AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn coach Gus Malzahn and defensive coordinator Kevin Steele went with extensive college and NFL experience when hiring their first defensive backs coach together last year. The duo followed the same model again with Greg Brown.
Auburn hired Brown, who last served as the cornerbacks coach at Missouri, to fill its defensive backs coach vacancy Saturday evening. He replaces Wesley McGriff, the new Ole Miss defensive coordinator who once coached for the New Orleans Saints and several SEC schools.
Brown has one key tie to the Auburn staff — he worked with Steele in 2013 at Alabama — but he might be an unknown quantity to many Tigers fans.
Here are five key things for the Auburn faithful to know about the coaching veteran who will be leading Tigers defensive backs in 2017.
1. Brown brings 30-plus years of college and NFL experience.
Auburn would have been hard pressed to find a defensive backs coach with more experience than Brown. He graduated from UTEP in 1980 and became a graduate assistant there in 1981.
After a year at a high school and two more in the USFL, Brown went to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1984 and has been coaching at a high level ever since. His first college job was at Wyoming in 1987. Brown has been directly in charge of defensive backs for a majority of his 36 years in coaching. Some of his former players include Rodney Harrison, Samari Rolle, Scott Case and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
His last four seasons were spent at Alabama, Louisville and Missouri. In the last three seasons, Brown’s secondaries ranked among the best in their conferences for interceptions.
2. No one has coached more Thorpe Award winners than Brown.
The Thorpe Award goes to the best defensive back in college football each season. Brown personally coached three of them — Colorado’s Deon Figures (1992), Colorado’s Chris Hudson (1994) and Louisville’s Gerod Holliman (2014). Hudson won in the year after Brown left, but did coach him the three prior seasons.
No other position coach has three Thorpe Award winners on his resume. In 2013 and 2014, Brown strictly coached the safeties at Louisville. Holliman, his prized pupil, tied an NCAA record with 14 interceptions in one season.
Auburn has only one Thorpe Award winner in its history — former All-Pro cornerback Carlos Rogers, who won in 2004. The Tigers would love for Brown to train another during his time on the Plains.
3. Brown’s secondaries are known for being ball magnets.
Holliman picked off 14 passes during the 2014 season at Louisville, but he wasn’t a one-man show for Brown. The Cardinals intercepted 26 passes that year, which tied for the most by a team in the past five seasons.
The next year, Louisville recorded 17 interceptions, which tied for 14th-best in the country. This season, Missouri led the SEC in interceptions per game with 15 in just 12 contests.
Active hands are a theme in recent years for Brown’s secondaries. In each of the past three seasons, the defense for which Brown coached ranked inside the top 30 nationally in pass deflections, too. That’s good news for Auburn, which tied for third in that category in 2016 with 69.
4. Brown brings back the Nick Saban-to-Gus Malzahn staffer trend.
Brown coached defensive backs at Alabama in 2013 after a stint as the defensive coordinator at Colorado. His time with Alabama coach Nick Saban brings back a familiar trend in Malzahn’s staffs at Auburn, as Brandon Marcello of Auburn Undercover first noted.
Brown is the fifth former Saban assistant to be hired at Auburn, joining Steele, former defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, former linebackers coach Lance Thompson and former safeties coach Charlie Harbison.
In his lone season at Alabama, Brown’s secondary finished 10th in fewest passing touchdowns allowed, 14th nationally in passing yards allowed per game, 26th in opposing passer rating, 28th in completion percentage and 31st in yards per attempt.
5. Brown is a solid recruiter from his time at Louisville and Alabama.
Malzahn said last month that recruiting would be a key component in his next defensive backs coach hire. Brown served as the recruiting coordinator for Louisville, helping the Cardinals get the classes needed to become contenders in the ACC after making the jump from the American Athletic Conference.
According to 247Sports, Brown was the primary recruiter for former Alabama defensive linemen Jarran Reed and D.J. Pettway, who played at East Mississippi Community College. Given Auburn’s past experience with recruiting from the fertile Mississippi community college circuit, Brown is a boost there.
Auburn will be able to draw on Brown’s NFL experience with potential recruits, and he could hit the ground running this month. The Tigers have several blue-chip defensive backs on their board in their race to close their 2017 recruiting class.