Caldwell Column: Staff Long On Experience

Auburn's defensive coaching staff is one of the most experienced in school history heading into the 2013 football season.

When Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn was hired he had specific things in mind for what he wanted on the defensive side of the ball. An offensive coach, Malzahn said he wanted to attack on both sides of the ball and be multiple.

"This day in time of just playing one front is extremely tough with all these spread, wide open offenses, and I think you have to be able to do both odd and even, and that's what gives offenses the most trouble," Malzahn said of what he wanted to see on defense.

With the hiring of Ellis Johnson as the defensive coordinator for the Tigers, Malzahn accomplished what he was looking for and that is a coordinator capable of coaching a variety of different defensive schemes all within the framework of one system.

That comes from experience.

With 31 years of coaching in his background including 16 years in the Southeastern Conference, Johnson has seen it all and done it all in the world of coaching on defense. Having that kind of leadership on that side of the ball is important for a coach like Malzahn, as he's expected to spend a lot of time coaching the offense for the Tigers.

Malzahn didn't stop there, however, as he brought on Charlie Harbison to coach the safety position for the Tigers, Rodney Garner to coach the defensive line and be the recruiting coordinator, and, most recently, Melvin Smith to coach the cornerbacks.

With 12 years of experience in the SEC, Harbison has a pedigree of producing talented players at Alabama, LSU, and Mississippi State. Coaching in the SEC for 17 seasons, Garner has been a big success at Auburn, Tennessee and Georgia. The most SEC experience on the defensive staff comes from Smith with 18 years in the league, including the last seven at Mississippi State.

It's not just experience that makes the hires good ones for the Tigers as they have produced as well. Perhaps none of the hires may have as much impact as Smith. In the last two seasons Auburn has just 13 total interceptions with six of those coming from linebackers Daren Bates and Jake Holland.

Facing offensive teams that spread the field and put up points in bunches, the ability to cover in the secondary and create turnovers is of the utmost importance in college football. That's something Smith excelled at while at Mississippi State.

In the last two years alone the Bulldogs have 22 interceptions from defensive backs with Jim Thorpe Award winner Johnthan Banks having nine by himself. More turnovers equals more opportunities for the offense, a good idea with Malzahn on board.

Just looking at the defensive side of the ball, Auburn's four assistant coaches have a combined 63 years of experience in the Southeastern Conference. When you look at how that compares with some of the other coaching staffs in Auburn history it shows you just how seasoned the Tigers' defensive staff really is.

When Pat Dye was hired by Auburn for the 1981 season he had nine years of experience in the league as an assistant coach at Alabama, but the rest of his staff had just eight years of experience in the SEC with four years each from Larry Blakeney and Frank Young, both serving as assistants at Auburn.

Taking over for Dye, Terry Bowden's first staff had a combined 35 years of experience in the SEC with 12 years each from Wayne Hall and Joe Whitt. Tommy Bowden had seven years of experience heading into that season as well with Rick Trickett's four years at Mississippi State the only other experience on the staff coaching in the league.

The benchmark for experience prior to this season came when Tommy Tuberville's staff moved from Ole Miss to Auburn in 1999. Nine coaches who had been together for four years in Oxford made the move while Whitt was retained to coach the linebackers. That gave the staff a combined 54 years of experience in the Southeastern Conference.

Most recently Gene Chizik's staff had just 18 years of combined experience in the SEC heading into the 2009 season. That included three years by Chizik from 2002-2004 at Auburn, four years on the field at Auburn for Phillip Lolley, six seasons for Tracy Rocker at Arkansas and Ole Miss, four for Trooper Taylor at Tennessee, and one season for Malzahn at Arkansas.

In the end the experience won't mean anything if the results don't show up on the field, but there is no better teaching tool in football that having seen something before and knowing how to deal with it. That should give Auburn's defensive staff a big advantage in 2013 and beyond.


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