Aubserver Mailbag 153: Change is in the Air
This week: Coordinator hires, Nick Saban, Jaylin Williams, NET rankings, experience, defense, Orange Cassidy and No Man's Land
HC Hugh Freeze (Austin Perryman/Auburn Tigers)
This time last week, Auburn football’s two coordinators from the 2023 season were both still with the program — and the most successful coach in the history of the sport was still leading the way for the Tigers’ biggest rival.
The only constant in this business is change, and that becomes more apparent with each passing year. Rules change. Rosters change. Staffs change. And it really feels like anything can happen at any given moment, as evidenced by some of the coaching shifts we’ve seen over the last few cycles.
Meanwhile, Auburn basketball keeps winning big by showing that it can change from game to game — or even half to half — in order to best handle their opponents. Adaptability is one of the best attributes for any team to have in any sport, and we’re seeing clear-cut examples of that on both the hardwood and the gridiron these days.
This week’s mailbag kicks off with a few questions about Auburn’s shifting football staff and the impact of Nick Saban retiring at Alabama. Then we switch over to a lightning round of basketball questions, tackling the exciting present and the even more intriguing future of the Tigers’ program.
Thanks as always for supporting The Auburn Observer. Let’s go.
Why did AU part ways w/ a DC who did a good on-field coaching job?
Was the main reason Freeze hired Charles Kelly, the ‘23 Recruiter of the Year, was so he could help take some of the recruiting load off his shoulders and he could focus on being the offensive mastermind & play caller?
Power of Dixieland
What’s the latest on OC & DC hires and what exactly went down prior to firings/leavings?
Auburn’s decision to part ways with Philip Montgomery last Friday wasn’t surprising. The Tigers’ major struggles on that side of the ball against quality competition couldn’t be repeated in 2024, and the attempt to mesh Montgomery’s offense with Hugh Freeze just wasn’t working as intended.
It was also unsurprising to hear the word that Freeze plans to be the primary offensive play-caller next season. As I wrote last Friday afternoon, the head coach getting back to his roots might be the best chance he has at sustained success on the Plains. Do what got you to this point and figure out the rest on the fly, instead of trying to force yourself to being someone else.
But the Ron Roberts departure to Florida — for a job where he isn’t even the main defensive coordinator — is much more of an eyebrow-raiser. Roberts has a lot of familiarity with that Gators staff, so reuniting with them makes sense on paper. However, it’s not like Roberts had nearly the same amount of struggles in 2023 as Montgomery did on offense.
Auburn’s 2023 defense was solid for the talent level at its disposal, and it gave the Tigers several opportunities to win additional games. No, it wasn’t perfect. Yes, everyone is going to remember decisions like fourth-and-31. Still, you could see where a foundation was being laid for the future of Auburn’s defense, and continuity would be valuable for that moving forward.
Instead, Roberts isn’t returning. While I don’t know all of the details of what happened, I will say that it was clear that something was off with the defensive staff during the season, as evidenced by Wesley McGriff being reassigned to an off-field role. Whether that friction led to Roberts leaving himself, I’m not 100% sure. But it was an early sign that changes were on their way to that side of the ball.
Additionally, Auburn reportedly hiring Charles Kelly and not announcing the move officially makes it feel, in hindsight, that there were always going to be more things that needed to be sorted out with the staff.
One of those moves happened late Thursday night, when Cadillac Williams announced his resignation from the program. Williams said in a statement that he resigned “to pursue other opportunities.” Freeze said that the move “wasn’t easy for (Williams), but I respect his decision.”
There could be more departures before it’s all said and done, and there are a few candidate names that have been floated out there that make sense for what the Tigers are trying to build.