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August 9, 2013

Scott Fountain says Gage Batten ‘really coming on’ at H-back (and quotes)

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — The light is starting to come on for Gage Batten.

Tight ends/H-back coach Scott Fountain praised the progress of Gage Batten since switching from linebacker this summer. (File photo)

Tight ends/H-back coach Scott Fountain praised the progress of Gage Batten since switching from linebacker this summer. (File photo)

After struggling during the first few practices of fall camp, the former linebacker has started to turn the corner on grasping his responsibilities as an H-back. The redshirt freshman’s improvement has been significant, according to his new position coach, Scott Fountain.

“These last two practices, he’s really come on,” Fountain said. “We felt like if we could bring him over (to the offense), he could be a good blocker for us on our power, our counter game. It’s what we needed, and he’s starting to show a lot of promise. I’m really excited for the young guy.”

Batten’s position change took on more importance after Ricky Parks was dismissed for a violation of team rules on the first day of fall camp. Parks exited the spring as the Jay Prosch’s backup. Fountain said if Batten was still on defense, it likely would have meant an increased role for both C.J. Uzomah and Brandon Fulse at H-back.

He’s just glad that situation is only a hypothetical at this point.

“(Batten) making the progress that he has really got me very, very excited,” Fountain said, “regardless of whether we would have had (Parks) or not.”


On the improvements he’s seen from Prosch, Uzomah and Brandon Fulse:

“C.J. is a guy I told after the spring, ‘The thing we’re going to have to get you better at is run-blocking. I want you to focus on that this summer.’ And in camp I’ve been super impressed with how far he’s come. I see a guy that I feel like can really help us as a split-side tight end and in the backfield, whereas Jay is kind of a backfield guy at heart. Then we’ve got Brandon Fulse who has stood out at the 5 and at tight end. … And at times, you’ll see them on the field together.”

On Prosch’s pass-catching:

“I knew he could block this spring, but I wasn’t sure what else he could do. And boy, he’s a guy that can catch, and he just keeps getting better and better. He’s a guy that we can trust catching the football.”

More on Fulse’s progress:

“He’s more focused in terms of what we’re doing in our route game. He’s a guy that can block fairly well coming out of spring. In high school he (played) in tight spaces, and now we’re doing a lot more of that with them. He’s a guy that’s an emerging player in practice, so I’m expecting some big things out of him this year, too.”

On Uzomah’s versatility allowing him to play at nearly any offensive skill position:

“He’s a guy that No. 1, is willing to do it. You’re normally catching the ball, and now you’ve got to put your hand down and block Dee Ford. So that part is really hard. And then once past that, then you’ve got the mental aspect of learning the different positions. There is some carryover, but I think he’s the guy who’s most versatile for us, and those guys are really hard to find.

On how much his background as a high school quarterback helps:

“Coach Malzahn is really big on wanting to sign quarterbacks and inserting them into the offense. And I think that’s been really big for (Uzomah), but I also think his approach to it. There’s no question his quarterback background in high school him understand the whole grand scheme of coverages and fronts and things like that.”

July 25, 2013

C.J. Uzomah ready to fill role as ‘go-to’ receiver

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com


AUBURN, Ala. — Time and again this summer, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee have been blunt about Auburn’s receiving corps.

With Auburn looking for one player to step up and be the team's "go-to" receiver, tight end C.J. Uzomah said Tuesday he can fill that role. (Photo by Todd Van Emst)

With Auburn looking for one player to step up and be the team’s “go-to” receiver, tight end C.J. Uzomah said Tuesday he can fill that role. (Photo by Todd Van Emst)

Both have expressed that one player has to separate himself to take on the responsibility of being the team’s “go-to” receiver. It takes on even greater importance knowing that Auburn’s top pass-catcher last season, Emory Blake, left a massive void in his wake. Blake’s 789 receiving yards represented 42 percent of the Tigers’ total 1,879 receiving yards last season.

So who will step up to take Blake’s place?

If C.J. Uzomah has his way, that lead receiver will be a tight end.

It’s an undertaking the junior said he’s already given “a lot” of thought.

“I think everybody would want to be that guy in a pressure situation to step up on third down, or if you need a last-second touchdown, then who are you going to throw it to?” he said Tuesday. “Everyone is working and battling to fill that position. I think this offseason everybody has been training their hardest to be that guy.”

Uzomah played in the shadow of starting tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen last year. That is, until Lutzenkirchen had season-ending hip surgery in October, which pushed Uzomah into the starting lineup. But it wasn’t smooth sailing for the Suwanee, Ga., native, who broke a bone in his right hand late in the season.

Expectations are far greater heading into 2013. Uzomah has already been named to the Mackey Award watch list, which goes to the nation’s top tight end. While he said it was “an honor to be mentioned” as a candidate for the award, Uzomah knows how little weight that carries when you actually step on the field.

“Personal accolades and individual accolades are rewarding,” he said, “but we’re hoping to make it to the (Georgia) Dome and the national championship. That’s what our sights are on.”

But even Uzomah had to admit it “would be a lie” if he said the newfound praise didn’t add to the pressure he already puts on himself to perform at the highest level.

“There is always going to be expectations for me to perform every week,” he said. “I feel like that pressure is going to be there for all of us now with this new staff saying ‘It’s A New Day.’ I think that pressure is going to be there no matter what. It’s up to us to step up to the plate and take it head-on.”

To better handle the additional responsibilities he’s taken on this season, the junior has honed in on the areas of his game that need improvement.

“I was trying to focus a little more on my blocking and putting my hand in the dirt just because that’s still been a huge emphasis on me personally,” he said. “Coach Lashlee and (tight ends) Coach (Scott) Fountain have talked to Brandon (Fulse) and I about how they want to utilize us in this offense. Splitting us out a little bit is one of the things we’re going to have to do, blocking the corner, blocking the safety, blocking the defensive end, blocking the linebacker. We’re going to be moving around a lot.”

That means Uzomah is constantly shuffling between the backfield, the slot and the outside receiver positions. If he didn’t put in time at all the spots, Uzomah joked he’d probably look “like a chicken with his head cut off.” While he has a lot on his plate, Uzomah can’t do everything.

That’s why he’s been pleased to see the eagerness of the incoming receivers.

“They are just as anxious to get out there as I have ever seen a freshman class, including our freshman class,” Uzomah said. “They have wanted to be in with the first, second, and third group no matter what. They are always asking to get in, asking for advice, asking for tips on how to shake a corner or something like that. They have been really sure-handed.”

None have impressed Uzomah more than Tony Stevens. The Florida native has “shocked” Uzomah with his performances during “captain’s practices.”

“He has grown up a lot because you’ve got to have that growing up stage from high school to college,” Uzomah said.

But when asked whether any of the freshman receivers — including Stevens — were ready to contribute immediately, Uzomah refrained from answering. Without the benefit of seeing them in pads, it’s too soon to tell. But in Uzomah and other veterans, the newcomers have a saving grace.

Never underestimate the power of knowledge and experience.

“Watching film and looking at a playbook is one thing,” Uzomah said, “but having people that have played in the offense and been in the offense that can help you fine-tune the little things, especially with someone as meticulous as Malzahn (or) Lashlee, I think that pays dividends.”

April 10, 2013

Quick observations from Auburn practice #8


BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

AUBURN, Ala. – The weather was ideal. The intensity was not.

Can’t blame college kids too much for ever being sluggish at 8 a.m. at football practice, especially when Auburn’s been working at breakneck speed for a fortnight. (That’s two weeks, for you non-tennis nerds like me.)

Remember, the Tigers canceled Monday’s practice, meaning they had three full days off since Saturday’s heat-soaked scrimmage at Jordan-Hare Stadium. So while the morning temperature was “Baby Bear porridge” perfect – not too hot, not too cool, but just right – the players seemed a tad rusty from the relatively lengthy layoff.

And it didn’t seem like the coaches got on their case … at least not that we saw. This is the third of four mornings in uniform, so we’ll see how the team tempo develops as we draw within single-digit days of the spring game.

Some quick observations from spring practice No. 8:

In high school, this 2-year quarterback (albeit a split starter his senior season) completed 52 percent of his passes (129-250) for 2,074 yards and 24 touchdowns.

Don’t expect Ryan White to compete with Jonathan Wallace or Kiehl Frazier anytime soon for reps. But White is dusting off the ol’ right arm, serving as a fake field goal passer in Wednesday’s drills.

Kicker Cody Parkey and punter Steven Clark also will have to learn how to throw a ball on point in front of 80,000 screaming fans. There are some plays drawn up for them on fake punts and field goals.

Among the plays we saw (no video allowed): White throwing a quick route to Brandon Fulse in the end zone, Parkey passing to White on a rollout, a direct snap to Ricky Parks and run, a direct snap to Cameron Artis-Payne with White faking a shotgun snap, and White lining up in pistol formation before an audible calls for a straight-up Parkey kick.

Scott Fountain appears to be the guy guiding these formations, with assistance from Tim Horton.

Extra points, short kicks and punt lineups could get creative this year, folks.

Tre Mason was in uniform, but didn’t get any work other than stretching that we saw. He seemed to be favoring his left leg, and he hasn’t looked right all spring.

If Artis-Payne and Corey Grant take advantage of the extra reps, it’s not unheard of that Mason could fall behind on the depth chart for 2013 on account of missing spring. Just ask Nosa Eguae last year.

DT Angelo Blackson (injury) and OL Devonte Danzey (unknown) weren’t out there today. WR Quan Bray was practicing, but needed some time with the trainer stretching out his right leg. We’ll have to ask Gus Malzahn for their statuses this morning.

Wallace took the first four throws in team drills we saw. Don’t freak out. Frazier will rotate in. The QBs were working on option pitches to Artis-Payne as well as walk-on QBs Ben Durand and Tate O’Connor.

The starting O-Line remains Greg Robinson, Alex Kozan, Reese Dismukes, Chad Slade, Patrick Miller.

This one’s just for me: I like the ‘sacking dummy’ contraption out there. It’s a tall blue cone with a left arm pumped down and a right arm up throwing the football. The Manzielnequin.

The defense worked on interception drills. As in, how to block for the man after getting a pick.

Twas a much quieter sideline than last weekend with the coaching clinic, but athletic director Jay Jacobs was observing in a bright blue athletic polo.

April 3, 2013

Quick observations from Auburn practice #5 | Check in on Gus Malzahn’s live comments


BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com


AUBURN, Ala. — As we go through each practice, notes will probably get shorter since I don’t want to repeat myself. It also depends on how much “new” material we see. Here’s a few nuggets from this morning, and as usual I’ll live blog Gus Malzahn‘s comments at or after 11 a.m. ET.

The final 5-minute period we saw was more screens, continuing to integrate cadences and blocking schemes. The passes we saw were 7-for-7 (four for Kiehl Frazier, three for Jonathan Wallace), spreading it out to, in order: RB Tre Mason, RB Corey Grant, WR Sammie Coates (twice), RB Cameron Artis-Payne, walk-on RB Patrick Lymon, WR Melvin Ray.

Getting more punt return reps Wednesday were cornerbacks Robenson Therezie and Chris Davis, under the watchful eye of … running backs coach Tim Horton, not special teams coach Scott Fountain. Mason, Grant, Trovon Reed and Quan Bray also were back there, but not Ricardo Louis.

Cody Parkey went 8-for-8 in the fire-drill field-goal session, starting from 20 yards out and steadily moving back as far as 46 yards. Ryan White continues to be his primary holder, and most the usual offensive and defensive starters are lining up to block and rush in the drill.

Scout teamers pulled on green recreational jerseys for some special teams drills.

If you see Gabe Wright, wish him a happy 21st birthday.

March 27, 2013

The final Auburn positional battles to watch: Wide receivers, tight ends, H-backs

This is the final piece of an 8-day series previewing each Auburn position leading into spring football, which begins Wednesday morning and concludes with A-Day April 20.

Auburn Vanderbilt Football

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com


AUBURN, Ala. – Let’s play the blind taste test game.

Receiver A: 50 catches, 789 yards, 3 TD in all games; 38 rec, 556 yds, 2 TD in SEC games.

Receiver B: 39 catches, 527 yards, 3 TD in all games; 29 rec, 303 yds, 0 TD in SEC games.

Obviously, you want the first receiver.

Oh, one more hint: Receiver A was 6-foot-2, 193 pounds. Receiver B measures in at more than 42 feet and close to 1,400 pounds.

Emory Blake vs. every other Auburn receiver in 2012 was a complete mismatch.

And that’s a major reason the Tigers’ passing game was an inexcusable mess last year. It’s also a major reason Blake’s departure should be a warning bell to his younger teammates that it’s time to step up.

Blake isn’t the only veteran out the door. Philip Lutzenkirchen is one of the most accomplished tight ends in school history, but even he’s already endorsed his heir apparent, tweeting Monday “Look for (C.J. Uzomah) to have a great spring. The kid’s a beast but an even better person off the field. Much love to the little big brother” and “He could break every TE record in Gus (Malzahn’s) offense.”

Add the blocking ability of Brandon Fulse, and tight ends looks to be a somewhat secure position in 2012.

So is the new h-back in that aforementioned Malzahn offense. Jay Prosch has the brute strength and soft hands ideal to fit that role, moving over from fullback to a hybrid position.

Granted, the quarterbacks were far too inconsistent to help their receivers. But that’s a two-way street: those same wideouts didn’t exactly help the passers, so the sooner Dameyune Craig whips his youngsters into shape to match their potential, the better for the Tigers.

Alabama A&M vs Auburn

Check out our positional breakdowns entering spring football:

Part I: Defensive backs
Part II: Linebackers
Part III: Defensive line
Part IV: Special teams
Part V: Quarterbacks
Part VI: Offensive line
Part VII: Running backs

Here’s a look at Auburn’s wide receivers, tight ends and H-backs, leading into spring football practices:

Who’s been playing: WR Quan Bray (jr.), WR Sammie Coates (so.), TE Brandon Fulse (jr.), WR Ricardo Louis (so.), H-back Jay Prosch (sr.), WR Trovon Reed (jr.), TE C.J. Uzomah (jr.)

Who’s been waiting: WR Jaylon Denson (jr.), TE Chris Landrum (so.), TE Ricky Parks (r-fr.)

Who’s out the door: WR DeAngelo Benton, WR Emory Blake, FB Blake Burgess, TE Philip Lutzenkirchen, WR Anthony Morgan, WR Travante Stallworth

Who’s in the door: WR Marcus Davis (Delray Beach, Fla.), WR Earnest Robinson (Pinson, Ala.), Tony Stevens (Orlando, Fla.), WR Dominic Walker (Orlando, Fla.)

Who’s coaching ‘em up: WRs – Dameyune Craig, 8th year (1st in SEC); TEs/H-backs – Scott Fountain, 13th year (1st in SEC)

Who’d they replace, where are they now: WRs – Trooper Taylor, unemployed; TEs – Jay Boulware, Oklahoma

Thoughts and musings:

The returning contributors – Quan Bray, Sammie Coates, Jaylon Denson, Ricardo Louis and Trovon Reed – had 33 catches, 378 yards and 3 TD last year. Funny thing is, Bray and Reed combined for 38 receptions by themselves as freshmen in 2011, so the ability is clearly there.

Bray and Louis are also being counted on – at least initially – to figure in at punt and kick returner. Reed has competed for those positions in the past, but it’d be wiser for the former five-star recruit to work on potentially starting at slot receiver

Coates was courageous enough (or dumb enough, pending your perspective) to call out the 2012 senior class for not leading the way it should have. He also agreed he’s willing to take on a leadership capacity. He can do it by shoring up his sure-handedness; he dropped some big balls last year that could have swung games.

Uzomah can play with his hand on the ground at tight end, or split out wide. He’s got the body and athleticism to do either. Don’t be surprised if he ends up Auburn’s leading receiver.

Prosch should get a chance to block, run and catch in this attack, so fans who grumbled about his limited playing time last fall should be acquiesced.

Photo by Todd Van Emst

Statistically speaking:

9 – Games in which Emory Blake had more than two catches in 2012. Philip Lutzenkirchen did so twice, and Onterio McCalebb once.

3 – Games in which anybody else had more than two catches. One was a receiver (Quan Bray, six vs. Mississippi State), one was a tight end (C.J. Uzomah, three vs. Texas A&M) and one was a tailback (Tre Mason, three vs. Georgia).

13 – Receptions of 20-plus yards by Emory Blake.

11 – Receptions of 20-plus yards by every other returning player combined – led by Uzomah’s three, which were all against Texas A&M.

103, 1022 – Receptions and yards for J.D. McKissic, a freshman receiver (from Central-Phenix City) last year in Gus Malzahn’s and Rhett Lashlee’s only year at Arkansas State. The catches led all freshmen nationally (7th overall) and the yards were third among FBS rookies.

5-10, 185 – McKissic’s measurements.

5-10, 183 – Quan Bray’s measurements.

Quan Bray

Good Twitter follows: CJ Uzomah @CJUzomah81 (5,116 followers) offers the play-by-play from his day, which includes the goings-on with his roommate, Kiehl Frazier. Fan favorite Jay Prosch @DaRealJayProsch (3,278) quotes ‘Remember The Titans’ yet does not care for Band-Aids or ill-tempered ATMs.

Say what? “With receivers, sometimes you play two, three, four, so we have to create competition within that group to be the best player they can be individually to help each other out.” – Craig

March 23, 2013

Positional battles to watch: Special teams

This is the fourth of an 8-day series previewing each Auburn position leading into spring football. Tomorrow: quarterbacks.

AUBURN Miss State

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com


AUBURN, Ala. – In each week’s game notes distributed by Auburn’s media relations staff, an entire page was customarily cached solely to brag on the Tigers’ special teams. Much in the way, for instance, Texas A&M would set aside a sheet just for Johnny Manziel.

Across the top was a large-fonted statement from then-head coach Gene Chizik: “We feel very comfortable putting the game on the line with our special teams to win it.”

The typical strengths were threefold: coverage on all returns, the ability to block kicks, and the Auburn kicker and punter doing their individual jobs to the highest caliber.

Bad news: fantastic special teams doesn’t make much of a difference if the offense and defense don’t hold up their end.

Better news: with expected improvement in those battalions, Auburn has basically everybody important back for another special year on special teams.

Except, of course, the coach responsible for that unit’s success.

Here’s a look at Auburn’s special teams, leading into spring football practices:

Quan Bray

Who’s been playing: PR Quan Bray (jr.), P Steven Clark (sr.), PR Ricardo Louis (so.), KR Tre Mason (jr.), K Cody Parkey (sr.), DS Jake Lembke (sr.), HLD Ryan White (sr.),

Who’s out the door: KR Onterio McCalebb

Who’s in the door: K Daniel Carlson (Colorado Springs, Colo.), P Jimmy Hutchinson (Kennesaw, Ga.)

Who’s coaching ‘em up: Scott Fountain, 13th year (1st in SEC)

Who’d they replace, where is he now: Jay Boulware, Wisconsin Oklahoma

LSU Auburn

Thoughts and musings:

You really can’t rave enough about the dependability of Steven Clark, a Ray Guy finalist his sophomore year of 2011, who actually thought he had a cruddy 2012 by his standards. Honestly, the stats weren’t that pretty. Nobody in the SEC punted more than Clark’s 70 times, and his net punting average of 38.6 yards ranked ninth in the SEC. But get a load of this stat, out of those 70 boots: opponents attempted five returns, for a total of four yards. FOUR. Clark completely took threats like Dustin Harris, Odell Beckham and Johnthan Banks out of the equation.

You really can’t rave enough about the dependability of Cody Parkey, who enters his senior year with a .750 field-goal percentage – tied for fourth on Auburn’s all-time list with his predecessor and role model, Wes Byrum. Parkey, 70-for-71 on extra points, captained the SEC’s No. 1 kickoff return coverage squad – opponents’ average start position on kickoffs was the 22-yard-line (three yards behind the automatic touchback line.)

Fountain’s already voiced he wants to see a higher rate of touchbacks than Parkey’s 33-for-48 in 2012. But considering such special teams threats as Jonathan Jones, Joshua Holsey, Ricardo Louis, Jordan Spriggs and others return, directional kicking might not be the worst idea.

Here’s where Auburn’s special teams have room for improvement: Quan Bray was kind of a mess back there as punt returner. His fumble against LSU was, well, costly. Boulware complained in November he couldn’t find any game-changing returners on punts, and now that Onterio McCalebb takes his kick returning skills to the next level, that will be an immediate point of emphasis for Fountain.

ScottFountain- Scott Fountain’s career resume: After working in high schools and as a grad assistant from 1988-96, Fountain was at Central Florida from 1997-2003 in multiple capacities; coached offensive line at Middle Tennessee State 2004-05; the same position at Georgia Southern in 2006; and tight ends at Iowa State under Gene Chizik from 2007-08. He handled Auburn’s day-to-day football operations from 2009-12. So he’s got plenty of experience. But none in special teams. Something to monitor.

Auburn landed the No. 1 punter and No. 4 kicker in their class long before the previous coaching staff was dismissed. Even as Boulware took his genius with him north, and the Tigers’ initial replacement (Rich Bisaccia) bolted for the Cowboys after three weeks, this coaching staff managed to keep Hutchinson and Carlson secured. Carlson will arrive in the fall, Hutchinson will take a grayshirt and enroll next spring, thus allowing him to be flexible with his eligibility. Either way, when Clark and Parkey leave, Auburn’s kicking game should be in good hands through 2017. Nice feeling, isn’t it?

Statistically speaking:

3 – Blocked kicks for Auburn last year; two against ULM (Angelo Blackson, Corey Lemonier) and another against Mississippi State (Blackson).

97 – The distance in yards of Mason’s kickoff return for a touchdown in the 2011 opener against Utah State – Mason’s first career game.

9 – Consecutive field goals made by Parkey from late in 2011 to the fifth game of 2012, tied for the third-longest streak in school history.

46 – Parkey’s career long. He told me last year he can connect from 55 if asked.

2 – Auburn’s national ranking in kick return defense and punt return defense in 2012. Only Northern Illinois (an Orange Bowl participant) joined the Tigers as finishing top 10 in both categories.

AUBURN Miss State

Good Twitter follows: He has more followers than @WarEagleExtra. He has more followers than @TreMason21. Heck, he even has more followers than both returning quarterbacks – Kiehl Frazier (@KiehlFrazier10) and Jonathan Wallace (@JWall_4) – combined. Ladies and gentlemen … the kicker, Cody Parkey, @CParkey36 (9,807 followers). His active photo feed of food, teammates, the Miami Heat (he’s from Jupiter, Fla.), and … uh … this and this have boosted his cult exposure. By my unofficial check, Parkey’s second on the team among returning players in followers – Nosa Eguae’s got him by about a thousand.

Say what? “I wasn’t real pleased with what we’ve done with punt return in production. That’s area one I’m trying to improve. I know Trovon Reed was back there last year early in the year … and I think Quan Bray’s definitely got the quickness to make guys miss. I don’t know if it was the guys back there or the scheme, but I’m going to study that and really try to figure that out.” – Fountain

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


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.

2012? What 2012? New Auburn football coaches choose to work with a clean slate


By AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com


AUBURN, Ala. – It’s not a popularity contest. It’s not up for the fans, media or alumni to decide. It’s not even really up to Rodney Garner or the other coaches, when it boils down to it.

Auburn’s 2013 football starting lineup could easily look like a shell of its former (2012) self, and it’s all based on what happens in positional competition, starting with spring practices opening two weeks from Wednesday.

When guys like 1,000-yard rusher Tre Mason aren’t guaranteed playing time – running backs coach Tim Horton’s assessment when assistant coaches discussed the team Feb. 21 – that sets the tone for a rebuilding Auburn program.

Garner obviously has a rapport with the incoming freshmen – Montravius Adams, Elijah Daniel and Carl Lawson, to name three defensive linemen – and knows a few of the returning players from his recruitment attempts to Georgia.

“But they’re all starting at first base with me,” Garner said. “Obviously, it’s wide open, because I haven’t coached any of them. So it’s going to be based on how they perform in workouts, how they progress in spring practice. I have no preconceived ideals about any of them. I’m going to evaluate everybody on their body of work that they do under my watch.”

Special teams coordinator and tight ends coach Scott Fountain, who returns more continuity at those positions than most of his colleagues, is more apt to utilizing 2012 game tape.

Fountain was on Auburn’s support staff last fall, so he’s already familiar with tight ends C.J. Uzomah and Brandon Fulse, kicker Cody Parkey, punter Steven Clark and the return and coverage squads.

“I’m going to go back and reevaluate those guys, see what they did last year, maybe even what they did the year before,” Fountain said. “But I’m not going to put a ton of stock into, ‘well, he had a bad year so he’s not any good.’ It’s more evaluating play on his effort every day in practice.”

Both the offensive and defensive playbooks will look completely different than last year’s systems, a big reason why head coach Gus Malzahn chose not to start spring practices until March 27.

“There has to be trust and respect that what you’re telling them is the right thing,” wide receivers coach Dameyune Craig said. “We’re building that as a staff, and the kids are responding well to that.”

One of the biggest detractors to reviewing game tape of his players under another coach’s tutelage, Melvin Smith is presently concerned with getting to know his cornerbacks on a personal level.

“I’ve got to focus on trying to get my guys to have a relationship with me,” Smith said, “where they can come and tell me, Coach, you know, my dad is in prison and I’ve got that on my mind. How can you help me get that off my mind so I can focus?

“I don’t think I can develop that relationship overnight, and I don’t think I can develop that relationship chewing ‘em out when they did it right, or praising them when they did it wrong. I’ve got to teach them what I want, and grade them on what I taught them. I’m not going to grade them on what somebody else taught them.”

Offensive line coach J.B. Grimes plans to integrate game tape for Malzahn-led teams – i.e. Auburn from 2009-11 and Arkansas State from 2012. But Grimes isn’t completely burning the film from Auburn in 2012.

“I’ll watch it because I’m evaluating athleticism, and how they play in game situations,” Grimes said. “But as far as what they did offensively and what we’re going to do offensively, it’s not the same. So you can’t teach off of it at all.”

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.”

January 25, 2013

Scott Fountain promoted to TEs, special teams coach; Bisaccia officially departs Auburn

ScottFountainAUBURN, Ala. — Next man in.

With Rich Bisaccia likely on his way to the Dallas Cowboys’ staff just 22 days after being brought to Auburn, head coach Gus Malzahn made some minor adjustments to ensure his staff will remain a completed entity while National Signing Day draws closer.

Auburn announced Friday Tim Horton will shift over to handle the running backs, after initially being tabbed to coach tight ends. Scott Fountain, who had been Auburn player personnel director since February 2009, becomes the Tigers’ tight ends and special teams coach.

Bisaccia was hired Jan. 3 as assistant head coach, as well as guiding the running backs and special teams units, after 11 years consecutively spent in the NFL ranks. Although Auburn did not specify Bisaccia’s destination, ESPNDallas.com and the Dallas Morning News reported Wednesday night Bisaccia was close to becoming the Cowboys’ special teams coordinator.

“Rich had an offer that he felt he could not turn down,” Malzahn said in a release, “and we wish him nothing but the best.”

Horton spent the previous six seasons coaching running backs at Arkansas, including current NFL players Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, and 12 years overall teaching in the backfield, making this a natural transition for him.

“I’m excited that Tim will be coaching our running backs,” Malzahn said. “He has a tremendous track record coaching some great backs and I’m extremely confident that will continue here at Auburn.”

Fountain was brought to Auburn early in the Gene Chizik era, but remained on support staff after the regime change. On his official Auburn bio, he “was responsible for all aspects of recruiting and assists with day-to-day football operations, with emphasis on administrative assistance to Auburn head coach Gene Chizik. Helped Auburn sign three Top 10 recruiting classes, including the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation in 2011 according to Scout.com.”

Fountain, a native of East Brewton, Ala., was Chizik’s tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator at Iowa State from 2007-08. He previously coached positions at Georgia Southern, Middle Tennessee State and Central Florida. He graduated from Samford in 1988 and earned a Master’s degree from Florida State in 1998, and has high school coaching experience in the state of Alabama.

“Scott is someone I tried to hire as an assistant coach a year ago at Arkansas State,” Malzahn said. “He is a great coach with a tremendous work ethic, and his strong ties in the state of Alabama will be an asset to our program.”

Aside from the official release, Malzahn tweeted: “Excited about Scott being on field now. Great coach, great recruiter, strong ties in AL. Won’t miss a beat! #wareagle