With the performance of Jeremy Johnson early last season, there was a lot of talk and discussion about Auburn offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Rhett Lashlee. "What quarterback has he really developed?" That was the question asked by plenty of Auburn fans.
Many pointed back to 2011 at Auburn without thinking that he wasn't on the staff at the time. Even if he were, Gus Malzahn was the QB coach. I think perhaps if you want to question Malzahn during that time frame, then you may have an argument. However, you also have to remember what he did with Chris Todd in 2009 - with Rhett Lashlee's help as a graduate assistant, I might add.
So what is Lashlee's history with Quarterbacks? I scoured the internet (I Googled for about 10 minutes) to find records of his quarterbacks at Samford, Arkansas State, and Auburn during his tenures at each school and wherever those quarterbacks were previously. I have to thank 247Sports' Keith Niebuhr for the idea. I saw him touch on this topic with the stats a few months back in a post on AuburnUndercover, but I couldn't find that specific post to link to when I started to write this. If someone does, let me know and I'll add it in!
The stats don't perfectly align because I had to pull them from multiple locations with different methods of accounting for them, but I did the best I could.
Dustin Taliaferro, Samford
Lashlee left Auburn after the 2010 BCS Championship Game to become the offensive coordinator for Pat Sullivan at Samford. His quarterback was Senior Dustin Taliaferro. Here are his stats in 2010 before Lashlee arrived and in 2011 under Lashlee.
As you can see here, Taliaferro's numbers improved from one season to the next. He threw 100 more passes and still increased his completion percentage with only a single interception more. I'd say that's a pretty fair improvement, right? His efficiency numbers improved from 112.2 to 121.6. That's not too shabby, either.
We could argue that's a product of the system, but I'd definitely say there's proof of the QB's development in those interception numbers. That shows he's helping a QB better read a defense or understand the game. That also falls into understanding the game within that offense, but it's still significant.
Count this one in the plus column!
Ryan Aplin, Arkansas State
Aplin wasn't a bad quarterback before Gus Malzahn arrived. His passing numbers actually dropped in terms of yards and attempts. However, his completion percentage jumped four points, his touchdowns increased from 19 to 24, his yards per attemt increased, and his interceptions dropped from 16 to 4.
I'm no genius, but that looks like some great improvement from one year to the next. That's hardly someone who doesn't have a clue what they're doing with a quarterback, now is it?
Nick Marshall, Auburn
Marshall is a bit tricky to judge. He spent his previous season at a JUCO, so the competition from one year to the next doesn't measure up. It's also the first time where Lashlee had more than one season with a quarterback, too, so we can see more progression.
Nick Marshall in JUCO seems to have been a wild man throwing the football. He attempted more passes in JUCO during 2012 than he did either season at Auburn (343 vs 239 and 293). He also threw 18 interceptions that season. That's... not good. At all. In fact, it's pretty horrible. So how did that improve once he got to Auburn and faced SEC defenses?
That's a bit better, wouldn't you say? His interceptions dropped from 18 to 6. Granted, he threw the ball 1/3 less, but you're still talking about a serious improvement in pass-to-interception ratios. His completion percentage improved, too.
Yes, there's more to look at. I'm sure in JUCO he was told to just make plays. At Auburn he was given specific plays to run. That is going to make a big difference. It's still an improvement.
He improved from 2013 to 2014, too. Not be a terrific amount, but he threw just over 50 more passes, only threw a single interception more, 6 more touchdowns, and increased his completion percentage by almost 1.5%. His passer rating went from 143.17 to 151.09.
(Stats from his JUCO's site and from cfbstats.com)
What Does This Mean?
It may not mean much at all. The differences in systems and what that system asks the quarterback to do can have a big affect. There's more to it than just the passing numbers, though. The "non-mobile" quarterbacks saw their rushing numbers increase, as well. They were asked to do more than just concentrate on the passing game, adding an element they didn't have before, and they still improved.
Three quarterbacks. All improvements from their previous years. All with Rhett Lashlee as their quarterback coach. Jeremy Johnson started his first season at Auburn in 2015 and performed way below expectations, and everyone blamed the quarterback struggles in particular and the offensive struggles as a whole on Lashlee.
I've written about everything that went wrong in 2015. I touched on the quarterbacks in particular. During the LSU game Rhett Lashlee was seen talking to Jeremy Johnson and discussing with him that his issue was entirely mental. I know he had some accuracy issues in practice, but there were no major hints of what was to come.
Time will tell. Maybe Rhett Lashlee isn't a great quarterback coach. Maybe he can't develop a quarterback. One quarterback who had never been the team's named starter before isn't enough to say with any certainty, though. The three quarterbacks he coached prior seem to say that he can improve their numbers on the field. Sean White started slow and was improving with each game before his injury. Perhaps it's time to consider that the issue in 2015 was more complex than just "Rhett Lashlee can't develop a quarterback."
I guess we'll find out for sure this fall, though. War Eagle. Football season can't get here fast enough.