AUBURN, Ala. — The Auburn football team’s appearance in the Jan. 2 Sugar Bowl is more than just a marquee matchup. For coach Gus Malzahn, it’s a time for thorough evaluation of his 2016 coaching staff.
Earlier in the year, former Auburn coach Pat Dye appeared on an ESPN radio show, indicating there may have been issues between the Tigers’ coaches in 2015. Malzahn shrugged off questions about the staff dynamic in the days following Dye’s segment.
Through the rest of the regular season, the Tigers compiled an 8-4 (5-3 SEC) record, improving on last year’s 7-6 (2-6 SEC) finish. Each new position coach on Auburn’s staff seemed to have a positive impact on the field.
When asked if he was happy with his staff this season, his response was positive, but he not elaborate. “Yeah, yeah, I mean, we’re playing in the Sugar Bowl,” Malzahn said. “Like I said, we expect to be healthy and we expect to play well.”
Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele was among 40 coaches nominated for the Broyles Award, given to the nation’s best assistant coach. Steele, along with defensive backs coach Wesley McGriff and linebackers coach Travis Williams, were praised for Auburn’s significant defensive turnaround.
Offensive line coach Herb Hand — also in his first year on the Plains — saw his line become one of 18 semifinalists for the Joe Moore Award for the country’s best offensive line. Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee’s role changed a bit as well when Malzahn handed over play-calling duties to him after Week 4. Auburn rose to the top of the country in rushing yards per game during its six-game win streak.
Auburn’s coaching staff will change this offseason with the departure of McGriff to Ole Miss, where he’ll be the defensive coordinator.
Malzahn knows some of the qualities he’d like in his next defensive backs coach — this will be the Tigers’ fifth change in five years. But he’s in no rush to make a hire.
He said he’ll work with Steele to find someone who can set an example for players and recruit. Most important — more than longevity — is how that coach complements the coaching staff.
“We’re looking for the right person, the right fit for us that will fit with our staff,” Malzahn said. “We’ve got great chemistry with our staff so I think that’s important.”
There’s also a possibility, pending a league discussion in the spring, that schools would be able to add a 10th assistant to their football staffs. Malzahn approves of that change, but said he doesn’t have anyone in mind for the position. Instead, he’ll wait to see how the vote plays out.
“I’d be all for that and I think most coaches in our league would be for that,” Malzahn said. “We’ll see where that goes. I don’t know. They’ll vote on it and we’ll see but I know the SEC coaches were all for it.”