BY WIL CREWS
Newly appointed Auburn head coach Hugh Freeze has much to do in little time.
With the transfer portal now officially open, and with just over two weeks remaining before the national early signing day on Dec. 21, Freeze must act quickly to build his staff in order to strongly position the Tigers as they enter 2023.
Freeze’s first step in achieving this was a good one. On his first day, Freeze retained Carnell “Cadillac” Williams, who led Auburn as interim coach for the final four games of the 2022 season, as associate head coach and running backs coach.
Freeze then ridded the program of the majority of previous coach Bryan Harsin’s staff in the ensuing days; receiver coach Ike Hilliard, offensive line coach Will Friend and defensive coordinator Jeff Schmedding, among others, have already gotten out of Dodge.
Among the survivors of the previous regime are cornerbacks coach Zac Etheredge and linebackers coach Christian Robinson, although their roles on Freeze’s staff remain unconfirmed.
As for the incomers, Freeze has already settled on some familiar names. Two of his previous staff members at Liberty have been confirmed as followers of Freeze to The Plains.
Most notably, Freeze has hired Jeremy Garrett as defensive line coach. Garrettt spent 2022 in the same role with Freeze at Liberty. Under Garrett, Liberty ranked No. 4 nationally in team sacks, averaging 3.42 per game. Prior to Liberty, Garrettt spent two seasons in the NFL with the Cleveland Browns as an assistant defensive line coach.
Additionally, Ben Aigamaua, another coach following Freeze from Liberty, has been announced as Auburn’s new tight ends coach. Aigamaua was the tight ends coach with Freeze for all four of his seasons with Liberty. Over the past two seasons, Liberty’s tight end room accounted for 50 receptions and five touchdowns.
This past weekend, more movement among Freeze’s staff was made aware to the public. According to multiple outlets, Ole Miss offensive line coach Jake Thornton will be Auburn’s next offensive line coach. The Rebels averaged 491 yards per game in 2022, good enough for third best in the SEC. Offensive line is one of, if not the most pressing issue that Freeze (and Thornton) will need to address at Auburn. With an offensive line group composed exclusively of upperclassmen, Auburn averaged 478.50 yards per game in 2022, which ranked No. 10 in the conference. It has also been reported that Louisville co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach Wesley McGriff is being hired as a defensive assistant for his third stint with the Tigers.
In addition to the on-field staffers confirmed to be joining Freeze’s staff at Auburn, On3 reported last week that Associate Athletic Director for football operations/Chief of Staff Matt Bevins, General Manager A.K. Mogulla and Director Of Recruiting Analytics And Operations Kennedy Harvey are following Freeze to Auburn.
Freeze will likely aim to make decisions regarding significant assistant coaching positions in the coming days and weeks. Some names to keep an eye on include Phil Longo (offensive coordinator at North Carolina) and Travis Williams (defensive coordinator at UCF). In the meantime, Freeze and the already-named staff are busy on the recruiting trail as the new head coach looks to return Auburn to the high standards it has held in years past.