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.
Gus Malzahn. Even aside from the influence of his offense, Malzahn’s a dogged recruiter in his own right who may bring the top recruit in Arkansas to Auburn for two years running.
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.
Well, I think a good example of why depth does not cancel out good recruiting is (God forgive me…) UA. Clearly, they have depth & clearly they continue to recruit well. How can their fans say playing time is the important issue at Auburn when playing for “UA” is the main draw at Tuscaloosa? Their lack of logic & consistency continue to astound me. War Eagle!
Id argue that Lolley deserves his name in bold also. He might not be the best recruiter in the world. But it seems to me that it is his job is to find the small school hidden gems that help to fill out the class when we missed on big name prospects. I believe it was Lolley that found Delanie, Phillips, and Lanier. His connects throughout the state are difficult for the most seasoned recruiter to match. But I could be wrong.
As far as Auburn recruiting well until the coaching staff is hired away, I would argue that, as long as Chizik stays in place, he’ll be able to replace the members of the staff who do leave with coaches who can perform just as well on both the recruiting trail and the sidelines. He did put the current staff together, after all.
That being said, knock on wood…
Very thoughtful piece Jerry. I really enjoy these where you actually wish to include our thoughts into the discussion.
Thigpen was ONLY the recruiting coordinator at NC. He is probably most responsible for their success, if they have any this season.
Recruit, after recruit, talks about how Coach Grimes is a straight shooter, and they love it!
Lolley has known almost every high school football coach in the state of Alabama for years.
Chizik and his famed Thorpe award winners aside, can coach and recruit with the best of ’em.
I agree with you 1,000 percent that until this staff is depleted by future job openings, they can and will get the job done.
I do however have this to say about Malzahn. I truly believe he is offered very good moolah, to go pro with his offense. The NFL can’t wait to see if this really works for a couple of years in the farm league(SEC) before they bring him up.
Lots of good points in this thread, guys, thanks. Re: Lolley, I won’t argue he’s a key component, but his role is very specific–beat the bushes and track down the sleepers. To my mind it’s the other guys who do the quote-unquote “heavy lifting” with the 4- and 5-stars. But believe me, I don’t mean that as a slight–everyone’s got a job to do, and Lolley to date has done an outstanding job of it.
KB, I gotta tell you, I’ll be stunned if Malzahn makes the leap to the pros. It’s just too big a leap for a league as conservative as the NFL to give the reins over to a mad genius like Dr. Gustav. I think what you’ll see, if the offense does what we expect it to these next few seasons, is that certain of his concepts will get stolen, but that Gus will stay i nthe college game.
In all fairness Auburn fans were saying the same thing about Alabama in 2008. The reality is for top tier programs, the ability to recruit, no matter how deep the depth chart, is rarely a problem. There are just too many advantages (fan base, facilities, history, etc…) that make it considerably easier to recruit for these schools.
Alex P in Smyrna G says
I think Chizik has done an excellent job in assembling this staff. My biggest fear though is that Malzahn’s offense is so unique that he will be next to impossible to replace – and the types of players he requires are not necessarily cut out for conventional offensives like the ones the vast majority of available replacements will want to use.
Look at all the QBs he’s had in college. He only had each for one year and that was by far each one’s most productive season. None have been prototypical QBs (maybe Mustain but last I heard he was closer to being a starting punter than QB at USC) – but they worked in his scheme.
I think Malzahn will stick around to get two years with Cam Newton, then if he can win the SEC he will have head coach offers at major schools and he may take one. If he doesn’t win big hte next two years but instead loses the SECC or the NC game…then he may stick around for a couple more years.
Kenny, certainly, up to and including Tubby himself. Which makes it all the more ironic now, right? I meant to make this same point in this post–I _think_ I’ve made it before somewhere–but forgot. Thanks for mentioning it.
Alex, at quarterback and slot receiver, maybe, but I don’t think it’s all that different for the RBs, outside WRs, or linemen … and that’s assuming Chizik brought in a pro-style guy. Malzahn’s spread is not like other spreads, but I don’t think it’s so different that the personnel would change drastically.
Jan – Don’t you know, silly, these kids will crawl over broken glass for the great honor of donning the crimsun jersey and playing for the tide. All bammer class and tradishun that was started by the old dead drunk 40 years before these current recruits were born still dominates their decision making. rtr.
KoolBell – no way Dr Gus takes the Wild Vigoda offense to the League. They are too set in their ways. Gus has already had is impact with the latest iteration of the single wing being pretty common place in most team’s playbooks. That said, none of them run it with their primary quarterback, and very few teams are really committed to running it (Go Phins!). It will be interesting to see Tebow this year, because he is actually a threat to throw the ball.