Vanderbilt, meanwhile, has an new staff from top to bottom.
Continuity is certainly not a strong point among SEC coaching staffs. Barring another last-minute transaction, 24 coaches will hold new positions in the conference this season. All but four SEC programs made it through the spring and summer unscathed.
Auburn, somehow, was one of those fortunate four that includes Ole Miss, South Carolina and Tennessee.
It’s surprising when you consider the usual chain of events in college football, and it’s a simple formula: have success, win a bunch of games, watch as your coaching staff gets poached. Just look at Jeremy Pruitt. He won a third national championship at Alabama in 2012 and parlayed it into a job as defensive coordinator at Florida State. Then the Seminoles won the title in 2013 and he turned that into a move to Georgia.
The basic premise is this: You won something. You must be doing something different. Let’s hire you and see what exactly that is.
So how did Auburn keep offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee? As one of the architects of Gus Malzahn’s pedal-to-the-metal offense, there must have been other opportunities. But he stayed. And Dameyune Craig? The co-offensive coordinator and receivers coach has head coach written all over him. He’s worked under both Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher, and is known as one of the best recruiters in the country. But he stayed, too.
“Our motto or theme last year was ‘Together,’ and that's how we did it,” Malzahn said at SEC media days. “Players, coaches, administrators -- we did it together.”
And somehow they stayed together. Now they’re reaping the rewards.
“We have our entire staff back for the second year, which I think is huge,” Malzahn said. “Same offense, same defense, same terminology.”
As defensive backs coach Melvin Smith put it: “Continuity is everything.”
“It really means a lot,” he said. “There’s nothing like being together.”
Rodney Garner, who was the longest-tenured coach at Georgia before joining Malzahn in Auburn last season, enjoys going to practice every day knowing what he’s going to get. In fact, he said that the staff might “know each other too well.” But knowing one another’s strengths and weaknesses is a good thing, he said.
When Garner puts his defensive linemen against J.B. Grimes’ offensive line, he knows they're going to make each other better.
“We’re joined at the hip,” Garner said. “For me to be good, I have to go against J.B. He has to help me sharpen my skills.
“Kids see that, ‘Hey, this staff is together. It’s a cohesive group.’ We’re on one accord.'"
That pays off in recruiting.
As Garner explained, selling recruits 4-5 years from now is all about showing stability.
“We want to build the program on a solid foundation that’s not going to be up and down,” he said. “Hopefully, people are going to see a steady climb.”
Grimes has seen all types of staffs in his 30 years coaching college football. Every coach at this level is good at what they do, he said. But, as he put it, “When you have a revolving door of assistant coaches ... it affects you in recruiting.”
“When you have continuity, you have that same coach walking in that high school knowing where the lunch lady is; he knows where the guidance counselor is,” he said. “There aren’t bad coaches in the SEC, but when you get that revolving door in recruiting, that’s when it has a negative impact.”
Today, Auburn is solidly in the top 10 of ESPN’s class rankings with 19 commitments, seven of whom rank among the top 300 recruits in the country.
“We know what each other wants,” Grimes said. “They know what I’m looking for in an offensive lineman. I know what Rodney Garner wants in his D-line, so I’m not going to waste his time bringing him a kid to show him that I know he’s not going to like. ... I’m not going to bring Melvin Smith a 5-foot-8 corner to look at. He doesn’t want that kind of guy. I know that.”
And knowing is sometimes half the battle.