StatTiger: Developing the Talent

Columnist Stuart Carter looks at the challenge facing new Auburn coach Gus Malzahn.

From the moment they arrived on campus, Gus Malzahn's coaching staff has focused on changing the culture of the Auburn football program. It begins with the caliber of player brought into the program and the subsequent development of the personnel.

Changes were made to the conditioning program because Malzahn has first hand experience on what it takes to compete at a physical level in the Southeastern Conference with his style of fast-paced offense. His four seasons as an offensive coordinator accumulated from Arkansas and Auburn was all he needed to realize how difficult is to obtain a competitive edge in the nation's toughest football conference.

Since Malzahn's initial arrival to the Southeastern Conference in 2006 the BCS National Championship winner has come from the conference seven years in a row and he was an instrumental part of one of those teams with the 2010 Auburn Tigers. No conference in the country comes remotely close in signing the nation's top recruits as the Southeastern Conference. According to Scout.com, 13.2 percent of the players signed from 2002-2013 to FBS programs were rated as four stars or higher. Of that group 26.9 percent signed with SEC programs. Of the 3,662 players signed by SEC programs, 30.4 percent were rated as 4-stars or better.

When Malzahn recently expressed his disappointment after a lack of effort during a spring practice, he was sending a message loud and clear that talent alone won't win championships. Players are bigger, stronger and faster to go along with exotic schemes and innovations in football, but effort, dedication and commitment are still three major intangibles for fielding a successful football team. This is an area which came under question during the Gene Chizik era resulting in his termination.

Malzahn is looking for consistency and not the occasional good practice followed up by a lackluster one. "So that is why today as a coach you are wanting to keep improving and we didn't do that today," Malzahn stated after the disappointing effort at a recent practice.

Examining the recruiting classes from 2007 through 2012, Alabama and LSU's national recruiting rankings were tied for No. 1 in the SEC with an average ranking of 6.2, according to Scout. Auburn during the same time period was No. 3 in the conference with an average ranking of 9.3 nationally. Florida was No. 4 with an average ranking of 9.7 and Georgia rounded out the top five with an average ranking of 11.3. Tennessee (16.3) and South Carolina were the other two SEC programs to have a Top 20 average from 2007-2012. Recruiting services don't always accurately evaluate the influx of high school talent, but it does provide a reasonable base line to make a comparison.

Looking at the winning percentages of each Southeastern Conference program from 2009-2012 reveals which ones were obtaining the most from their recruiting classes. Over the past four seasons Alabama has produced the nation's second best winning percentage among FBS schools and LSU is close behind at No. 5. Florida (No. 12), South Carolina (No. 14) and Georgia (No. 21) round out the top five of the SEC.

Though Auburn had the third best recruiting average from 2007-2012, the Tigers produced the seventh best winning percentage among SEC teams during the past four seasons, ranking No. 33 nationally. Even if you consider some of Auburn's classes were overrated and factor in attrition, the Tigers still failed to maximize their talent on the field. This is the very reason why Malzahn's staff is so focused on changing the commitment level and work ethic among their players.

Looking at how the Tigers performed under the six head coaches prior to Chizik, from 1951-1975 Shug Jordan compiled the nation's No. 15 winning percentage, and was No. 4 in the conference.

Under Doug Barfield, Auburn dropped to No. 56 nationally and No. 5 in the SEC from 1976-1980.

Pat Dye boosted Auburn to No. 13 nationally and No. 3 in conference from 1981-1992.

The Terry Bowden era saw Auburn at No. 15 nationally and No. 3 in the conference from 1993-1998.

Tommy Tuberville had Auburn at No. 17 nationally and No. 4 in the SEC from 1999-2008.

Under Gene Chizik's guidance Auburn dropped to No. 33 nationally and No. 6 in the SEC. During the last two seasons under Chizik, Auburn dropped even further to No. 81 nationally and No. 11 in the conference.

Malzahn points out the X's and O's along with schemes can be worked out beyond spring practice. For now he is judging and evaluating the team on mental stability. "I'm more concerned about our attitudes, our work ethic and our approach--how we respond to adversity, how we respond to success," he said.

The coach is hoping the consistency factor he is aiming for will eventually show up during games this fall. Better execution will result in more scoring drives and proper alignment and tackling will limit the opponent's scoring drives. Making one good play or having one good series won't win football games, but a string of them will. At some point the players must realize that effort, which comes in spurts, must always start all over.

There are no quick fixes to the deficiencies in the team the new coaching staff inherited, which is why Auburn fans must be patient in 2013. Success this season would be better judged in effort and improvement rather than wins and losses. This is not to say winning won't be a team goal in 2013, but simply pointing out one needs to learn to walk before he can run.

The coaching staff is basically in the restoration process. As spring practice draws closer to completion, Auburn's new staff is discovering which players are responding and committed. This is the very reason why they have pushed the players hard. We often learn more about a person under pressure and Malzahn's staff is doing what they can to learn more about their team.


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