AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn’s new offensive coordinator isn’t a Briles. He isn’t a former head coach of Oregon and its hyper-speed offense. He isn’t a widely known name like Lincoln Riley, Noel Mazzone or Mike Yurcich.
Chip Lindsey isn’t a superstar name. He’s not the splash offensive coordinator hire that many Auburn fans wanted to see from head coach Gus Malzahn. The fact he doesn’t have much Power 5 experience or even that he worked for Malzahn in the past frustrated a section of the Tigers faithful.
And don’t even get some fans started about how long the Lindsey hire took.
Some of those issues — in moderation — are valid. But when it comes to what Auburn needed in a replacement for Rhett Lashlee, Chip Lindsey should give the fan base more confidence than cynicism.
Malzahn laid out his three main criteria in his offensive coordinator search Saturday evening, several hours after announcing his hire of former Tigers analyst Lindsey from Arizona State.
“I just felt like I needed to find somebody that could develop and evaluate quarterbacks,” Malzahn said. “Felt like I needed somebody that I would feel comfortable turning over the offense to. I felt like I needed somebody that had a fit within the same philosophy: no huddle, run (and) play-action.”
Most of the rumored candidates in the search process had plenty of experience working with quarterbacks. Lindsey’s resume from high school all the way to the Pac-12 could stack up with almost any other quarterback developer on the short list. Nick Mullens was a Conference USA Player of the Year under him. Corey Robinson helped Troy win a Sun Belt title in 2010.
His pupils might not be as famous as Texas A&M’s Noel Mazzone, but they’re out there.
Malzahn also wanted someone he could trust with running the Auburn offense. Play-calling went a long way in that, as Malzahn planned to give his new coordinator the same responsibilities that Lashlee had for the final two-thirds of the 2016 season.
Popular candidate Mark Helfrich, former Oregon head coach, hadn’t done that in almost a decade. Clemson co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott didn’t have that experience, either. But Lindsey got that at several stops, including the dramatic offensive turnaround he engineered at Southern Miss in 2014 and 2015.
Malzahn didn’t need to reinvent the wheel with this hire. He just needed to upgrade parts of it. Auburn had one of college football’s best rushing attacks last season with All-SEC running back Kamryn Pettway and the versatile Kerryon Johnson.
“He was with me a year, and he understands the core philosophy,” Malzahn said. “I’m very excited about him coming in and kind of spicing up our offense.”
Lindsey, with his Air Raid background and previous experience under Malzahn, provides the right blend of compatibility and creativity for the Auburn offense. He’ll bring more complexity to the passing attack while helping Auburn stay true to its running roots.
“In 2015, we had two 1,000-yard rushers at Southern Miss,” Lindsey said. “I’m really proud of that. … At the end of the day we want to be a run, play-action team. That’s what we’ve always done. I think when you commit to that style of offense, trying to get the ball to your playmakers, good things are going to happen.”
So while Lindsey doesn’t have the name-brand value of others linked to Auburn’s coaching search, he has what Auburn needs.
Lindsey has familiarity with Malzahn without being a main branch of his coaching tree. The quarterback developer knows how to bring better run-pass balance to spread offenses without doing something completely different than what Malzahn runs.
(Remember that the last time Auburn made a drastic change in offensive scheme, it went 3-9 with Scot Loeffler.)
Auburn is fresh off a solid, non-splashy coordinator hire that gave its defense what it needed to get to the next level. And just like Kevin Steele a year ago, Lindsey inherits a strong base of returning talent that needs some necessary tweaks, not an overhaul.
Perhaps most importantly, Malzahn got his man. That’s important for staff chemistry and giving Malzahn what he thinks he needs to succeed in 2017.
The name Chip Lindsey won’t command a lot national attention right now.
But Auburn should be fine with that — especially if he can get that buzz when it actually matters.