Welcome to a second edition of WBE Mythbusters, where we attempt to explode certain fan- or maybe media-held myths regarding Auburn football and related issues. Today’s topic:
Myth No. 3: Auburn is only recruiting at their current level because of the ravaged depth chart and the offer of immediate playing time. Once the depth chart is stocked again, it’s time for a step backwards, back to the late-era Tubby days.
Let me first say this: I’m not going to argue that some of the gaping holes in Auburn’s two-deep haven’t been an incentive for a lot of recruits. Based on the current projected starting lineup, the Tigers will enter 2011 with open positions at running back, wide receiver, left tackle, center, left guard, right guard, defensive tackle, both weak- and strongside defensive end, middle linebacker, outside linebacker, cornerback, and at least one safety. That’s an awful lot of places where an underclassman can come in and compete for a starting position, especially when you consider that there’s not that many members of the relatively weak classes of 2008 and 2009 that would stand in the way of a 2010 or 2011 blue-chipper. Lots of Auburn commitments over the past 16 months have mentioned “opportunity” as a factor in their decision, and they’re not lying, and they’re not wrong that “opportunity” exists on the Plains.
Between this and the natural inclination to find an easy, temporary explanation for “Gene Chizik pulled in a top-5 recruiting class”–a phenomenon as apparently baffling and mysterious to the rest of the SEC as sexual reproduction was to medieval peasants–many Internet observers (most of them Tide fans, natch) have declared Auburn’s depleted depth chart to be the key element behind Chizik and Co.’s impact on the recruiting trail. Once that depth chart becomes replenished and an impediment to recruiting rather than a help, the thinking goes, Auburn’s sudden success will vanish as quickly as it arrived.
This thinking is, as the saying goes, Wishful. With a capital W. Just as a pile of half-eaten corn cobs doesn’t spontaneously generate a family of rats, so Auburn’s 2010 class and early 2011 returns haven’t just been magically created by the gaps on the Tiger roster.
Because it’s a truth universally acknowledged that if what a coaching staff has to sell is important, what’s even more important is who’s doing the selling. And the people Chizik has employed to do the selling are good. Stunningly good, really, even a year-and-a-half after their hiring. The roster, for clarity’s sake:
Trooper Taylor. Universally acknowledged as one of the best recruiters in the game.
Tommy Thigpen. Between now and the start of the season, you’ll probably read more than one article about how ridiculously loaded the 2010 North Carolina defense promises to be. One of the primary recruiters–if not the primary recruiter–for that defense, and players like five-star, first-round lock Marvin Austin? Thigpen.
Tracy Rocker. Auburn signed six defensive linemen last spring. Five of them were Rivals four-stars, two of them in the top 60 overall, and another in the top 200 overall. All of them cited the chance to play with Rocker as a major reason for their commitment.
Curtis Luper. The top three running backs in the country each named Auburn their leader at one time last year.
Jeff Grimes. Yes, his unit has been probably the most depleted, “opportunity”-ready of all. He’s still a relatively young, charismatic straight-shooter who helped pull one of the top offensive line classes in the country a year ago and already has two All-Americans lined up for 2011.
The first five are probably the highest-impact recruiters amongst the position coaches, but Jay Boulware and Phillip Lolley have proven to hardly be slouches themselves. And of course, offensively speaking, the group of them are recruiting to one of the most dynamic, exciting, statistic-friendly offenses in the country. Even Ted Roof has capitalized on his deserved reputation as a linebacking guru to land some top-notch talent at LB.
And, oh yeah, for all the stick Chizik has gotten (even from yours truly at times) for a lack of charisma, recruit after recruit after recruit has talked about how much they trust and respect Auburn’s head coach after meeting with him. He’s clearly doing something right, too.
The point of all of this, all of which you’ve no doubt heard before: as long as this staff of coaches remains intact, Auburn is going to recruit like mad. It won’t matter what the depth chart looks like. Trooper Taylor’s suddenly not going to have a recruit’s ear because he might not be able to talk about immediate playing time? Right. Defensive line prospects are going to quit paying attention to Tracy Rocker’s Outland Trophy and loooooong track record once they find out there might be a couple of guys in front of them? OK, sure. Yeah, you could look at the laundry list of studs Tommy Thigpen’s recruited over the past decade in all kinds of situations, but don’t you think that once he has to convince a prospect that possibly settling for second-string and special teams duty for a season or two isn’t the end of the world, he’s going to be totally lost? Of course he will be.
Sarcasm aside, even I have to admit that the perfect combination of staff energy, freshness of message, and available P.T. that we saw in 2009-2010 isn’t likely to be replicated. This past Signing Day was probably the apex (though this staff has continually surprised me since coming on board and may just continue to do so).
But if Auburn doesn’t quite see that same ceiling again, the floor here remains awfully high. As long as Taylor and Luper and Thigpen and Rocker and Grimes and the rest are in place, Auburn’s going to battle for the best recruits they can find. They’re going to win their share. They’re going to stick in the gurus’ top 15, and most likely top 10. They’re going to recruit at a level that allows Auburn to compete with anybody in the SEC.
Sure, the bottom may drop out eventually. But it’ll be if/when multiple members of this staff are hired away and broken up*, and not one moment before, and not for any other reason. They’re simply too good at what they do to rationally expect anything different.
*Your mileage may vary, and it may just be the orange-and-blue glasses, but I don’t see this happening for several years. Malzahn’s the most likely departee, but even he’s paid so well and seemed to pay so little attention to the likes of the La. Tech and Memphis openings–not bad ones from a mid-major perspective–that I have to think he’s holding out for a BCS-level job, and after all the tumult of the past two offseasons, how many of those are going to open up any time soon? Spurrier’s the only guy in the SEC that doesn’t seem 100 percent entrenched (if you don’t count Richt, and I don’t), none of the Southern ACC programs look ready for a change, no one save Dan Hawkins in the Big 12 is in any danger. The position coaches might bolt for a coordinator’s chair, but who knows when or where they might get that chance. Auburn’s coaches are well-compensated, seem to enjoy working for Chizik and alongside each other, and speak glowingly of Auburn as a place to live. Again, it may the homerism talking, but I don’t foresee any mass exodus in the near future.