From May 6 to Aug. 19, Auburn’s staff was in full stride on the recruiting trail.
In that three-and-a-half-month span, Auburn landed 12 of its 14 commitments. Somewhat subdued by a 7-6 season, the Tigers revitalized with a recruiting-heavy summer. They jumped from a two-commit class to the No. 12-ranked class in the country.
That streak hit high gear once linebackers Chandler Wooten and Tadarian Moultry and athletes Malcolm Askew and Octavius Matthews all committed in a 30-day window. It set the tone for commitments to follow.
“I felt like we brought a lot of momentum to the class. A lot of guys were iffy about Auburn,” Askew said on Aug. 21. “We just told them that it’s a great place to be right now.”
When Askew said that a month ago, things were very different.
The Tigers scored 3-star safety Jordyn Peters two days prior, adding the second lanky, rangy safety to go along with Carlito Gonzalez. At 14 commits, Auburn had a reciprocated eye on a few more as the high school and college football season began.
Those commits didn’t come, likely for a couple reasons.
- Over-generalizing here, but there are two types of recruits: those who want to commit before the season starts and those who want to wait through a majority or all of the process. A bulk of Auburn’s targets fall into the latter category, which isn’t a bad thing since the Tigers want to add double-digit figures to this class.
- Recruits know the dog-eat-dog world of college football as well as anyone. After all, they’re being hounded by it on a daily basis. When a team comes off a seven-win season — especially a team in the state of Alabama — these prospects are well-aware of what that means. They know what underwhelming football teams can do to quality SEC coaches. The 1-2 start, with losses to the only teams of real merit, probably pushes the waiting game even longer.
I get it. This isn’t really news to anyone. Recruiting classes pick up steam in offseason when they’re made up of coaching staffs with top-level recruiters. When losses come, players hesitate — often curious to see how fan bases and athletic departments deal with adversity. And Auburn has been losing.
So you ask: How can Auburn right the recruiting ship?
Let’s start by addressing Reason No. 2 above, as backward as this may seem.
All you have to do is scan the comments section of the Auburn Insiders Facebook page to understand the collective fan base opinion regarding the current status of the Gus Bus. Spoiler alert: It’s not good if you’re trying to catch the inbound route.
Gus Malzahn isn’t blind to this criticism from job-callers. He said as much Tuesday, despite denying any attention to social media: “I just know.” But he’s well-aware of what more losses could mean for the Tigers — and for him.
News flash: Recruits know, too. As referenced in Reason No. 2, they hear things, see things and experience things as much as anyone who reflects the shadiness of the industry. So they know — and have known prior to committing — what a under-performance could mean.
Two commits, both completely unsolicited, made comments about a potential coaching change before the 2016 season even began. They didn’t say it with any intent of de-committing, but they acknowledged it without prodding.
For one, the “rumors,” as he called them, provided enough reason to take official visits elsewhere despite his preference to only visit Auburn and stay as committed to Auburn as possible. For the other, he mentioned it in regards to his attempt to recruit other players to Auburn after a 7-6 season and the acceptance of what an even worse 2016 showing could mean. He has openly told recruits to join Auburn “even if the staff isn’t here.”
That’s not meant to say that any want that to happen — far from it. You can watch commits’ interactions with Malzahn during pregame festivities and appreciate why a recruit would get so attached to the Auburn head man and his program.
So, Reason No. 2 has less to do with current commits and more to do with potential future ones. If a recruit is undecided at this point, that usually means his options are so conflicted it’s nearly impossible to decide.
In the face of a coaching hot seat, that certainty — one way or the other — is worth the wait. Some players see change as positive, others see it as negative. It inevitably draws commits and de-commits. We see it with recruiting cycles and coaching changes all the time (see in 2016 class: Kirby Smart vs. Mark Richt).
At this point, it’s too early to call. While we discuss righting the recruiting ship, the Auburn 2016 football team still has the time and ability to redirect course. With LSU this weekend, it has the feel of a make-or-break game, and there will be plenty of recruits in attendance to witness it firsthand.
But wins will be key in adding some coaching stability, and in turn, some recruiting stability. Until that happens, it’s unlikely a recruit will take a chance on sudden change.
Then there is Reason No. 1.
Many of these Reason No. 1 recruits will also have their eyes firmly set on Reason No. 2. It’s part of what makes them Reason No. 1 recruits — they are meticulous with the recruiting details.
Auburn wants to add somewhere in the ballpark of 25 in this class, so there are 11 spots available, give 0r take a few. Of the players who will probably have their recruitments leak into the new year, here are the top 3 players Auburn should want, given that the Tigers have a legitimate chance of landing them.
- 4-star DE Ryan Johnson, St. Paul’s Episcopal (Ala.): You’ve probably read before that Auburn is absent a defensive line commitment. That hasn’t changed, and it might not for some time. Johnson told SEC Country on Saturday that he will wait until January to decide, and Auburn is high on that list. He has a strong relationship with Rodney Garner and Travis Williams.
- 4-star DE Isaiah Buggs, Mississippi Gulf Coast C.C.: Buggs has been an In Plains Sight regular for the same reason Johnson has — Auburn needs defensive linemen. Buggs, like Johnson, has gotten close with Garner and considers Auburn a “home”-type vibe. The only reason I’d consider Johnson a higher priority is his age, compared to Buggs’ junior college status. With Marlon Davidson and Derrick Brown in the previous class, Auburn is solid at the position for some time, but grabbing someone younger would be beneficial.
- 3-star ATH Russ Yeast, Center Grove (Ind.): Yeast officially visited Auburn for the Clemson game and called it an eye-opening experience. According to the Indianapolis Star, the son of former Kentucky record-setter Craig Yeast has been unstoppable since moving to his new Indiana high school. Yeast has been a playmaker on both sides of the ball and could fit in anywhere for Auburn. He’s already visited Iowa and has Louisville and Alabama dates to arrange.