StatTiger: Focus On Fundamentals Makes Sense

Stuart Carter writes about the need to sweat the details following a change in football coaching staffs like the one taking place at Auburn.

With a new coaching staff comes renewed hope for prosperity, something that eluded the previous staff at Auburn the season before the change. With spring practice taking place, new head coach Gus Malzahn and his assistants are trying to lay the foundation for success for 2013 and the seasons to follow.

The last three coaching staff changes at Auburn netted an improvement of 46 percent more wins during the first seasons under new management compared to the final seasons of the previous staffs. During the final seasons of Pat Dye, Terry Bowden and Tommy Tuberville, Auburn combined for 13 wins. During the inaugural seasons of the new coaching staffs, Auburn combined for 24 victories.

One of the possible reasons for immediate improvement during those first season with new head coaches was a return to the basics. Normally when a new staff arrives the focus is improvement through improved fundamentals. In order to fix the major issues, the minor problems must be addressed first. The formula for success in college football has always been recruiting, development and coaching.

Malzahn's staff immediately went to work focusing on recruiting, then on to development of their players through the winter workouts and now the emphasis has been placed on development by improving the fundamentals of the players with the Tigers on the practice field for spring training.

With only 15 spring practice says allowed time is precious to a new coaching staff, especially one making major changes in the offensive and defensive systems like the Tigers are doing this year. To help the process go as smoothly as possible both the players and coaches have noted there team is thoroughly focused on the fundamentals of football this spring. It is this attention to detail that will improve the overall development and growth of the team.

For Malzahn a fundamental of successful football execution is learning how to function smoothly at the fast tempo his teams are known for playing at on offense. That pace has been implemented for the entire team to master, first through their conditioning drills and now into how they play the game. Malzahn expressed this theme at the start of spring training when he said, "The little things are what are going to make the difference. Our edge is going to be how fast we play and how disciplined we are."

The lack of focus on player development, fundamentals and discipline over an extended period of time will almost always result in a coaching change, which means the replacement staff must focus on these areas immediately to make sure they are where they need to be. Defensive line coach Rodney Garner and offensive line coach J.B. Grimes have focused their attention to making sure the players are aligned and positioned properly before the snap. Success in football begins on the line of scrimmage and as Grimes noted, "If you take care of the little things, the big things will take care of themselves."

During the 19 seasons prior to Gene Chizik being named Auburn's head coach in 2009, the Tigers were penalized more than their opponent in only four seasons. Of all the penalties enforced from 1990-2008, 48.7 percent were against Auburn. Under Chizik, Auburn was penalized more than their opponents in all four seasons (55.6 percent). Too many penalties can often be a strong indicator of a lack of discipline and focus on the fundamentals. Terry Bowden once commented the 1992 team would have likely won eight games rather than five had it not been for poor execution during critical moments of the season. This is the very reason why Malzahn's staff has harped on execution this spring.

Of the seven major statistical categories involving offense, the 2012 Tigers had an average national ranking of No. 97. The defense was slightly better with an average ranking of No. 76. Both units clearly were in need of development and discipline.

If Auburn is going to significantly increase the number of victories this fall, Malzahn's staff will need to put a more disciplined, more fundamentally sound team on the field. This is the culture change needed in the football program more than anything else. Discipline is based on pride, effort and an attention to detail. At the end of the day discipline must be inbred to the level it boosts the will to win and exceeds the fear to fail.

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