AUBURN, Ala. — Gus Malzahn got one of his wishes for his Auburn football staff Friday.
The NCAA Division I Council approved the addition of a 10th assistant coach, effective January 2018. While Malzahn isn’t a fan of all the legislation approved Friday, he was in favor of the 10th assistant. After Auburn’s A-Day spring game last Saturday, he said he already had some ideas in mind for the spot.
“We’ll see,” Malzahn said. “I’ve got some ideas, but I’m not set on any one thing. But hopefully it’ll pass, that would be good.”
One of Malzahn’s top assistants, defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, said during spring practices he wanted the 10th spot to go to his side of the ball. Auburn has 5 offensive assistants to 4 defensive assistants, and Malzahn’s background is on offense.
“I think everybody in every room, the offensive room at any school will say ‘we need him on offense,’ the defensive room will say they need him on defense,” Steele said. “My argument is you’ve already got the head coach, give us another one.
“Coach, he’ll have a plan. He’ll put him where he needs him.”
What could that plan be? While any spot on Auburn’s coaching staff easily could change between now and next January, let’s break down 3 top possibilities for the 10th assistant on the Plains.
Split Rodney Garner’s duties on the defensive front
Since the 10th assistant first became a point of discussion last fall, this has been the most talked-about possibility for Auburn.
Rodney Garner currently coaches Bucks, traditional defensive ends and defensive tackles for the Tigers. During the spring, Garner oversaw 14 players — and more are on their way this summer. The veteran defensive line coach loves big numbers up front for depth, but that’s a lot to handle compared to other positions.
Other programs in college football have succeeded with 2 defensive line coaches — 1 for interior linemen, 1 for edge rushers. Clemson, fresh off a national championship, is the most notable example with former assistants Dan Brooks and Marion Hobby.
A 10th assistant could take over Auburn’s edge rushers and leave Garner to focus on tackles. Auburn’s defensive linemen would get much more individual attention with this setup. Elite defensive lines probably rank second behind quarterback play when it comes to necessary ingredients for college football contenders.
Bring Scott Fountain back
Malzahn made the surprising decision earlier this year to reassign special teams coordinator and tight ends coach Scott Fountain to an off-field role. Fountain was reportedly open to leave Auburn in order to take an on-field coaching job, but he still remains with the program months later.
If Fountain stays through the 2017 season, Malzahn could bring him back on staff as the 10th assistant. This move would work in one of several ways. He could take the special teams coordinator role from running backs coach Tim Horton, or he could coach tight ends and H-backs again. The latter most likely would move Larry Porter to a full-time recruiting coordinator role. Using the 10th coaching spot to create a recruiting-centric position has been discussed regarding at least one other SEC program.
Another wild card option would be to split offensive line duties with Herb Hand. Fountain coached interior linemen and later offensive tackles during his assistant coaching tenure at UCF.
Either way, bringing Fountain back would add another strong recruiter back into the mix for the Auburn coaching staff — and one with extensive experience on the Plains in several roles.
Have dedicated coaches for safeties and corners again
Malzahn’s first staff at Auburn included a pair of secondary coaches. Charlie Harbison coached safeties, while Melvin Smith coached cornerbacks.
Right now, first-year assistant Greg Brown coaches cornerbacks, safeties and nickel backs for the Tigers. This spring, Auburn had 16 defensive backs on its roster. Three more will join the team this summer.
That’s a larger group of pupils than Garner has on the defensive line. However, for the most part, there’s more versatility among defensive backs than defensive linemen. Some coaches see an advantage to having one coach oversee all positions in the back end.
Splitting things up again in the back would give Steele another defensive assistant, and one at a position of high volume. Plus, Brown has experience sharing responsibilities as a secondary coach — he only coached cornerbacks at Missouri in 2016, and safeties at Louisville in 2014 and 2015.