Mike Pelton is coming home, and he's replacing a legend, not to mention a very good football coach.
Auburn officially named Pelton as defensive line coach Wednesday afternoon, and he replaces a guy who made quite a name for himself on the Plains as both a player and coach.
Tracy Rocker, who took a job with the Tennessee Titans, did a masterful job with Auburn's defensive line and gets most of the credit for the transformation of Nick Fairley. Of course, Rocker wasn't a shabby defensive tackle himself. He won both the Lombardi Award and Outland Trophy as a senior at Auburn in 1988.
Pelton was also an All-SEC defensive lineman for the Tigers in 1994 and takes over an Auburn defensive line that's losing three starters. Fairley was obviously the star of that group, but Antoine Carter was extremely productive from his end position. Tackles Zach Clayton and Mike Blanc and end Michael Goggans were also guys up front who played a lot of football for the Tigers and are now gone.
Despite the exodus of all this experience, it's not like Pelton inherits a group lacking in talent.
Rising sophomore Nosa Eguae really came on last season and wound up starting the last nine games at end. The 6-foot-2, 258-pound Eguae has a chance to be one of the breakout players in the league next season. He finished with 7.5 tackles for loss last season.
The same goes for sophomore end Corey Lemonier, who's brimming with talent. He had a tackle for loss in the BCS National Championship Game last season as a true freshman and earned SEC All-Freshman honors.
It's also a big spring for sophomore tackle Jeffrey Whitaker, who played a good bit last season as a true freshman. Lemonier and Whitaker were big pieces of that touted 2010 signing class, which was ranked in the top 5 in the country.
Developing more depth in the defensive line, especially at tackle, will be one of Pelton's stiffest challenges. Rising sophomore Kenneth Carter is another guy who needs a big spring. He played some last season at tackle as a true freshman. The Tigers also signed Gabe Wright in this class, although he won't be on campus until the summer. Wright was ranked by ESPN as the No. 3 defensive tackle prospect in the country.
Clearly, Wright believes he's ready to come in and help right away. He's the one who was sporting the "Nick Who?" cap on signing day, suggesting that he'll pick up where Fairley left off.
If he's half as good as his signing-day theatrics, then the Tigers will be happy campers.
As for Pelton, he spent last season on the Vanderbilt staff and coached the defensive ends. Pelton was Gene Chizik's defensive line coach at Iowa State in 2007 and 2008 and was at Troy for six seasons prior to that, the last two as co-defensive coordinator.
"He’s a great coach, a tireless worker and an outstanding recruiter who has mentored some very good players, including NFL standouts Demarcus Ware and Osi Umenyiora, both who are from Auburn," Chizik said. "Mike is very familiar with the state and region, and he knows what it takes to coach and recruit in the Southeastern Conference."