Aubserver Mailbag 100: Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
This week: Defensive improvement, Cadillac Williams, Lane Kiffin, G5 scares, Bigsby vs. Mason, Harsin vs. Barbee, basketball recruiting and beverages
(Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers)
Justin Ferguson: Hello, and welcome to the 100th edition of the mailbag here on The Auburn Observer. Painter and I have written and edited nearly a half a million words combined for most of the Fridays over the last two years and some change.
As I often say, The Auburn Observer wouldn’t exist without you guys. The Aubserver Mailbag is the best proof of that. Over the years, no matter where I’ve written, the mailbag has been among my most-read pieces week in and week out.
It’s what I like about doing the independent sportswriter and podcaster thing the most: You tell us what you want to know about, and we try our best to give it to you. It’s direct. It’s human. It’s pure. It’s real. And it has nothing to do with clicks or quotas or anything like that.
And the mailbag gets the most attention whenever Painter does it, so I’m snagging some of his clout by making him write half of it this week. I wouldn’t have gotten to 10 mailbags, much less 100, without him. Newslettering is a team sport.
Painter Sharpless: First things first, thank y’all for your incredible support.
Although this is about the Mailbag turning 100, I’m reminded of the first Observer episode Ferg and I recorded. We were sitting across from one another at a tiny desk in the guest bedroom at my old apartment using what I think was a gaming microphone.
I mentioned to Ferg before we hit record — shoutout to me for incredible audio quality on the pilot — that I was nervous even though we had done a few years of radio shows together. If memory serves, he agreed.
PS: Perhaps with anything new there’s bound to be nerves, but we had no idea how people would receive this. A hundred mailbags later, we’ve never had more support. Even in the midst of a rough football season, I’ve never had more fun — turns out we had little reason to worry.
Thank y’all for joining us. We can’t wait to see what the future holds.
Justin Ferguson: This week’s mailbag has a lot of big-picture vibes to it as it pertains to the future of the Auburn football program, the supposed lead candidate for the job and some useful looks into the past. We also got a great question from a newer subscriber about basketball toward the end here.
As usual, we didn’t have the space to get everybody’s questions in here — we’re maximizing the amount of content that Substack will let us send out in a single email here — but we appreciate them all. And we appreciate you. This is the busiest time of the year, and it’s the most fun time as well.
Also, if Twitter dies, we’re glad we’ve got a lot of your money already. That’ll keep us going for a while.
Painter, will you do the honors?
PS: Let’s go.
Why is it that our defense looks better, even with fundamentals like gaps & tackling, when Jeff Schmedding is the only coordinator who stayed?
JF: It’s pretty wild that Auburn’s defense has played as well as it has over the last two weeks, considering it had gotten torched by Arkansas right before the coaching changes. Auburn kept Jeff Schmedding, the only defensive coach with coordinator experience, in place even though the rest of the Boise State crowd was fired with Harsin.
For the last two weeks, I’ve asked every defensive player what has changed. None of them seem to have an answer outside of the fact that everyone is playing harder and with more energy under Cadillac Williams. Here’s what Marquis Burks said this week when I asked him about what caused the massive improvement in tackling:
“Emphasizing — we emphasize tackling,” Burks said. “Coach Schmedding got us doing these tackling drills. He’s emphasizing just wrapping up, getting to the part of his body and just going down with him.”
For whatever reason, this same Auburn defensive staff didn’t rotate its personnel nearly as much under Harsin as it’s doing right now. I think that’s contributed to players being fresher and being more engaged late in the season, which has led to improved tackling. That’s the best answer I’ve got, because otherwise, it doesn’t make a ton of sense.
PS: Yeah, it’s hard for me to imagine doing some tackling drills led to the improvements we’ve watched recently.
I’m not totally sure that there is a straightforward answer. So, I’m rolling with more rotation to keep players fresh — and better vibes.
You can poke holes in the vibes part, for sure. It’s not like Auburn players quit on Harsin. At least from my perspective, it didn’t seem anywhere near 2012 levels of player apathy.
Although it looks evident that the players are having more fun now.
To get right into it, as I have been watching these last couple of weeks, I have been caught in and living the current feeling around the program like most of the fan base. As I watch the amazing resurrection Coach Caddy as given to this season, it is just a sight to behold. When talking about what comes next to friends and family, it is all with the condition that he is not the head coach next year, which it would seem is the inevitable outcome.
I have fallen in that camp, but I have to ask myself — why not? What do you get in the “home run” coaching hires we are putting out there that beats what you currently have with Caddy?
That is not to say that Coach Caddy = Lane Kiffin as a head coach currently. But other than system and play-calling, what do the candidates have over Caddy? A resume? Yes, but resumes aren’t everything, fit is super important, as we have found out.
Recruiting: None of them will pitch Auburn better. You would have a similar recruiting tenacity as a Deion. But with Caddy, he is pitching Auburn, not himself.
Coaching Staff: I think Caddy would be the type of person who listens to others and who would have valuable insight on who to hire. I really think with a guy like Caddy you could really build an amazing staff, because I truly believe he would place a trust and belief in all his staff, like he does his players. If they fit with Caddy’s view for the program then good to go, you aren’t going to have the Malzahn/Harsin idea of wanting his guy.
On-Field Performance: Look at what we are doing without a full coaching staff and no preparation.
Off-Field Performance: Do we even need to compare after the kind of person Caddy has shown to be and what he believes this team should be to Auburn?
So in short, I am seriously asking — why not Caddy?
One other note, because I think we might have to come to terms with the fact that if we hire someone else: Coach Caddy will not be part of their program. My line of thinking being an interim head coach who is so beloved by players and fans alike will be his biggest hindrance to being kept on staff. And is the thinking that a new coach is not going to want this guy around when he is trying to implement their own way of doing things?
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