Coach Kodi Burns: The Real A-Day MVP
Coach Kodi Burns (photo: Auburn media file)
The performance of Auburn’s receivers under Gus Malzahn has been mixed, at best. There’s no question that this group has been affected by difficulties at quarterback the past two years. As the most important position in football, quarterback garners most of the attention and when that position doesn’t produce as expected, it overshadows nearly every other shortcoming on the field. Certainly, the last two year’s struggles of the Malzahn Hurry-Up-No-Huddle offense have been highlighted by the poor play of once-touted superstar Jeremy Johnson and the quarterback rotation that took place in the 2016 season.
Due to those struggles the continued poor performance by Auburn’s receivers was ignored by many. After all, without a quarterback to deliver passes, the inability to catch is irrelevant. That doesn’t mean there weren’t moments that stood out to even the casual fan. Sean White may not be the prototypical SEC quarterback, but one only has to watch the 2015 Arkansas game to see that quarterback wasn’t the only issue.
Quality receiver depth has also been an issue. Although both Trooper Taylor and Dameyune Craig were excellent recruiters, neither were able to develop players.
Enter Kodi Burns, perhaps better known as Auburn’s quarterback turned receiver than as either recruiter or coach. In the seven years since he caught the first touchdown of Auburn’s 2010 National Championship victory, Burns has had a meteoric rise in the coaching ranks. He followed Malzahn to Arkansas State in 2012, came back to Auburn in 2013, then coached at Stanford, Middle Tennessee State, and Arizona State before coming back to Auburn in 2016.
When he was hired to replace Coach Craig, there were those who thought this was just an example of Coach Malzahn staying in his comfort level. The performance of the receivers in 2016 did little to change that impression.. Despite the potential receiver talent on the Plains, would bringing a potential all star such as Jarrett Stidham be spoiled by a lack of well-developed weapons for him to throw to?
Auburn’s spring game was definitely the Jarrett Stidham Show, no doubt about it. The Baylor transfer came to Auburn with some very good stats. In limited action, he threw for over 1,200 yards and 12 TDs. Saturday, he threw for 267 yards…in one half. Thanks to a drop and a fumble by running back Kam Martin and a missed connection with Jason Smith, even those stats were a bit deceptive. He should have had over 300 yards and two TDs. The performance seemed to legitimize the Heisman hype.
Yet, a very large grain of salt must be taken before talking up Stidham’s Heisman odds. Those Big 12 stats are just that: Big 12 Stats. They came in a very limited sample size. Additionally, Stidham was throwing the ball to three NFL receivers in Corey Coleman, KD Cannon, and Jay Lee. Saturday, Stidham wasn’t live as he stood solid in the pocket behind the starting offensive line. His young receivers, however, were live and they sure looked like the kind of weapons Stidham is used to throwing to
While much was expected from the nation’s best receiver class in last year’s recruiting cycle, the young players struggled in 2016. Saturday, Nate Craig-Myers, Darius Slayton, and even oft-dismissed Marquis McClain shined. Last season, every receiver was often confused and hesitant at the point of attack. Yet these three players were three of the top four producers in the Saturday scrimmage and they were dynamic, even dominating. Credit for that is almost assuredly due to their coach, Kodi Burns.
The player who, perhaps, speaks the loudest to coach Burns’ abilities is Will Hastings. He had seven catches for 75 yards, was the first player Stidham threw to in the game, and he was the player Stidham targeted when things got tough. The speedy slot man looked nearly untouchable, although he fumbled to end a promising drive, and seemed to be the perfect complement to the other receivers. Who would have thought a converted walk-on kicker would be the go-to guy! But, who would know how to turn walk-ons into heroes better than Kodi Burns?
The race at quarterback was what filled the seats on Saturday but it isn’t really a race at all. Nor is it the reason that Auburn is going to succeed in 2017. With the experienced line, a loaded backfield, and competent receivers any competent QB, regardless if it’s Stidham or White, is going to be able to throw the ball. Can Kodi Burns do the job that no one else has done and get those pass catchers ready? The answer Saturday was emphatically “yes,” which made Kodi Burns the real A-Day MVP.