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Sunday, Mar. 27, 2011

Auburn football: Mike Pelton's return to Tigers is a homecoming

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Defensive line coach was All-SEC

By ANDY BITTER

abitter@ledger-enquirer.com

AUBURN, Ala. -- Mike Pelton zipped from drill to drill when Auburn began spring practice this week, an unmistakable bounce in his step.

Special teams coordinator Jay Boulware remarked that the Tigers’ new defensive line coach was “on the Kool-Aid.”

“And I was,” Pelton said. “It was a natural high just to be back at Auburn. Every day is like that. … This is home for me.”

The 39-year-old Pelton has some big shoes to fill, replacing Tracy Rocker, a beloved Auburn All-American for Pat Dye in the late ’80s who was hired in February by the Tennessee Titans of the NFL as their defensive line coach.

But Pelton has Auburn roots too. The Goshen, Ala., native was an All-SEC defensive tackle, playing for the Tigers from 1991-94 and serving as a co-captain by the time he was a senior.

“It’s not imperative that I hire an Auburn man, but when I have an opportunity to hire a guy that played here at its highest level, (I do),” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. “I feel very blessed to have two defensive line coaches in a row that kind of carry the same torch. That’s very hard to find and it’s very unique.”

Pelton worked for Chizik at Iowa State, but when Chizik initially assembled his staff on the Plains in 2008, Rocker was his first choice for defensive line coach.

“I was (disappointed) in a sense,” said Pelton, who spent a year at Vanderbilt and was set to coach for Louisiana-Lafayette in 2011. “But I know the business. I think they hired a pretty good guy when they hired the defensive line coach they did bring back. … I know that’s part of life.”

Pelton considers Rocker a mentor, getting his coaching start in 1999 as a graduate assistant for him at Troy. Pelton took over the defensive line job on a full-time basis in 2002, when Rocker went to Cincinnati, developing future NFL All-Pro defensive ends Demarcus Ware and Osi Umenyiora while with the Trojans.

“A lot of the things he taught, a lot of the values he instilled … we’ve kind of got some of the same philosophies in how we go about things,” Pelton said.

But Auburn’s defensive linemen said the two aren’t entirely the same.

“They’re different coaches,” defensive end Nosa Eguae said. “I think coach Pelton is more of a teacher. You know coach Rock is more like, ‘Just go out there and ball.’

“Coach Pelton is more of a detail teacher, but they’re both high-energy guys. They’re both big Christian guys and those are the type guys you want to be coached by.”

Pelton’s familiarity with the school has helped make for what coaches have described as a seamless transition.

“He’s been in the same chairs as those guys and the inner workings of the university and what it’s like to go to school here and the collegiate experience,” defensive coordinator Ted Roof said. “So I think he’s going to be not only a great coach but a great mentor, a great role model for those defensive linemen.”

Pelton takes his commitment to Auburn seriously.

“It’s not just a coach coming back,” he said. “If anybody takes it personally more than me, I’d like to see them.

“This is not just Auburn; this is my home.”

“This where I grew up, where I played, where I became a man, developed friends. If you’re going to protect a place, you’ve got to protect your house. This is the house that I helped build. So it’s personal.”

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