Just before Auburn ushered in a new wave of signees in February, it was tasked with replacing three prominent coaches.
The departures of defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, secondary coach Travaris Robinson and offensive line coach J.B. Grimes brought on an unexpected coaching turnover in the midst of the most critical time of the recruiting cycle.
Now, with a full staff in place, SEC Country examined each coach’s replacement and the effect they’ll have on the Tigers’ recruiting efforts in 2017.
With J.B. Grimes out the door in a lateral move to Cincinnati, Herb Hand — a long-time friend of Gus Malzahn’s dating back to their days at Tulsa — was called on in mid-January.
The former Penn State coach’s hire became official shortly after Grimes’ departure, and Hand was immediately put to work on the recruiting trail with little time to get settled in.
With three weeks until signing day, Auburn had secured one verbal commitment along the offensive line in four-star offensive tackle Brodarious Hamm. The voids left behind by starting tackles Shon Coleman and Avery Young needed to be filled.
But signing day yielded few results despite Hand’s valiant efforts. He scoured the junior college rankings and raided high schools in search of viable replacements. The Tigers ultimately missed on three-star tackle Lucas Niang and junior college standout Breontae Matthews before signing a converted defensive end in Prince Sammons, whom Hand was responsible for securing in just three weeks of work.
“(Hand) was instrumental in Prince,” Malzahn told AL.com following National Signing Day. “He had a relationship already. We identified (Sammons) about a month ago and recruited him hard and Herb did a great job with him and I know he’s excited to coach him.”
Now with February in the rearview mirror, the 48-year-old coach will have a full calendar year ahead of him to show off his recruiting prowess. And if the past few weeks — and few seasons — are any indication of his abilities, Auburn figures to boast one of the top offensive line classes in 2017.
“Herb Hand, that’s my dog,” said Netori Johnson, the nation’s No. 5 offensive guard in 2017. The four-star Georgia prospect was on the Plains this past weekend for the program’s Junior Day event and raved about Hand, whose passion and energy landed him on the Food Network’s “Chopped” series in 2014.
“I’m liking him,” Johnson continued. “I’m digging him. He’s a great coach.”
Another key offensive lineman, Kendall Randolph, echoed those same sentiments following his visit over the weekend. The four-star offensive tackle said his growing relationship with Hand is as strong as any other relationships in his recruitment. Hand conceded to Randolph he envisions having the top offensive line class in 2017.
“Right now, we’re pretty tight,” said Randolph, the No. 22 offensive tackle in 2017. “We got to know each other today. He asked some certain questions concerning if I did come play here. Overall, we’re pretty cool.”
While Hand’s likeability is a common thread among recruits, so too is his ability to piece together successful offensive line classes. In 2015, Hand was responsible for signing three four-star offensive linemen, including the No. 12 and No. 17 offensive tackles in the country, respectively. He carried that momentum over into his final year with the Lions, signing two four-star recruits, including the country’s top-rated guard in Michal Menet.
The 48-year-old coach and New York native has a proven track record of signing handfuls of quality offensive linemen, which will be key for Malzahn and the Tigers moving forward. Hand is currently rated the No. 14 recruiting coach in the Southeastern Conference, per 247Sports.com, and that number could very well rise following the 2017 cycle.
Auburn figures to sign four to five offensive linemen this time next year, and Herb will be tasked with ensuring he can replicate his prior success. The Tigers have already landed a big fish in five-star offensive tackle Calvin Ashley, the No. 4 prospect in the country. Hand will play a vital role in maintaining that relationship while continuing to search for other possible signees.
As it stands, the program has extended offers to 27 offensive linemen, including 19 offensive tackles.
Notable Hand targets in 2017
* Committed to Auburn
*Calvin Ashley, five-star offensive tackle, Orlando, Fla.
Tedarrell Slaton, four-star offensive tackle, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Austin Troxell, four-star offensive tackle, Madison, Ala.
Robert Hainsey, four-star offensive guard, Bradenton, Fla.
Netori Johnson, four-star offensive guard, Ellenwood, Ga.
Hand is undoubtedly capable of securing a surefire offensive line class as he proved in 2015, when he courted five prospects to Penn State and finished No. 26 in the 247Sports recruiter rankings.
His long-time friend evidently feels the same way.
“Herb first of all is a very, very good recruiter,” Malzahn told AL.com. “Had a great reputation and he’s a very good teacher too.”
All rankings are according to the 247Sports Composite