While Lance Thompson is expected to be Auburn’s defensive coordinator for the bowl game preparations to play Memphis and with the Tigers opening practice on Monday for the Birmingham Bowl, Coach Gus Malzahn has been busy looking for a replacement for Will Muschamp.
After making several runs at FSU’s defensive coordinator, Charles Kelly, Malzahn is still searching for the guy to guide his defense for the 2016 season and beyond.
There are no clear-cut favorites for the Tigers at the moment, but several names could be guys to watch as the process heads into its second week for Auburn. Mentioning continuity time and time again last week when he spoke about his search, Malzahn is looking for someone who would be at Auburn for an extended time and because of that there are several guys who might fit his criteria.
Something else that plays into the equation is a coach or coaches who have connections with Malzahn or his friends in the coaching business. That is something that has been a part of his hiring process in the past and puts two guys as ones to watch moving forward.
One of those guys is Tom Allen, who is coming off his first season as the defensive coordinator at USF after coaching the previous four seasons with longtime Malzahn friend Huge Freeze both at Arkansas State and Ole Miss.
A lifetime defensive coach since his playing days at Maranatha Baptist College in Wisconsin, Allen was the linebackers coach and special teams coordinator at Ole Miss from 2012-14 after his role as assistant head coach at Arkansas State in 2011.
Also coaching at Wabash College, Lambuth and Drake with two of those seasons as a defensive coordinator, Allen got his coaching start in Florida. After serving as the head coach at Temple Heights High from 1992-94 Allen made the move to defensive coordinator at Armwood High in Seffner, Fla. for two seasons before moving to coach at Ben Davis High in Indiana from 1998-2006 with the last three years as the head coach.
Taking over a USF defense that allowed 27 points and just over 400 yards of total offense per game in 2014, Allen put his stamp on the program this year as the Bulls went from 4-8 to 8-4 in just one season with the defense much of the reason why. Allowing just two opponents (Florida State, Maryland) to score 30 points, USF allowed just 21.1 points and 361.2 yards of total offense this year.
Another name that could be in the mix is Penn State’s Bob Shoop. While he’s a native Pennsylvanian coaching the Nittany Lions, Shoop has had success in the Southeastern Conference already with three solid years at Vanderbilt from 2011-2013. Helping Vanderbilt to three Top 25 finishes in total defense while in Nashville, Shoop’s defense forced 30 turnovers in 2013, tied for 10th nationally, including 24 over the final eight games
The Commodores won their last five games in 2013, allowing 15.6 ppg during the streak. His 2012 unit held opponents to just 18.7 points per game, the lowest by a Vandy squad since 1997, and ranked in the Top 15 nationally in pass and scoring defense.
Before his time at Vanderbilt, Shoop spent his entire career on the East Coast with stops at William and Mary (2007-10), UMass (2006), Columbia (2003-05) as the head coach, Boston College (1999-2002), Army (1997), Villanova (1996), Yale (1994-96) and Northeastern (1991-93). All totaled Shoop has been a coordinator for 12 seasons.
Important Month For The Program
With the football recruting dead period now in effect Auburn's coaches won’t have the opportunity to talk to early enrollee prospects until they sign or get on campus in January so the focus for Malzahn is on hiring the right guy at the coordinator position for the Tigers.
That’s just the first order of business for Malzahn and Auburn, however, as the Tigers have to find a way to slow Memphis and score enough points to get a win in Birmingham. While it’s not a big game in the grand scheme of things there is a huge difference between finishing 6-7 and 7-6 and heading into the offseason with a victory.
The game itself is important but getting more talent on defense is also a huge deal and by this time next month we should have a pretty good idea of how the 2016 class is going to finish for Auburn.
With very little depth on the defensive line and at linebacker and with Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams both possibly declaring early for the NFL Draft, Auburn’s defense needs immediate help. Getting Paul James in early for spring practice is a step in the right direction, but hanging on to Marlon Davidson and getting Antwuan Jackson in for spring practice is almost a must at this point.
Almost as important is getting help at the linebacker position. Right now Tre Threat is the only linebacker commitment in this class and with Tre Williams and JaViere Mitchell the only two returning players with any experience at the position Auburn needs at least two more linebackers in the 2016 signee class.
Even though Auburn doesn’t have its new coordinator yet this is a time to develop the young players on defense and get them ready for next year. Fundamentals never go out of style so guys like Darrell Williams, Richard McBryde, Jeff Holland, Montavious Atkinson and even Jordan Colbert should get plenty of practice attention in the next five days to get a head start on the 2016 season.