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Departures, non-departures, etc.

I'll stick around / I'll stick around / and learn from all / that came from it*

False alarm. As usual. Soooo … Gus Malzahn’s going to get hired by La. Tech. Trooper Taylor’s going back to Tennessee. We haven’t figured out where Tommy Thigpen’s going just yet, but we’re sure he’s going somewhere. Right, Coach Chizik?

“My goal is to keep our coaching staff intact,” Chizik said. “We’ve been able to do that and I fully anticipate being able to do that.”

Malzahn’s name has been popular among Internet message boards for the Bulldogs’ job. The first-year Auburn offensive coordinator made a name for himself as a high school coach in Arkansas, not far from Louisiana Tech’s campus in Ruston, La.

“Obviously there’s going to be hearsay and there’s going to be rumors,” Chizik said. “I think everybody understands how the rumor mill works and how the different things that get out on the Internet sites … I just think there’s a lot of things out there, but I think people know they’re not necessarily fact … “

Damn, Internet, you just got served.

At this point, it’s hard to see how the 2009 staff doesn’t return en masse for 2010: it’s possible Dooley makes a run at Taylor or somebody else, but he’s already being strong-armed multiple leftover assistants from the Kiffin error, open positions are limited, and at this point Auburn looks to be in better shape anyway, program-wise. It’s possible the La. Tech vacancy gets filled in such a way that the falling dominoes result in a head-coaching offer for one of the position coaches, I guess … but that seems incredibly far-fetched.

In short: I think Chizik is confident for a reason, and that this particular storm has passed.

Godspeed. That scholarship-numbers issue discussed last week? Yeah, nevermind:

Linebackers Adam Herring and Spencer Pybus and offensive lineman Vance Smith are out due to injuries. Defensive lineman Cameron Henderson, who was suspended for the entire 2009 season, has left the team and is no longer enrolled at Auburn, Chizik said …

“Those are three great kids, who absolutely love football and there’s nothing that tears them up more,” Chizik said. “But you got [to] look at what your quality of life is going to be like 30 years from now. At the end of the day, that’s what you have to measure.”

Tackling the news player-by-player:

— Henderson’s departure is probably the least surprising. You’d have to have some serious stick-to-it-iveness to continue playing for a coaching staff that suspended you for an entire season … and that’s even assuming the Auburn coaches would have been accommodating of that wish in the first place. It wasn’t happening. Since Henderson was barely on the depth chart in the first place, the impact here is nonexistent.

— It’s a genuine shame about Pybus, but this is another one you could see coming. Pybus just has too much going for him away from football to risk brain damage on becoming Eltoro Freeman’s backup. (Actually, let’s call a spade a spade here, assuming the multiple-concussion reports are accurate: it’s not worth risking further brain damage.) Even if Pybus wasn’t a likely starter this coming fall, his loss was a big blow last year and it’s still a big blow going forward: after his promising freshman season, he would have provided some nice insurance if the incoming freshmen aren’t quite ready for the field. This news hurts. And speaking of that insurance …

— Herring’s departure probably hurts most of all. No, I wasn’t impressed with his early-season play, but he improved noticeably as the season went along, and linebackers with any of legitimate on-field experience are at such a premium on the current Auburn roster. Like Pybus, he wouldn’t have been a likely starter in 2010, but assuming he kept improving he would have been a nice security blanket in the event of (heaven forbid) an injury to Stevens or Bynes. Now? Auburn had really better hope a couple of those freshmen are good to go.

— Smith’s exit is the most mysterious–we still don’t even know what his injury is–and if you’re the cynical sort inclined to wonder how much these retirements are the idea of the players involved and how much they’re the idea of a coaching staff looking to make room for a full 25-player recruiting class, Smith’s is the case that makes you go “Hmmmm.”

But I don’t think there’s much footing for that kind of cynicism here: Smith was recruited as a tight end for an entirely different system than Auburn’s using now. If you’re him, do you keep fighting through an injury in a foreign position for two seasons for the right to maybe have a shot at regular time in ’11 for a staff that didn’t recruit you? Grimes had some good things to say about Smith’s athleticism and potential as a tackle last spring; if Smith was still physically sound and still interested in football, the guess here is that he’d still be playing.

As is, Smith’s absence won’t make much of a dent in the Auburn depth chart, even coming as it does on the offensive line. He most likely wouldn’t have seen the field in ’10 without a wave of injuries, and if I’d have given him a fighting shot at a starting job in ’11 based on Grimes’ enthusiasm and his presence on the field down the ’08 stretch, it was hardly a given.

Collectively, the losses aren’t anything to lose sleep over from the on-field perspective, but we are talking about saying good-bye to an offensive lineman with some real upside and two linebackers. It’s not insignificant, either. From the off-field perspective, here’s to wishing all four of them good luck; as Chizik said, it’s not likely kids like Pybus, Herring, or Smith will need it.

Oh, and the bottom line on the numbers: assuming Darrell Roseman’s no longer on scholarship come this fall, Auburn’s got exactly enough room for the full 25-member recruiting class. Or they would, except that ….

Savage is returning. Watch out now:

Chizik said S Aairon Savage has applied for a sixth season of eligibility. He has missed the past two years because of leg injuries. Former DL Tez Doolittle made the same appeal for the same problems two years ago and was granted the sixth season. He found out in March.

I’ll be honest: I’m skeptical Savage can both recover physically from back-to-back season-ending injuries and knock off enough mental rust from two years away from competition to become a contributor. That said, there’s basically no downside here: at the very least Savage will be around to help tutor Bates, Bell, and the other young secondary members, and at the most he’s able to firm up one of the most injury-plagued areas of the Auburn roster.

As for his chances, since I don’t even play a doctor on TV I’m not qualified to comment. But we can at least point out that by the time the 2010 season kicks off, it’ll have been two full years since his ACL tear and more than a full year since his Achilles injury. On top of that, it’s not like Auburn fans have to go very far back to find an Achilles recovery success story, what with Tez Doolittle playing himself back into a starting role in ’08 on the heels (pun intended, oh yes) of suffering the same injury. The quick cuts required of a defensive back should be rougher on the Achilles than what a noseguard like Doolittle faced, but clearly it wouldn’t be wise counting Savage out.

So, hey, yeah, good news. Lots of that going around these days at Auburn.

Other notes. Via Bitter: Tyrik Rollison, Eric Smith, and the DUIbacks are back with the team … Lee Ziemba is officially staying for his senior season, not that there’s any evidence he ever considered leaving … and Mike Blanc does have relatives in Haiti that Auburn’s staff is doing what they can (read: not much) to help him and his family connect with. Prayers, as always.

Hoops Report coming tomorrow.

*Still the best post-Nirvana song Grohl’s written.

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