SEC apprenticeship, with hopes it launches a lengthy career.

“I think my long-term goals are the same as anybody’s – you want to do this, and you want to move up,” Burns said. “I want to be an offensive coordinator one of these days here pretty quick, and soon after be a head coach.”

February 21, 2013

Rodney Garner, Auburn assistants refuse to let the past dictate the Tigers’ future

Rodney GarnerAUBURN, Ala. – Rodney Garner, during his first official sit-down alongside eight of his fellow new sheriffs in town, hunkered down in the Rane Room, decorated with Auburn trophies and historical treasures.

A former Auburn player and coach, and coming home after the past 15 years at rival Georgia, Garner sat with his back turned to the 2011 BCS Championship Trophy.

With respect to those champions, that crystal football means zilch now to his players, in the wake of Auburn’s 3-9 calamitous season.

“We’re not going on what they did here in the past. Unless we’re going to (talk about) the national championship season, the past wasn’t very good,” Garner said. “So let’s move past that. We’re going to deal with right now in the present, and going forward.”

Garner would tap his fist on the table for emphasis, every time he illustrated how it’s gonna work going into spring scrimmages, the 2013 football season and beyond.

Auburn’s assistant head coach, defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator declined to speculate what went so wrong last year or any other season, in the realm of many rumors about former coach Gene Chizik losing touch with the Tigers on and off the field.

All Garner knows is it won’t happen again. Not on his watch.

“It’s been (about discipline and accountability) from the first day we got here,” Garner said. “It’s going to continue that way. It ain’t gonna change. I’m not flexible. I’m not negotiable.”

Head coach Gus Malzahn’s “It’s a New Day” terminology has quickly rolled over to his assistants.

“I mean, that’s kind of been Gus’ M.O. from the get-go. It really is,” tight ends and special teams coach Scott Fountain said. “It’s his philosophy, it’s the way he wants to do things. I think our kids are really buying into it.”

With an overstocked blend of returning starters, lettermen and incoming freshmen looking to compete for playing time, all starting positions are vacant. The slate is clean.

“I think the worst thing you can do is watch guys that somebody else coached and grade them,” cornerbacks coach Melvin Smith said. “I don’t see how that benefits you. I think the only person you can really trust is your assessment, and the people that you’re around. If I want to judge them, I don’t need to look at last year, the year before or the year before that. I don’t have time to look at that. I’ve got to focus on trying to get my guys to have a relationship with me.”

Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee expressed anticipation for working this spring with the two returning quarterbacks – junior Kiehl Frazier and sophomore Jonathan Wallace.

Meanwhile, running backs coach Tim Horton would guarantee no star treatment to 1,000-yard rusher Tre Mason, with junior college standout Cameron Artis-Payne enrolled for spring courses.

“We’ve had two days of ‘mat’ drills, and there’s a little learning curve,” Horton said. “Just by having (Artis-Payne) here in the offseason program, and then starting next week to learn the offense – this is a big spring for him. With a new coach and a new staff, it doesn’t matter who’s played in the past. He’ll have an opportunity to earn a spot.”

Several coaches had hoarse voices, admitting they had spent much of Thursday morning with initial winter workouts, interacting with their players in a physical setting for the first time.

“You have to challenge the kids. We even challenge each other in the classroom, making sure we’re going to class every day. So far, nobody has missed a single class,” wide receivers coach Dameyune Craig said. “It’s making sure we’re doing the right things off the field, and that will carry over.”

Garner admitted as an alum, “it was hurtful” watching Auburn’s program sink to the status of laughingstock, not to mention a winless SEC campaign. But the past is the past – fairly irrelevant to Garner and the eager coaching staff.

“You’ve got to hold them to a championship standard, and that’s what we’re asking them to do,” Garner said. “We want guys to buy in to Coach Malzahn’s vision, and his dream. Everybody has to be willing to sacrifice something to be a champion.”

Carver (Ga.) coach Dell McGee returning to alma mater Auburn in off-field role

DellMcGee

By David Mitchell

dmitchell@ledger-enquirer.com

COLUMBUS, Ga. — Carver football coach Dell McGee has announced that he will leave the program after eight years at the helm to take a position at Auburn University, the coach confirmed on Thursday.

The position will be in an off-the-field capacity, McGee said, and he will begin his job on Monday. He said that he notified the district and spoke with his team on Thursday.

“I’m going attend the basketball game on Saturday, and that will be my last day at Carver,” McGee said. “I’ll start at Auburn on Monday.”

McGee said he was grateful for the opportunities he had at Carver as well as those he’ll have in his new position.

“I’m very grateful for the years I spent at Carver,” McGee said. “And I’m grateful for the opportunity Coach (Gus) Malzahn has given me here.”

Read more local reaction on Dell McGee, a coaching “legend”, leaving Carver

In eight years with the Tigers, McGee compiled an 88-19 record (21-6 playoffs), including four state semifinals appearances and one state championship in 2007. He also helped the team move its all-time record over .500 for the first time since 1971.

The team had not had a winning season in nine years when he took over as head coach in 2005. In his first season, the Tigers went 3-7. The team went 12-2 and reached the state semifinals in his second year and won it all in his third season.

McGee lettered four years (1992-95) as an Auburn cornerback, a freshman in Pat Dye’s final season on the Plains and a sophomore for Auburn’s 11-0 squad in 1993. Due to a 2-year bowl ban, McGee did not play in the postseason until his senior year, grabbing an interception in a 43-14 Outback Bowl loss to Penn State on New Year’s Day 1996.

The Kendrick HS product was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in the fifth round of the 1996 NFL Draft. He appeared in three games in 1998.

Junior defensive tackle Gabe Wright, a freshman for McGee’s 2007 title team, is the only Carver product currently on the Auburn roster. McGee and Wright are two of 32 all-time Columbus natives to letter for the Tigers.

Other reported additions to Auburn’s support staff from Alabama high school ranks include Spain Park’s Chip Lindsey and B.C. Rain’s Brent Dearmon.