The new buzz phrase around the Auburn football program since Gus Malzahn was hired to be the Tigers' 26th head coach has been, "It's a new day."
For Auburn fans, that is exactly what they want to hear. There hasn't been much to celebrate since that night in the Arizona desert on Jan. 10, 2011.
Before meeting with the media for his introductory press conference on Dec. 4, Malzahn told his team the following (via Auburn Athletics):
Whatever happened last year, happened last year and it's a new day. My expectations are going to be high. Nobody is going to outwork us, and we're going to put a good brand of football on the field and we're going to have fun doing it.
Malzahn has shown that he and his staff will not be outworked.
The result of the hard work was bringing in a borderline Top 10 recruiting class that he hauled in in just two months.
Considering the circumstances, it was remarkable that the Auburn staff was able to bring such a highly touted recruiting class in, but it was nothing new.
As a matter of fact, the Tigers' average recruiting ranking (according to Rivals) over the last decade sits at No. 13. In former head coach Gene Chizik's tenure as the Tigers' head coach, Auburn averaged a seventh-ranked recruiting class.
The way that Malzahn and his staff can prove that it truly is a new day around the Auburn football program is to retain and develop the top talent that they have brought in.
Chizik and his regime had a very hard time doing that.
The 2010 recruiting class that was ranked No. 4 by Rivals is the highlight of the major problem in Chizik's tenure.
Only 17 of the 32 players that signed on in the 2010 class remain on the team. Losing players to the NFL can only be attributed to three players (Cam Newton, Brandon Mosley and Corey Lemonier).
That's nearly half of a signing class that has been lost.
Of the three 5-stars signed in the 2010 class, only Shon Coleman remains on the team.
After two 1,000-yard rushing seasons and a BCS Championship Game offensive MVP trophy, RB Mike Dyer was booted off after the 2011 season. Quarterback Cam Newton departed after a Heisman Trophy campaign in 2010.
Three members of the class were kicked off for armed robbery in the spring of 2011.
Two members of the class (Ladarious Phillips and Ed Christian) were tragically killed in a shooting in June of 2012 after giving up football. Another member, Eric Mack, was shot and is no longer on the team.
There were also some who had injuries end their career before it ever really got started. Offensive lineman Roszell Gayden and Linebacker Jawara White are two examples.
The list goes on. It wasn't only the 2010 signing class, either.
Auburn has also lost three members apiece from the 2011 and 2012 signing classes.
For those that remain on the team from these classes, the previous coaching staff failed to show any signs of development.
Lack of player development was one reason why Chizik is no longer the coach, according to athletic director Jay Jacobs in his press conference on Nov. 25 to announce that Chizik would not be retained (via Auburn Athletics):
I will tell you this, anytime that you have a team like we do and the recruiting class that we did have the last couple of years, player development – where are we with that. Why aren’t we getting it done? Why didn’t the quality of the class transfer over to the field? That’s particularly of interest to me with this program, with this team. Why didn’t that happen? But overall, discipline is something that is always a foundational thing in any team that you have. You always look for those things, but player development is the one thing.
At times in 2011 and all of 2012, the product that Chizik put on the field was not consistent with what Auburn fans had come to expect of Auburn football.
Even in down years, the Auburn faithful could count on a hard-nosed defense, a physical running game on offense and solid fundamental football. The opposite of that became the norm over the last two years.
The Tigers were pushed around at the line of scrimmage and mental mistakes were common. Costly penalties such as offsides or false starts normally stalled any sort of momentum the Tigers could get going.
Football fundamentals like open-field tackling, low pad level on the defensive front and receivers extending their routes to the first down marker were non-existent.
It was frustrating to watch for anyone who follows the Tigers.
To hold true to his promise of it being a new day, Malzahn must continue to recruit at a high level and then surround the top talent with coaches who can develop them on and off of the field.
Malzahn hired a very strong staff that has a track record of not only being good recruiters, but being good developers of talent.
Defensive line coach Rodney Garner, for example, has coached four first-round NFL draft picks in his career.
Cornerbacks coach Melvin Smith coached Johnthan Banks at Mississippi State in 2012. Banks was the Jim Thorpe Award recipient this season. The Thorpe Award goes to the nation's best defensive back.
Malzahn has taken steps in the right direction.
While his hardest work is in front of him, signs are pointing to the sun beginning to rise on a new day for Auburn football.
Just like he promised.
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