Harsin Assembles His First Staff At Auburn
With the announcement of Bert Watts as the special teams coordinator and outside linebackers coach this past Thursday, Bryan Harsin’s on-the-field coaching staff at Auburn was now complete, or so we thought. It was soon after announced that Tracy Rocker, Auburn’s new defensive line coach, had accepted the same position at the Philadelphia Eagles. It then took the Tigers just three to four days to find Tracy Rocker’s replacement as the defensive line coach. Last night, Bryan Harsin announced the hiring of Nick Eason as the new defensive line coach now completing Bryan Harsin’s first staff at Auburn, hopefully for the final time this offseason.
When the Harsin hire was made official, many questions arose about what types of coaches Auburn would target for the new staff. “Would Harsin bring the majority of his staff from Boise State?” “Will Auburn go after coaches with Auburn connections?” “Will Harsin target coaches with SEC connections to help him out with recruiting?” It’s clear, now that the staff is complete, Auburn targeted balance. Auburn’s new football coaching staff is a true balance between coaches with SEC/Alabama experience, coaches from Harsin’s former staff at Boise State, and coaches that are Auburn men.
Below is a quick rundown of each member of the new Auburn Football Coaching Staff grouped in one of the following categories: SEC/Alabama Connections, Coming From Boise, and “Auburn” Men.
With all of Bryan Harsin’s coaching experience coming from west of the Mississippi River, Auburn would have to target coaches with true SEC experience. The coaches below in some fashion or another have been a part of the Southeastern Conference for many seasons and will bring lots of experience to the side of Harsin.
Mike Bobo – Offensive Coordinator / Quarterbacks Coach
Mike Bobo knows the SEC. Bobo, either playing or coaching, has been a part of the best conference in college football for 21 out of the last 27 seasons. Mike Bobo will make the transition from South Carolina to Auburn to be the Tiger’s next offensive coordinator. Mike Bobo, former Georgia quarterback from 1993-1997, will join forces with Head Coach Bryan Harsin as the two look to combine offensive philosophies and build the Auburn offense. Bobo first became an offensive coordinator in 2007 at his alma mater under Mark Richt. During his time in Athens, Bobo coached a number of elite quarterbacks including Matthew Stafford, Aaron Murray, and David Greene. Bobo was also a finalist for the Broyles Award, given to the nation’s top assistant coach, in 2012. After the 2014 season, Mike Bobo was named the head coach at Colorado State. During his time in Fort Collins, Bobo coached five times against, at the time, Boise State Head Coach Bryan Harsin, this being where their relationship began to form. At the end of the 2019 season, Bobo departed from Colorado State and took the offensive coordinator position at South Carolina. During his only season in Columbia, Bobo was promoted to Interim Head Coach after South Carolina fired Will Muschamp. Bobo was set to remain at South Carolina under Shane Beamer until Bryan Harsin hired Bobo away. Now at Auburn, Bobo will have lots of work to do including the development of quarterback Bo Nix, specifically in the passing game, and calling the plays, which Bryan Harsin announced at his press conference on this past Thursday.
Derek Mason – Defensive Coordinator
Derek Mason, former Vanderbilt Head Coach from 2014-2020, will be an asset for Auburn and Bryan Harsin. Mason has been through the fire and pressures of being a head coach in the SEC and will certainly be able to help guide Harsin through his first season at Auburn. Mason also possesses a wealth of knowledge when it comes to the defensive side of the ball. Derek Mason began his coordinator career at Stanford in the 2011 season. Mason is known for running a variety of different defensive formations and sets, including 3-4 and 4-3. During the 2012 season at Stanford, Mason was nominated for the Broyles Award, given to the nation’s top assistant coach. After the end of the 2012 season Derek Mason was named the Head Coach at Vanderbilt. During his time at Vanderbilt, Mason also served as the defensive coordinator for the Commodores for the majority of his tenure. Midway through the 2020 season Vanderbilt and Derek Mason parted ways which led to his availability for the Auburn job. Mason will look to instill his unpredictability on defense, with his abundance of schemes, as he leads the Tigers against the elite offenses of the SEC.
Will Friend – Offensive Line Coach
Will Friend, along with Mike Bobo, will make the transition from South Carolina to the Plains to be the next Offensive Line Coach at Auburn. Friend was hired by Shane Beamer away from Tennessee, where Friend had been since 2018, to be the Offensive Line Coach at South Carolina. Just a couple of weeks later, Auburn hired Friend away from the Gamecocks to come to Auburn. Prior to Friend’s stint at Tennessee, he was the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach at Colorado State from 2015-2017, where he served under Colorado State Head Coach Mike Bobo. One of Friend’s major successes at Tennessee was his ability to recruit and bring in high caliber offensive linemen, which is a recruiting area that Auburn has struggled with in the last couple of recruiting classes. During his 19 year career, Friend has coached nine offensive linemen who have been selected in the NFL Draft.
Cornelius Williams – Wide Receivers Coach
Cornelius Williams was named the new Wide Receivers coach at Auburn after serving as the Wide Receivers Coach and Passing Game Coordinator at Troy, his alma mater. While this will be Cornelius William’s first time being apart of a power five or SEC program, Williams is quite familiar with the state of Alabama. After graduating from Troy in 2010, Williams has coached Wide Receivers at North Alabama (2012), Jacksonville State (2013), UAB (2014), and Troy (2015-2020). Williams also was a graduate assistant at South Alabama during the 2010 season. One of the many strengths Cornelius Williams will be able to bring to this staff is his knowledge of the state of Alabama and his ability to form connections with many of the local high schools.
Coming From Boise
While it makes a lot of sense to go after coaches with SEC experience, an area that Bryan Harsin lacks on his resume, it also makes a lot of sense to bring over some of the coaches that made Bryan Harsin so successful in the first place. The coaches below were all major factors in Boise State’s 69-19 record and the three Mountain West Conference Championships during the Harsin era at Boise State.
Jeff Schmedding – Inside Linebackers / Defensive Run Game Coordinator
Bryan Harsin announced on Saturday, January 9th that Jeff Schmedding would make the move from Boise, Idaho to Auburn to join the Tiger’s staff as the Inside Linebackers Coach and the Defensive Run Game Coordinator. Schmedding served as the Bronco’s Defensive Coordinator the last two seasons under Coach Harsin. Jeff Schmedding will be one of three former or current defensive coordinators joining the Auburn coaching staff. Prior to his time at Boise State with Bryan Harsin, Schmedding coached in a variety of defensive and special teams roles during his 15 seasons at Eastern Washington. After serving as a graduate assistant for threes seasons, primarily working with linebackers and secondary, Schmedding was promoted to his first full-time role as the safeties coach. Then from the 2008-2014, he served as the team’s special teams coordinator while also serving as the linebackers coach (2008-2009) and the safeties and nickels coach (2010-2014). Schmedding was then promoted to defensive coordinator where he would coach until joining Harsin in Boise for the 2019 season. Jeff Schmedding’s diverse knowledge of the defensive side of the ball will not only improve the linebackers he will specifically coach, but the entire Auburn defense.
Brad Bedell – Tight Ends Coach
Brad Bedell was named Auburn’s new Tight Ends coach on Sunday, January 17th by Head Coach Bryan Harsin. Coach Bedell comes to Auburn from Bryan Harsin’s staff at Boise State where he served as the offensive line coach for the past four seasons. Coach Bedell, in addition to coaching the offensive line, also served as the Bronco’s run game coordinator last season. Brad Bedell was an All-American at Colorado and played in the National Football League for six seasons before he became a coach. Prior to his time in Boise, Idaho, Bedell was apart of Bryan Harsin’s first head coaching staff at Arkansas State during the 2013 season. After Harsin left for Boise State, Brad Bedell coached the offensive line at Texas State for two seasons and then was an offensive quality control assistant at Baylor for just the 2016 season before rejoining Harsin at Boise State. Coach Bedell will have a wealth of talent to work with including: John Samuel Shenker, Tyler Fromm, Luke Deal, Brandon Frazier, and J.J. Pegues.
Jeff Pitman - Strength and Conditioning Coordinator
Coach Bryan Harsin named Jeff Pitman the Strength and Conditioning Coordinator at Auburn on Tuesday, January 12th. Coach Pitman has served as Bryan Harsin’s strength and conditioning coordinator the last nine seasons, eight at Boise State and one at Arkansas State. Pitman began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Minnesota while earning his masters degree. Jeff Pitman took his first full-time position as a college strength and conditioning coach at Montana State from 1995 to 1997, working with football, women's skiing and women's track and field. Pitman then served as the head strength and conditioning coach at Boise State from 1999-2006. Pitman then spent time at various FCS programs before joining Bryan Harsin at Arkansas State. Jeff Pitman will look to instill a physical brand of football at Auburn, which is certainly a necessity in order to win at a high level in the Southeastern Conference.
There is certainly an importance to embracing your past and identity as a program when hiring a new staff. Even though Auburn is trying to change things up as a program, to some extent it’s important to embrace what made Auburn such a prominent program in the first place. The two coaches Bryan Harsin hired/retained both represent different eras at Auburn in which the Tigers won national championships (Yes, I’m counting the 2004 season as a national championship, because it is).
Cadillac Williams – Running Backs Coach
Carnell “Cadillac” Williams is the only coach that will be retained from the Malzahn staff to the Harsin staff. “Coach Lac" will serve again as the running backs coach like he did under Coach Gus Malzahn. Cadillac Williams played a key role as a star running back during Auburn’s undefeated season in 2004. Williams was then drafted with the number five overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Williams ended up playing seven years in the National Football League before joining the coaching ranks. Cadillac coached the running backs position for two season with two different high school before coaching with the Birmingham Iron before the Alliance of American Football fell apart. Malzahn then hired Cadillac to coach the running backs at Auburn before the 2019 season and he has been at Auburn since. One of Williams major strengths as a coach is recruiting. While he has brought in big time recruits like Tank Bigsby, Williams will serve a key role in “re-recruiting” the current players on the Auburn roster to embrace this new coaching staff as represents the bridge from the Malzahn era to the Harsin era.
Zac Etheridge – Defensive Backs Coach
Zac Etheridge, a key player in the 2010 National Championship season, was announced as the new cornerbacks coach at Auburn. Coach Etheridge served in the same capacity at Houston during the last two seasons. The 2009 Auburn graduate is remembered by his remarkable recovery from his devastating neck injury during the 2009 season. Just nine months after his injury, Etheridge was a captain on the 2010 National Championship season. His coaching career began as a graduate assistant coach at Penn State under head coach Bill O’Brien, followed by two years as a defensive graduate assistant at Georgia Tech where he coached the secondary. Etheridge then coached at Western Carolina and Louisiana Lafayette before joining the Houston staff. Zac Etheridge will look to bring back the edge of the Auburn secondary that he experienced during that magical 2010 season.
While neither of the following coaches really fit into the top three categories listed above, both possess unique coaching experience that Auburn will need in order to take it to the next level as a program.
Bert Watts – Special Teams Coordinator / Outside Linebackers
Coach Bert Watts was named the Special Teams Coordinator and Outside Linebackers coach this past Thursday by Head Coach Bryan Harsin. Bert Watts comes to Auburn from Memphis where he served as the linebackers coach last season. Before Watt’s time at Memphis, he coached for three seasons at Fresno State, two as defensive coordinator. Watt's defense faced off against Bryan Harsin's offense at Boise State in Mountain West Conference matchups during Watt's time at Fresno. Watts will be the third Auburn coach that is either currently or was at one time a defensive coordinator. Prior to his time at Fresno State Watts has coached at a variety of different west coast teams including the Denver Broncos and UC Davis. Watts will be able to help Auburn recruit at a more national level, including targeting the west coast, which is something Harsin has mentioned in his press conferences.
Nick Eason – Defensive Line Coach
Nick Eason completed Harsin’s first staff at Auburn yesterday by being hired as the Tiger’s new defensive line coach. Nick Eason knows the NFL. Eason played in the League from 2003 to 2012 as a defensive end. Coach Eason then began his coaching career with the Cleveland Browns as a defensive line assistant before becoming a defensive line coach at the Tennessee Titans for four seasons. Nick Eason replaced former Titan's defensive line coach Tracy Rocker, who he would end up replacing again at Auburn. Eason then served as a defensive assistant at Austin Peay before coming back to the NFL to coach the defensive line at the Cincinnati Bengals for the last two seasons. Eason’s knowledge of the NFL will certainly be a strength when it comes to recruiting and developing players for the next level.
After just over one month on the job as Auburn University’s Head Football Coach Bryan Harsin has been able to formulate a staff that will bring 168 combined years of on field coaching experience, 91 bowl games coached and 34 collective conference championships to the table. On paper, it looks like this coaching staff has been apart of and will be able to bring that consistent winning mentality to Auburn, which is the entire reason why Coach Harsin was brought to Auburn in the first place.
Coming up at The Patrick Party: Be on the look out for The Patrick Party’s College Basketball Show from Auburn Arena as we breakdown the 2021 SEC/Big 12 Challenge on Saturday morning. Then on Sunday morning, listen on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, SoundCloud, or this website to The Patrick Party Podcast as we breakdown the previous week of Auburn Basketball.