War Eagle, everybody! It’s that time of year, where the fitful sputtering sun stays in the southern sky for only a few hours each day, while folks are busier than ever. I don’t know about you, but December often has the longest work days of the year for me! Perhaps the most furiously busy person of them all is new Auburn head coach Gus Malzhan. He’s brought in some exciting names for assistant coaches, including Ryan Russell, Rhett Lashlee, Ellis Johnson and Charlie Harbinson. Rumor is that former Tiger great Dameyune Craig is under consideration. Also said to be a target is Tennessee Titans defensive line coach Tracy Rocker. This season the Titans are 4-9, on a three game losing streak, and the team is likely to clean house in a few weeks.
What’s been refreshing to me is that Gus has been unafraid to swing the axe, and let go everyone who was a part of the worst Auburn football team I’ve ever seen. After this team wilted horribly down the stretch, not even strength coach Kevin Yoxall’s job was spared. The latest departure seems to be potential starting offensive lineman Christian Westerman, who’ll reportedly transfer to Arizona State. There are still plenty more things I’d like to see Gus leave behind in 2012.
Here are few things I desperately wish to see disappear. First off is insipid coach-speak at press conferences. I think I’ll pull hair out if Malzhan says “he’s day to day.” Chizik did that countless times. It told nothing. That player could miss a week, or might be out for the season, but all Chizik would say is “day to day.”
Another irritating trend was A-Day games that were over in less than two hours. During the Chizik era, the clock would run unchecked the whole second half. It was the only football Auburn fans could see for nine long months, and Chizik seemed to purposefully hold out many of his best players, and shorten the game. Word out of Auburn is that Malzhan is going to allow high school coaches to observe practice, so there might well be a few more informative tidbits out there in terms of workout news.
The most tiresome coach-speak item I’d like to see buried is “We’re going to keep doing what we do.” That’s great when you’re winning championships. When you’re losing SEC games 42-0 at the half, not so much. No one wants to hear that you intend to keep giving up record numbers of points, coach!
We need to bring in coaches and athletes who can do what the head coach wants them to do. That really seemed to be a problem the past few years. Gene Chizik clearly wanted to run a classic Tampa-two defense, and yet he hired coordinator Ted Roof, who was a life-long heavy blitz and press guy. The result was that Auburn fielded 3 of the 4 worst defenses in team history during that tenure. Ted Roof seemed to get most of the blame, but it’s important to note that this past season, Roof had pretty good results at Penn State, which was a depleted team due to NCAA sanctions. The Nittany Lions only gave up 19.1 points per game, which is nearly 5 points per game better than Auburn’s 2010 national championship team.
There’s nothing wrong with running some Tampa-two in your defensive package, especially if you have a strong defensive line that can attack and disrupt. Unfortunately, that’s not been the case the past two years at Auburn. Mike Pelton’s defensive line was as soft as any I’ve ever seen on the Plains. Even Terry Bowden/Pete Jenkins’ injury-decimated 1996 unit was tougher. That line had true freshman Leonardo Carson, true sophomore Jimmy Brumbaugh, and redshirt sophomore Charles Dorsey making plays. “Youth” was repeatedly trotted out as an excuse the past two seasons. Did you know that Auburn has 6 seniors and 4 juniors returning on the defensive line next season? Eguae, Lemonier, Ford, Sanders, Whitaker, and Carter are all guys who’ve played extensively the past 3 years. Wright, Blackson, Owens and Sigler are all returning juniors. Without disruptive D-line play, the Tampa-Two becomes basically a soft, static zone waiting to be picked apart.
Another disaster was the decision to try and run a “pro style” offense with a hodge-podge coordinator, and spread-to-run players. Chizik sold Scot Loeffler as a pro-style coordinator, but what Auburn put on the field didn’t resemble any NFL squad’s plan. The end result of the Loeffler offense was a unit that averaged only 10 points per game against SEC opponents. And this wasn’t against an all-world defensive schedule. The Tigers managed just a single field goal drive against Mississippi State, who gave up 27.9 points per game in the SEC. Arkansas gave up 32.1, but Auburn managed just a single touchdown against them. Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and Texas A&M all gave up over 20 points per game, but Auburn still could not get it done on offense. Let’s hope such ineptitude stays behind in 2012.
We’re looking forward to 2013, and I sincerely hope Gus will tell it like it is, instead of hiding behind catch-phrases. If we are losing (and we will lose some), explain what went wrong, and what the plan is to fix it. We’re certainly not interested in hearing about “great practices,” leading up to yet another blow-out loss. We’re hoping for, and expect an Auburn team that will fight tooth and nail, going forward. That’s Auburn football, and less than that won’t be tolerated.
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