Auburn football coach Chizik, staff hard at work honing messages to recruits

Tactics aimed at Alabama recruits

abitter@ledger-enquirer.comMay 28, 2009 

— When Auburn’s coaches embarked on a weeklong tour of the state of Alabama in a stretch Hummer limousine earlier this month, the primary aim, at least according to Tigers recruiting coordinator Curtis Luper, was simply to introduce Gene Chizik’s newly assembled staff to high school coaches they’ve never interacted with in the most efficient way possible.

The ensuing maelstrom of attention — either from irked SEC coaches, vocal national TV personalities or curious local news outlets — simply added to the phenomenon.

“That was frosting on the proverbial cake,” said Luper, one of the brains behind the stunt. “We had no idea.”

It’s all been part of a successful month in Luper’s estimation, as the spring evaluation period comes to a close May 31.

The Tigers feel like they successfully introduced their new coaching staff to Auburn’s recruiting hotbeds, doing so with flash at the start with the “Tiger Prowl” before reverting to more traditional means in the latter stages, with each coach visiting his respective recruiting region in a more subtle manner.

Chizik’s goal in the early going was to re-emphasize the importance Auburn places on recruiting the state of Alabama, hence a limo tour that only made stops in the Yellowhammer State, not even crossing the Chattahoochee River for a quick stop in Columbus while in Phenix City and Smiths Station.

Luper confessed that there was a concern about what type of message the limo sent. There seems to be a disconnect between the idea of Auburn selling itself, a favorite phrase of Chizik, who prides himself on his lunch-pail work ethic, and parading coaches around in flashy transportation. But Luper contends nothing fundamentally has changed on the Plains.

“Traditionally, you say Auburn, work, hard work. That will not change,” he said. “We’re working. We’re working intelligently. It was calculated. It was strategic. And it worked.”

Now it’s a matter of seeing if the tactic paid off. Auburn will host a football camp for rising seniors on June 13-14, a chance for coaches to interact one-on-one with potential recruits and do actual football drills. While off the road this last month, coaches could not make any contact with players.

Typically, commitments begin rolling in around the summer camps, a chance for Auburn to boost its current number.

When defensive lineman Nick Fairley gave a verbal commitment to Auburn on May 31 of last year, it was the Tigers’ 10th commitment for the 2009 class. Auburn has four commitments so far this year — place-kicker Cody Parkey, the lone holdover from Tommy Tuberville’s tenure; linebacker Jake Holland; athlete Shaun Kitchens; and offensive lineman Shon Coleman.

That number is low compared to many other SEC schools. Alabama and Florida, by comparison, each has 12 commits for 2010. LSU has nine and Tennessee seven, but Luper isn’t concerned.

“We’re not in a commitment race,” he said. “People in their haste to get early commitments may not evaluate as thoroughly as they should. So we want to thoroughly evaluate every aspect of every potential student athlete. And we’re not going to make any mistakes in character and some of the other intangibles that we can find out.”

Auburn has not shied away from going after some of the nation’s highest-ranked recruits, a departure from the tail end of the Tuberville era. Already, the Tigers have drawn interest from a number of players near the top of Rivals.com’s annual top 100 list, most notably running backs Lache Seastrunk (No. 2) and Michael Dyer (No. 11), cornerback DeMarcus Milliner (No. 9) and defensive end Ronald Powell (No. 12).

“It’s just like the pretty girl, you know?” Luper said. “Most guys won’t approach her because she’s beautiful. So when someone does, she may be taken by it.”

Limited by a late start because of last year’s coaching turnover, Luper is eager to see what the staff can do in a year’s time.

“I know what we can do with a full year: get one of the best classes in the country,” he said. “There’s no doubt about it.”

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