AUBURN - Gus Malzahn talked to former Auburn great Dameyune Craig. He has had serious conversations with defensive line coach Tracy Rocker, another Auburn icon. He hired the most sought defensive coordinator available in Ellis Johnson.
Auburn head coach Gus Malzah with OC Rhett Lashlee, left, and DC Ellis Johnson, right/Todd Van Emst photo
And still there is so much to do.
Malzahn's first Auburn coaching staff includes three assistants - defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee and defensive backs coach Charlie Harbison, hired away from Clemson. Six positions remain to be filled.
Craig, who led Auburn to the SEC Championship Game in 1997 and still holds the single-season record for passing yardage, and Malzahn apparently couldn't get together. Craig decided Friday to stay at Florida State.
Rocker, who helped Auburn win the 2010 national championship before joining the Tennessee Titans' staff, could have to wait until the NFL season is over to announce a decision, though that is not certain. NFL teams normally frown on coaches making such announcements with games still to play.
Malzahn still needs to hire an offensive line coach, running backs coach, wide receivers coach and tight ends coach on offense. On defense, he needs a defensive line coach and either a linebackers coach or defensive backs coach. Johnson can coach either position.
Malzahn is doing his best to conduct his search for assistants away from the prying eyes of the public.
It is well-known he has some interest in Vanderbilt's Herb Hand and Arkansas State's J.B. Grimes as offensive line coach. There could also be another candidate or candidates. He has reached out to Arkansas running backs coach Tim Horton.
A source close to the process said Malzahn is not aiming low.
"He's going after some guys that will shock a lot of people," the source said. "Things should start coming together before too long, though the situation with guys in the NFL is different."
When Malzahn was introduced on Dec. 4, he said he would move quickly on hiring coordinators. Johnson and Lashlee were in place within 48 hours. Malzahn also said he would be more deliberate in an effort to find the best candidates to fill out the rest of the staff.
"We are going to hire men of character that will be great examples for our players first," Malzahn said. "Then they are going to be great coaches and great recruiters. I'm going to take my time to try to get the best coaches, wherever they are."