I'm not happy that Dameyune Craig left Auburn. I'm not happy he left Auburn for an SEC West rival. I'm not going to blame him, though. And you know what? I don't blame Auburn for letting him go, either.
Why Would He Leave?
Dameyune Craig wants to be a head coach. He felt he wasn't making much strides for that right now, so he moved on. Coaching is a business. Yes, he loves Auburn. He still wants to achieve his personal goals, though. I'm sure when he came on board at Auburn, he anticipated Rhett Lashlee having taken a job as a head coach elsewhere by now and he'd have moved up. Sure, he had the "Co-OC" title, but that allowed for more money and locking him into a longer contract (assistant vs coordinator). That didn't happen, though, and he does still want to progress in his career.
Or, and you may not like to hear this, maybe Craig was somewhat shown the door. It's been reported that Dameyune was in the job market for a month or so. It was put out on Twitter that there was a gathering of donors the night of signing day at Gus Malzahn's house and Craig was the only assistant coach not there. Suddenly there's a discussion of LSU looking at him as a candidate and within 18 hours of it being official, then Auburn hires another coach?
This wasn't some big coup by LSU to steal Craig away, this has the appearance of a planned separation. Craig was under contract through June of 2017, has there been talk of him owing a buyout for the remaining time? Don't you think Auburn would put a buyout on a "Co-OC" who is such a recruiting guru? There was no talk of that, which definitely smells of "we'll wave that part if you find new employment."
This is a part of the reason why while I love seeing former Tigers return home to the Plains as assistants, there's also a big downside to it. They're still coaches. They're going to leave for better opportunities. They're going to be shown the door if they don't produce or if there are other issues. It hurts a lot worse when you see players as beloved as Craig, Rocker, or Travaris Robinson leave or take jobs at rivals, but sometimes no amount of "loyalty to your alma mater" matters when someone sees better opportunities to advance their career. Or, as was the case with Rocker in 2012, they already have good jobs they don't want to leave and then you don't have any vacancies available when they're available. You can only have 9 on-field coaches aside from the head coach in college football.
Issues in the Program?
Right now there are plenty of folks who are putting forth the "if it was Rhett or Craig, Gus should have chosen Craig" argument. First off, we don't know if that's what the situation was. Second, very few of us (and I definitely count myself in this group) have the first clue about what has actually gone on in the football program.
I've heard Craig felt his input wasn't accepted as much. I can understand if that's a reason he wanted to leave. I can also understand Gus' view. He knows his offense and what he wants to do with it. Maybe Craig could have helped more with the situation this last season where the offense struggled. Perhaps Gus Malzahn is so stubborn he can't accept that input. Maybe Craig didn't go about trying to offer his suggestions in the most helpful way. If that's the case and there was going to be strife on the coaching staff, then maybe it's better for all parties involved that Craig moved on.
That's not the most sound management style to me if it were just offering suggestions, and yes it does make me question Gus Malzahn's leadership abilities as a head coach in terms of not accepting the advice of his assistants. Maybe it was a bit more than just "offering suggestions" and not having his voice heard, though. Like I said, all is definitely not rosy on the Plains right now. What we don't know is whether it is getting worse or did it actually get better in a win-win for both parties involved?
I don't know how much of the offense Rhett Lashlee calls. I don't know how much Gus calls. I've been on record before saying I have more confidence in Lashlee than many, though that was definitely shaken this past season. I don't think the struggles of one QB are enough to condemn a man's entire coaching career to date. I guess now really is the time to put together my article on his quarterback coaching history. We'll get to that sometime this week.
Craig leaving is probably going to hurt Auburn on the recruiting trail just a bit. He's one of the best in the nation there. Thankfully he left Auburn with a great recruiting class of receivers this year. Kodi Burns, hired today, will have a talented group to work with.
As far as in the future, maybe you should look back at the success on the recruiting trail that Kevin Steele has had in the Mobile region. There's a reason Nick Saban re-hired him multiple times. Wesley McGriff is an excellent recruiter, as well. Losing Craig still hurts, yes, but McGriff, Steele, and Garner are excellent recruiters. Gus Malzahn has proven himself to be an excellent closer on the trail, as well.
Call me crazy, but I'm not terribly worried. Coaches departing is troubling, yes, but coaches depart all the time. This one is just especially painful because it happened to be an Auburn legend leaving for a division rival. I'm not one to say the wheels are falling off just because of this. It appears to me that this was more of a mutual decision than Craig bolting. So perhaps we can hold off a bit on the "he's leaving a sinking ship" talk.
Gus Malzahn had one bad year of offense. That's it. Just the one. I can't remind you enough that the 2014 offense was actually pretty good. It was the defense that was the problem. He's got Herb Hand back with him who was a big part of the Tulsa success. Kodi Burns has been rising quickly through the coaching world and knows how to play receiver in the Malzahn offense. He didn't have great stats, but he knew the position. There was a reason he was on the field as much as he was.
So please step back from the ledge. Yes, this may end horribly. There's no guarantee that it will, though. In fact, given the history of Gus Malzahn directing offenses and the other personnel on staff (Hand, Burns, Horton), there's reason to believe things will be just fine. The players don't seem to be as out-of-sorts. Gus never lost the 2015 team the way Gene Chizik lost the 2012 team. That speaks volumes by itself.
Spring practice starts two weeks from tomorrow. We'll start to know a bit more about how the 2016 season may turn out, then. I don't expect it will show too much, though. Not much word comes out of practice, A-Day is just a scrimmage for fans, and the majority of that WR class isn't even going to be on campus.
Hey, it wouldn't be Auburn sports if it didn't give us tons of stress and near drive us crazy, right?
War Eagle. Always.