HOOVER, Ala. — Marcus Davis is envious of LSU receivers.
It has nothing to do with Travin Dural’s speed or Malachi Dupre’s length.
It has everything to do with their position coach, Dameyune Craig.
“That’s a guy the receivers at LSU are going to love,” said Davis, Auburn’s senior receiver whom Craig recruited to the Plains and coached for the past three years. “He’s got a great personality. He’s a great guy. He wants the best for the guys around him. I think it’s always good to have somebody like that, a positive person around you, a positive role model, a guy that actually played in the SEC. It’s going to be great for those guys to have him.”
LSU and Auburn, two bitter division rivals, traded coaches this spring. Craig left Auburn for the same position, receivers coach, at LSU — and 50,000 more dollars a year. Kevin Steele left LSU for the same position, defensive coordinator, at Auburn — and a lengthier, guaranteed contract.
Call it a coaching swap.
“I think LSU got the better end of that deal,” said Booger McFarland, a former LSU defensive lineman and current SEC Network analyst. “It’s not even close, man.”
Southeastern Conference coaching swaps are nothing new, and they’re often a topic of discussion at SEC media days, the four-day event in this Birmingham suburb that began Monday. In fact, 14 first-year SEC assistants this season worked last year at another SEC school. Half of those left one SEC school for the same position at the other.
1. A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS
Two of the three new head coaches in the league were SEC assistants last season: South Carolina’s Will Muschamp and Georgia’s Kirby Smart. The two newbies built their staffs from SEC guys, too. The Gamecocks lead the league with six of nine assistants coming from within the SEC, three of those from Auburn. Smart plucked three SEC assistants for the Georgia staff, two from Alabama.
The SEC loves the SEC.
Programs, big or small, swipe from one another on a yearly basis. Alabama hired away Kentucky’s defensive backs coach for the same role, and Texas A&M swiped Mississippi State’s defensive line coach.
Coordinators aren’t immune, especially, recently, in Baton Rouge. The Tigers’ past two defensive coordinators left for the same gig at another SEC West school: John Chavis after 2014 and Steele after last season.
What’s Steele bring to Auburn? McFarland said a confusing defense.
“Man, the (LSU) defense struggled a lot under him,” McFarland said. “I think his system was a little too complex. Hopefully he can simplify it down for Auburn, but I wouldn’t expect that.”
LSU’s secondary, a position in which the school is known for having top-flight talent, busted a handful of coverages last season, and at least six led to touchdowns.
“Way too complicated, way too much miscommunication,” McFarland said. “Guys didn’t know what they were doing half the time. That’s on the coordinator. The coordinator has to simplify the defense, and he didn’t.”
The duel was set: Brandon Harris vs. Dameyune Craig.
Many analysts believe LSU emerged victorious in this coaching swap with Auburn. They released receivers coach Tony Ball and hired away Craig, a former Auburn quarterback who’s spent time at Florida State. He’s known for his recruiting prowess, and he’s helping quarterback Brandon Harris, too.
The Tigers replaced Steele, a 58-year-old journeyman of an assistant, with Dave Aranda, a 39-year-old, innovative assistant known in coaching circles as a mastermind of defense. A handful of coaches turned down Auburn’s offer before the school hired Steele, and the Tigers won a fight over Aranda with teams like Tennessee and Southern Cal, swiping the coach from Wisconsin.
They upgraded, right?
“I don’t know, because we haven’t seen him in the SEC,” said Andy Staples, college football reporter for Sports Illustrated. “The thought is, give him LSU’s players who are — we’re going to find out what they are compared to Wisconsin’s players pretty soon — but if you give him those athletes, that he’ll be even better. I find that logic hard to argue with.”
Steele isn’t changing much about Auburn’s defense, players say. There’s no wholesale adjusting or wild transformations — nothing like Aranda’s plan. He’s moving LSU from a 4-3 to a 3-4.
“He made a great impact,” Auburn defensive tackle Montravius Adams said of Steele. “I feel like we’re all headed in the right direction. As a player, I feel like he’s a great coach. I’m thankful for what he’s brought to Auburn.”
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said Steele’s presence had players “flying around the field” and “having fun” during spring practice.
“When Coach (Will) Muschamp went to take another head coaching job, I really wanted somebody that was familiar with our conference,” Malzahn said. “I wanted somebody that was a true professional, somebody that had the same philosophy that I have, and it really — all of the boxes fit.”
Miles and his players have made clear that Craig fit the boxes for LSU. Davis, the victim of this coaching swap, knows all about that.
“I was really close to coach Craig,” he said. “He was the guy who recruited me. He believed in me. He gave me my shot.”