Before the players can be on the same page, Gus Malzahn's coaching staff must establish the lead. The players have to buy into the new offense and defense, not to mention the latest culture of football Malzahn wants for his program. This is the primary element, which truly defines a coaching staff and its ability to lead its personnel.
The lack of continuity among Gene Chizik's staff resulted in the downfall of Chizik's attempt to rebuild the program. Recruiting appeared to be the primary goal of the previous staff, but player development was obviously lacking.
During the last 25 games of the Chizik Era, Auburn won the "tackle for loss" battle only three times and two of those games came against Utah State and Louisiana-Monroe. In contrast, Auburn failed to lose the "tackle for loss" battle in 31 of 51 games from 2002-2005, compiling a 26-5 record in those contests. Recruiting is always vital, but if the personnel fails to develop, it is comparable to having an unloaded firearm.
Establishing continuity this season could be a difficult task considering Auburn returns only nine scholarship defensive players with at least 10 starts and only five on offense. The good news is Malzahn's staff will have 17 on defense with at least 20 games of experience and 11 on offense.
Of the 28 scholarship players returning with at least 20 games of experience, 15 were rated as 4-stars or better by Scout.com. With only 14 scholarship players with at least 10 starts returning, there are plenty of players who have been waiting for their opportunity to prove their worth and what better way of doing so than with a new coaching staff.
"We've got talent, but we need to get our minds right," Malzahn said after taking the job. "Winning is a choice, but it takes hard work."
Auburn's new head coach knows that the work and progress made during spring and summer camps will have a major influence on what kind of team Auburn fields in the fall. This is where and when Auburn's degree of continuity is established beginning with the coaching staff and trickling down to the players.
Every coach has a vision or concept of what he wishes the team to be, but winners possess the ability to make their visions reality. Malzahn says the first step in the process is the players buying into what the coaches are preaching. This is the only way the coaches can obtain the most from the player's potential.
On offense the continuity begins with a coordinator who has played or coached under Malzahn for 15 years. Rhett Lashlee and Malzahn should be on the same page when it is time to put in a game plan or call a play because their share the same vision on offense.
Offensive line coach J.B. Grimes spent last season working with Malzahn, improving a run offense from No. 64 in the nation to No. 23. Tight end and special teams coach Scott Fountain worked with Malzahn when Malzahn was the offensive coordinator for the Tigers. Tim Horton and Dameyune Craig round out the offensive staff, adding plenty of experience and strong work ethic to the staff.
Defensive Coordinator Ellis Johnson will have some established continuity with the hiring of Charlie Harbison and Melvin Smith. The three have worked together in the past with great success in the secondary.
Defensive line coach Rodney Garner is much like Dameyune Craig. Both are former Auburn players with strong reputations for being successful assistant coaches. Not only are Garner, Harbison and Smith strong recruiters, they are established position coaches with experience coaching in the Southeastern Conference. Though Garner has no previous working relationship with Johnson, Garner should bring back the physical mindset lacking on the defensive line the past couple of seasons.
"I think Gus did a great job of taking his time and assembling his staff," Garner said. "It wasn't one of those things where we had to bond with one another, I think the chemistry was already built in, and I think you have to tip your hat to him for being able to assemble that type of quality."
Through chemistry comes continuity at the top, but the key will be the players buying into the new staff this spring. Former Auburn coach Terry Bowden was able to accomplish the task in 1993 during his first season on the Plains. If Malzahn and staff are to change the culture of football at Auburn, they face the challenge of teaching the players losing is unacceptable. Not just on the field, but in practice and preparation.