On Sunday, LSU announced the hiring of Dameyune Craig as its new wide receiver coach, ending a three-year run back on the Plains for the record-setting Auburn quarterback and leaving Gus Malzahn once again looking to replace one of the coaches on his staff. Each of the last two seasons three coaches on the defensive side of the ball have left the Plains and when you add in offensive line coach J.B. Grimes this year and then Craig makes, it eight changes in just three years for Malzahn since he became the head coach prior to the 2013 season.
The number of losses is a little high, but in this day and age of big money and big pressure to produce in college football it’s not overly unusual. That being said, the loss of Craig is one that could have a bigger impact for Malzahn and the Auburn program moving forward due to perception alone.
There’s no doubt the move will be used by many of Auburn’s competitors on the recruiting trail immediately, including LSU because of a former player making a move in the conference. While that is one part of the equation, the recruiting part is another side. Known as one of the top recruiters in the SEC, Craig just landed one of the top wide receiver groups in the country for 2016 and has been successful during his time at Auburn. Just like most coaches he’s had his share of misses on the recruiting trail with several guys he’s brought to Auburn still yet to live up to their potential, but there is no question he’s a guy who can make an impact on the recruiting trail.
The final side of things comes on the field and the last two seasons have seen Auburn’s wide receivers fall off after a breakout performance in 2013. Inconsistency has been the name of the guy for the Tigers at wide receiver the last two years. Drops plagued the offense for much of last fall. There is no question the quarterbacks struggled with consistency themselves, but the wide receivers didn’t help at all with drops costing them a game at Arkansas and chances in several other games the Tigers had chances to win.
Craig will always be a guy who has a special place in the hearts of Auburn fans, but in the short term an improvement with the wide receiver play is one of the biggest things that the Tigers really need to be able to take a step forward on offense and now is the time for Malzahn to find the right guy to fit the bill. You do that and the receivers have a chance to make big strides immediately, something that would help the entire offense and that kind of turnaround could put Auburn back in the hunt for a title sooner rather than later.
Because of connections to Malzahn there are two obvious options for the Tigers to replace him, UAB WR Coach Casey Woods and Arizona State wide receivers coach Kodi Burns. A former staff member who had an off-the-field role for the Tigers after coaching wide receivers for Malzahn at Arkansas State, Woods played the position at Tennessee and has a strong history of coaching in his blood as the son of former SEC coach Sparky Woods.
One of the most popular players in the last 25 years for the Auburn Tigers for his unselfishness and team attitude while on the Plains, Burns has been a fast-riser in the coaching world since serving as a grad assistant for Malzahn and Rhett Lashlee at Arkansas State in 2012 and Auburn in 2013. Coaching wide receivers at Samford the following year before moving to Middle Tennessee last season, Burns was recently hired by former Auburn analyst Chip Lindsey to coach the running back position for the Sun Devils and could be just the guy for Malzahn to bring back to Auburn. Because of Tim Horton's ability to coach wide receivers as well as running backs that gives you some versatility at the position moving forward if that's the route you want to go.
There are also two wildcard guys who could be guys that Malzahn looks at for the job. The first is former Tulsa head coach Bill Blankenship. Running the program for four seasons following the departure of Todd Graham to Pitt, Blankenship worked with Malzahn when the two were both at Tulsa and has a long history of success in Oklahoma as a high school coach at powerhouse Union High. Last season he worked as an analyst at Memphis, a team Auburn faced in a bowl game.
Another name could be Doug Goodwin. Currently part of Auburn’s staff as the Director of High School Relations, Goodwin was inducted into the Alabama High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame last year after going 234-91 over 27 years as a head coach. He’s the only coach to lead three different schools to a state championship game and won a title at Demopolis when his team went a perfect 15-0 and scored a record 761 points.