AUBURN, Ala. — On Saturday, Auburn football officially hired Larry Porter as its tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator. Porter became the Tigers’ 20th on-field position coach under head coach Gus Malzahn.
The move to Porter was a quick-fire one. He replaced tight ends coach and special teams coordinator Scott Fountain just a few days after news of Fountain’s reassignment broke. Malzahn even said weeks earlier that the staff would stay put after the hire of Chip Lindsey to replace Rhett Lashlee as offensive coordinator.
“The staff will remain the same on the offensive side,” Malzahn said on Jan. 21.
But on Feb. 11, things changed, and Malzahn hired assistant No. 20. All 20 of those assistants for Malzahn — who had a 21st hire in Rich Bisaccia who never coached a game — came within a span of a little more than 4 years. Subtract the initial staff of 9, and Auburn has made 11 changes under Malzahn.
Outside of Bisaccia, who left for the Dallas Cowboys shortly after his hiring at Auburn in 2013, all 11 changes happened after the 2014 regular season.
That’s an average of almost 4 new hires across 3 staffs. Tim Horton and Rodney Garner are the only constants during Malzahn’s coaching tenure. They are also the only remaining members from Malzahn’s 2015 staff.
|AUBURN COACHING STAFFS UNDER GUS MALZAHN|
But is Auburn really a revolving door for assistant coaches under Malzahn? How does the turnover on his staff compare to others in the SEC?
When Auburn hired Malzahn before the 2013 season, 3 current SEC coaches were in place — Alabama’s Nick Saban, Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen and Hugh Freeze at Ole Miss. Malzahn came into the SEC at the same time as Arkansas’ Bret Bielema, Kentucky’s Mark Stoops and Tennessee’s Butch Jones.
Let’s compare the number of assistant coaching changes from initial 2013 staffs until now for all 7 of these schools. (The remaining 7 schools changed head coaches, and thus have higher numbers of assistant coach changes.)
These are listed below as the total number of assistants for each school in that time span, according to Saturday Down South’s staff databases and the programs’ official websites.
Auburn (20): Rhett Lashlee, Ellis Johnson, Tim Horton, Dameyune Craig, Scott Fountain, J.B. Grimes, Rodney Garner, Charlie Harbison, Melvin Smith, Lance Thompson, Chip Lindsey, Will Muschamp, Kevin Steele, Kodi Burns, Larry Porter, Herb Hand, Travaris Robinson, Wesley McGriff, Greg Brown, Travis Williams
Alabama (21*): Doug Nussmeier, Kirby Smart, Burton Burns, Billy Napier, Bobby Williams, Mario Cristobal, Chris Rumph, Lance Thompson, Greg Brown, Lane Kiffin, Jeremy Pruitt, Mike Locksley, Brent Key, Bo Davis, Karl Dunbar, Kevin Steele, Tosh Lupoi, Mel Tucker, Derrick Ansley, 2017 OC*, 2017 WRs coach*
* — yet to be hired
Arkansas (19): Jim Chaney, Chris Ash, Joel Thomas, Michael Smith, Charlie Partridge, Randy Shannon, Taver Johnson, Barry Lunney Jr., Sam Pittman, Dan Enos, Robb Smith, Reggie Mitchell, Rory Segrest, John Scott Jr., Vernon Hargreaves, Clay Jennings, Paul Rhoades, Chad Walker, Kurt Anderson
Kentucky (19*): Neal Brown, D.J. Eliot, Chad Scott, Tommy Mainard, Vince Marrow, John Schlarman, Jimmy Brumbaugh, Derrick Ansley, Andy Buh, Darren Hinshaw, Shannon Dawson, Eddie Gran, Matt House, Lamar Thomas, Bradley Dale Peveto, Craig Naivar, Steven Clinkscale, Dean Hood*, Derrick Leblanc*
* — reportedly hired, according to SEC Country’s Joe Mussatto
Mississippi State (19): Les Koennig, Geoff Collins, Greg Knox, Billy Gonzales, John Hevesy, David Truner, Deshea Townsend, Scott Sallach, Brian Johnson, Manny Diaz, Peter Sirmon, Todd Grantham, Brian Baker, Tony Hughes, Terrell Buckley, Maurice Linguist, Ron English, D.J. Looney, Brent Elliott
Ole Miss (15*): Dan Werner, Matt Luke, Dave Wommack, Derrick Nix, Grant Heard, Maurice Harris, Chris Kiffin, Tom Allen, Jason Jones, Phil Longo, Wesley McGriff, Jacob Peeler, Bradley Dale Peveto, Corey Batoon, 2017 DL coach*
* — Tray Scott was hired after 2016 season, left for Georgia earlier this month; no replacement yet
Texas A&M (17): Clarence McKinney, Mark Snyder, Jake Spavital, David Beaty, Jeff Banks, B.J. Anderson, Terry Price, Mark Hagen, Marcel Yates, Noel Mazzone, John Chavis, Aaron Moorhead, Dave Christensen, Jim Turner, David Turner, Terry Joseph, Ron Cooper
Tennessee (14): Mike Bajakian, John Jancek, Robert Gillespie, Zach Azzanni, Mark Elder, Don Mahoney, Steve Stripling, Tommy Thigpen, Willie Martinez, Mike DeBord, Mike Canales, Bob Shoop, Larry Scott, Charleton Warren
So, from 2013 to now, Auburn’s coaching staff has changed slightly more than the average SEC school that has the same head coach over that time. Rival Alabama is the only one that will have had more assistants, once Saban completes his staff for 2017.
Auburn made one more coaching change than Arkansas, Kentucky and Mississippi State. Texas A&M is close behind with 17 assistants since 2013. High amounts of change happen nearly everywhere.
“Staffing changes have become so prevalent in college football that it was almost newsworthy when Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio, a coach coming off a disappointing season, announced in December that his crew of assistants would return intact in 2017,” Paul Myerberg of USA Today wrote last month. “Elsewhere, change is nearly constant — and not just among head coaches but at both offensive and defensive coordinator, let alone a positional level.”
A higher rate of assistant coach changes don’t seem to have an adverse effect on a program’s performance. Alabama has done it more than any of these schools, and it’s won the last three SEC championships. (The other one in this time span, of course, is Auburn in 2013.)
“Even the nation’s elite programs are not immune to significant coaching turnover,” Myerberg wrote in 2013. “Florida State, which sits No. 1 in the USA TODAY Sports Coaches Poll, entered (2013) with 6 new assistant coaches. Alabama won 3 of the past 4 national championships despite changing offensive coordinators and losing several key assistants.”
While all this turnover might seem like it would cause instability, it’s just the nature of the coaching business.
After all, Auburn only fired 3 of its assistants under Malzahn — Johnson, Harbison and Smith — and recently reassigned Fountain.
The coaching carousel doesn’t stop spinning, and it trickles down to the position coaches. For example, Harbison and Smith’s immediate 2 successors as Auburn’s defensive backs coach both left their jobs for coordinator positions at other SEC schools. Muschamp left Auburn after 1 year to become South Carolina’s coach.
“It’s good to lose assistants, in some ways,” Alex Kirshner of SB Nation wrote last month on Alabama’s coaching turnover. “It means you’re doing well, and Alabama’s certainly doing well.”
While Auburn has one of the highest rates in change among its conference brethren, it shouldn’t cause panic among the fan base. As Tigers defensive coordinator Kevin Steele says, it’s just how major college football is these days.
“This is not 1970, where every SEC head coach had been there 15 years,” Steele said before Auburn played in the Sugar Bowl last month. “There’s a lot of change in things now. Players change, coaches change. I think just as an American society we’re pretty good at change.”