Herb Hand (above) came to Auburn this season from coaching the offensive line at Penn State.
Auburn, Ala.--Under Head Coach Gus Malzahn the Auburn Tigers have prided themselves on their ability to run the football to set up the play action passing game. However, this style of play, nor any really, can be effectively accomplished without a solid offensive line unit blocking for it.
Herb Hand, Auburn’s new offensive line coach who replaced J.B. Grimes, has seen quickly this spring what he has to work with to make Auburn’s line a formidable one within the SEC West, and Hand said he likes what he sees.
“First off, I’m really excited about them,” Hand remarked. “We have got some guys coming back that have great experience playing in this league and playing a lot of football. Guys like (guards) Alex Kozan and Braden Smith and Austin Golson, those guys have experience. Experience matters, so that’s exciting.
“Then you have got these young guys that are learning, and it’s time for them to grow up, be able to contribute and help the team. We’ve got a lot of work to do but I do like where we’re at.”
An interesting development this spring is the potential position move for Austin Golson from center to left tackle. The junior and Ole Miss transfer started 10 games for the Tigers last season before getting injured in the Georgia game. With the departures of last year’s starting tackles, Shon Coleman and Avery Young, and the emergence of backup center, senior Xavier Dampeer, there is both an opportunity and a need for Golson to switch spots on the O-line.
“Golson has been repping at both left tackle and center,” Hand said. “He has got a lot of experience at center so every rep he takes at left tackle he gets more comfortable, which is big for us. What has allowed us to do that is Xavier Dampeer is playing at a pretty good level at center right now, too. He is another guy we have been very, very pleased with.”
Many other linemen are receiving looks at the tackle spots, including Robert Leff, Darius James, Tyler Carr, Bailey Sharp, Deon Mix and Jordan Diamond.
“We have got to figure out that part of the equation,” said Hand. “Obviously, we’ve got a little bit more experience inside, which is a real positive for us. The way that the tackles have responded so far and the way that they have played has been a positive as well.”
Herb Hand joined the Auburn coaching staff in January.
Hand noted that he is happy to be back on a coaching staff with Malzahn. The two spent time together at Tulsa for two seasons (2007-08) as co-offensive coordinators before Malzahn left to become the offensive coordinator at Auburn. Now the two are reunited and things in the spring have been going swimmingly.
“(Malzahn) sees the big picture good,” Hand explained about what he has noticed about the head coach. “It’s almost uncanny. There will be times when I feel like my office is bugged because I’ll be talking about something and the next thing I’ll know is that he will come in and he’ll say ‘Hey, I was thinking about this,’ and it’s the same thing that Rhett (Lashlee) and I were just talking about. He is a special person in that he brings out the best in people. He’s brought out the best in me as a coach and as a person.”
Hand is known for having a sense of humor, too. “I like to have fun,” Hand admitted when asked about his jokes. “I like life. If you can’t have fun and do your job as well then you ought to think about changing your profession. Life’s too short to not enjoy yourself.
“Gus enjoys himself," Hand said. “Now, he has a funny way of showing it at times. I’ll tell you, this has been a refreshing deal for me personally and professionally coming here and getting back with Gus. The opportunity to work for him and with him is awesome. I’m excited about it.”
The first time the two worked as coaches at Tulsa that team put up very impressive offensive numbers.
“We came together and it was kind of a perfect storm of circumstances that really led to us being successful,” Hand remembers. “We had really, really good players at Tulsa. That was the big thing, but we checked our egos at the door. We were co-coordinators, we were cut from the same cloth from a philosophy standpoint but from a process standpoint, from a scheme standpoint, we were coming from two different areas. We just checked our egos at the door and said, ‘hey, what do we have to do to put this offense together to give Tulsa the best opportunity for success.’ Not me sitting there beating my chest and saying this is how we did it at West Virginia or Gus beating his chest and saying this is how we did it at Arkansas. It was what do we need to do to give our kids the best chance to be successful. We were able to do that.”