ATHENS, GA - NOVEMBER 12: Head coach Gene Chizik of the Auburn Tigers looks on against the Georgia Bulldogs at Sanford Stadium on November 12, 2011 in Athens, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Auburn must scramble to keep yet another top recruiting class.
With the news that Gus Malzahn is leaving the Auburn Tigers to be the head coach at Arkansas State, Auburn fans are in a panic. Certainly, Malzahn will not be easy to replace as an offensive coordinator. But what sort of recruiter is Auburn losing in Malzahn? A pretty good one, it turns out.
It wasn't that long ago that Malzahn was coaching football at Springdale High School. In fact, he's only been coaching college football since 2006. Gus connects well with the high schoolers, because he's used to dealing with young kids. He's also used to dealing with the parents who often factor heavily into the decision.
And of course, Malzahn's offense is fun. Recruits want to play in the offense that starred Cam Newton and currently features Michael Dyer. There's also the perception that Malzahn's offense is simple and easy to learn.
Having an offense that is perceived as simple and easy to learn is big for kids wanting to play right away. For many recruits, the mention of the word "red-shirt" is a huge turnoff. Kids want to be told that they'll have a chance to play immediately as long as they work hard. Under Malzahn, Auburn really did play kids early, which prevented opposing coaches from debunking that notion on the recruiting trail.
Auburn currently has nine commitments on the offensive side of the ball (as long as JaQuay Williams, a four star wide receiver, sticks around -- Williams appears to be perturbed about Malzahn leaving). It's not a huge haul at this point, but it is full of quality, with Rivals giving eight of the nine a rating of four stars or better. Malzahn personally recruited many of these players to fit his offense.
One such player is quarterback Zeke Pike, of Kentucky. Pike is an enormous player at 6'5" and 230 pounds, yet he moves extremely well. Many in the recruiting world believe he would make a great tight end or defensive end. Though his big arm is often erratic, Malzahn realized he would be a perfect fit for his HUNHS offense (Hurry-Up No-Huddle Spread). Malzahn planned to feature Pike's legs until Pike's arm and head caught on to the college game. Without Malzahn, will Pike still attend Auburn? Will Auburn bring in an offensive coordintor in the same mold as Malzahn? Should Auburn choose its offensive coordinator to appease young players and recruits who committed and who are planning to sign to play for a Malzahn-type offense? These are all huge questions that Chizik must consider when making this hire. When players commit to play for a coach, and not a program, as some likely did for Malzahn, transfers and decommitments will be likely.
Other current offensive commitments, however, are likely to fit the scheme of any coordinator Chizik brings in. Running back Jovon Robinson, of Memphis, is a bruising runner. He can be the inside runner in a spread offense. Reciever Ricardo Louis, of Miami Beach, is an electric play maker who can excel in the spread because of his speed, or a more pro-style scheme because of his size (6'2", 190).
The challenge for Chizik, and whoever he brings in as offensive coordinator, is to convince the current commitments and young players on this team that they chose Auburn for more than the opportunity to play for Malzahn. Chizik and his staff are regarded more for their ability to recruit than their prowess on game day, and they should be able to respond.
Of course, this opens up a huge opportunity for negative recruiting from opposing programs. They'll claim that Auburn was only good because it had Malzahn and Cam Newton. They'll point to Chizik's record as a head coach without Malzahn (5-19 at Iowa State) and without Cam Newton (15-10). But every school has things opposing coaches use against it in the recruiting battle, and Auburn has plenty to offer as a program
Auburn has seven commitments on the defensive side of the football, but Ted Roof's departure isn't expected to have a significant impact on their status because Auburn head coach Gene Chizik is looked upon as the true defensive mind on the staff.
Auburn's recruiting class is currently comprised of 16 verbal commitments, and is widely seen as one of the top ten in the country. With fewer than 50 days left until signing day, it will be interesting to see how the Tigers regroup. With Alabama, Georgia and LSU wanting to poach from the Plains, Chizik has his work cut out for him.
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