War Eagle Extra

Wes McGriff to Ole Miss official, staying with Auburn for Sugar Bowl

Auburn coach Wes McGriff works with players at spring practice at the university's athletic complex on March 1, 2016.
Auburn coach Wes McGriff works with players at spring practice at the university's athletic complex on March 1, 2016. mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Wes McGriff upped the energy level on the Plains when he arrived as Auburn’s new secondary coach a year ago to help turn around a floundering defense.

Ole Miss wants to tap into that.

The Rebels officially announced McGriff as the program’s new defensive coordinator Friday.

“One name just kept coming back to me,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. “The comfort level I have with Wesley McGriff was very important to me, and the energy he will bring in reviving our defense is going to be vital.”

McGriff returns to Mississippi, where he coached the secondary under Freeze in 2012. Freeze cited the assistant coach’s long track record of success as key factor in the decision, placing special emphasis on McGriff’s most recent stint at Auburn.

“The critical areas that I really wanted to look at defensively in this hire were stopping the run, red zone scoring and not giving up explosive plays,” Freeze said. “When you look at what he’s done, along with his staff at Auburn, Kevin Steele highly recommended him. What they’ve done there in those regards, top 10 in rushing, top 10 in scoring and gave up very few explosive plays, and those areas were critical areas that I thought we had to really look closely at in hiring the defensive coordinator, and his name just kept coming to the top.”

According to the Oxford Eagle, McGriff signed a three-year contract with a starting salary of $1 million. McGriff’s salary will jump to $1.1 million in the second year of the contract and $1.2 million in the third.

McGriff made $500,000 as Auburn’s secondary coach this season.

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn put out a statement Friday in stark contrast to the terse goodbyes he shared last year when much of the defensive staff left for South Carolina.

“I want to thank Wesley for the great job he did for Auburn this season,” Malzahn said. “He is not only a very good coach, but an outstanding person. When I hired Wesley, he told me his goal was to be a defensive coordinator, and this was an opportunity too good to pass up. Our coaches and players, along with Wesley, wanted him to finish the bowl season with us, and we appreciate him doing so.”

With Ole Miss not eligible for a bowl, Freeze said it was an easy decision to let McGriff stay with Auburn for an extra two weeks.

“I always think that the kids come first,” Freeze said. “It’s a dead period right now. The things we can do right now, he can do when he’s not on the field there. We don’t go back on the road until Jan. 12, and he’ll be here January 3. So we’ll have plenty of time to get caught up on exactly what we’re going to attack.”

Michael Niziolek: 334-332-8572, @wareagleextra