By Terry Pellman
If there were any doubts among you that the rivalry between Alabama and Auburn is an action-reaction scenario, those suspicions can be laid to rest.
After meeting with a group of reporters this week, newly hired Auburn football coach Gene Chizik has announced he "has a plan for retaking the state of Alabama" in terms of recruiting.
I realize, this begs the question if Auburn ever had the state of Alabama in the first place, but we'll leave that question for a later date.
Over the past two years, the Auburn program has found itself virtually locked out of the recruits that both the Auburn and Alabama staffs had a mutual interest in. Overall, both schools have heavily recruited more than 30 players in common, with Alabama coming out on the winning end in all but a scarce few.
In the 2009 class, Alabama secured signatures from eight of the top 10 players in state and 10 of the top 15, which included all of the top five. That followed the success Bama had in 2008 as well, where the Tide signed 11 of the top 15, including the top five in the state.
Conversely, Auburn found itself shut out of the top 10 in 2009 and only able to secure two of the top 15. In 2008 they set the precedent for '09 by finding themselves left out of the top 10 and signing one of the top 15.
To summarize, that's 21 of the top 30 players in the state of Alabama headed to Tuscaloosa versus three of the top 30 headed to the "Plains of Auburn."
It's an interesting approach Chizik has decided to use. In fact, if we take the latest very successful team Auburn has fielded, the undefeated 2004 Tigers, it's a stark contrast to what has been their recipe for success.
"You've got to have a starting point and a home base, and this state will be it," Chizik was quoted as saying. "After that, we'll move outside the state."
Curtis Luper, Auburn's new recruiting coordinator and running backs coach, said he's approaching this in-state battle with thoughts of his days in the Army, where he served as an air traffic controller.
“One of the basic elements of the military is that you protect your border,” Luper was quoted as saying. “So we got to protect our border. We’re going to start right here in this state.”
Luper said he has divided the state into seven territories, each of which will be assigned its own coach. Factor in Chizik, and the Tigers will have eight different coaches in players' homes across the state.
Compare that to the past staff under the leadership of Tommy Tuberville, who had half of that number assigned to the state of Alabama.
Luper said he will assign two coaches to the South, two to the North, one each in greater Birmingham, Huntsville, and Montgomery and one in the Lee County region, which includes Columbus and LaGrange, Ga.
This move definitely represents a different way of thinking than what has been the mantra on the Plains.
In a matter of a couple of weeks we've seen their program move from "Recruiting rankings don't mean anything, we don't pay attention to them" to a stance now that includes "We need the No. 1 recruiting class in the country. That's what I want. That's my goal," according to Luper.
It seems possible he's considering his days in the Army as an air traffic controller even more prominently that one might suspect, considering the amount of travel time this will force on the Auburn staff.
There will be five coaches recruiting in Georgia and four on the beat in Florida; most will have multiple assignments.
In what can be described as a more concentrated effort in one state can equally be described as spreading a staff very thinly around the Southeast.
By drawing a comparison to their last successful season, 2004, what bears the most attention is it was a roster than was mostly filled with out-of-state talent from Georgia, Florida, and the other surrounding states.
For every Carnell Williams a coach finds in Alabama, he finds a Jason Campbell from Mississippi and a Ronnie Brown from Georgia.
In fact, looking over their roster of sholarship players, two of every three came from outside the state.
The Stark Contrast
The efforts of the Alabama staff for their 2010 class are quite the opposite.
The staff, as evidenced by the number of offers in-state and out-of-state, is being very selective in which in-state players receive offers and are pursuing more prospects from out-of-state. They are in a position where they are seeking to "plug holes" in their lineup with some of the Southeast's elite.
Will Changes Pay Dividends?
With their senior seasons still left to be played, how the state's players situate themselves in terms of talent is somewhat left to be seen. But, there have been enough displays of their talents to get a good feel on how they'll produce in their senior seasons.
Among the top prospects like B.J. Chitty, C.J. Moseley, Solomon Patton, Craig Sanders, and Jarrick Williams, the trend looks to be continuing. Alabama is the team to beat.
Rest assured, this new approach for Auburn will pay dividends for some of the in-state kids who wish to remain in the state.
Auburn or Troy?