July 18, 2006

Muschamp brings another new look to Auburn D

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Only days into spring practice, Auburn cornerback Jonathan Wilhite realized his new coach wasn't going to coddle him.

After Wilhite missed a coverage in passing drills, new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, who until then had been subdued and laid back during winter workouts, made sure Wilhite and others knew about the error.

"He got pretty fired up about it," Wilhite said. "That's one thing you don't always get from coaches. He's going to be intense every day and wants the defense to be the same way."

Less than six months on the job, Muschamp, Auburn's third defensive coordinator in three seasons, has not been shy about changing the formula in either the coach's demeanor or X's and O's.

"It was like a flipped switch a personality change," Auburn senior Will Herring said. "When we went through winter workouts he kind of blended in. When we put pads on he became a different person."

Herring was among those who learned first-hand Muschamp isn't afraid to tinker with the formula, even though Auburn has finished in the top six nationally in scoring defense under defensive coordinators Gene Chizik in 2004 and David Gibbs last season.

Muschamp moved Herring, a second-team All-SEC safety as a junior last year, to outside linebacker to fortify a weak position and give the linebackers additional experience.

"I was cool with it," Herring said. "I've found a home at linebacker. The guys that have moved have responded well."

Few have room to argue with Muschamp and his SEC resume.

From 1991-94 he played at safety Georgia. The next year, he took his first coaching job at Auburn as a graduate assistant under Terry Bowden before leaving in 1996.

When he returned to the league in 2001 as LSU's defensive coordinator, he and coach Nick Saban put together one of the SEC's best defenses. LSU finished in the top 15 in scoring defense and total defense from 2002-04, fielding the nation's best defense in 2003 during LSU's national championship season.

Muschamp followed Saban to the Miami Dolphins as an assistant head coach on defense but left after one season when Saban brought in former Houston Texans coach Dom Capers as coordinator.

The coordinator job would be open for Muschamp when Capers, 55, left, but Muschamp was ready to be a coordinator again.

"It was very tough," Muschamp said. "Nick and I were close. It was as tough a decision for me to leave as it was tough to bring Dom in."

Winning ways
Muschamp isn't the only new coordinator in 2006 with a national title under his belt, but he is the only one going to a different team than where he won his championship
Name School Position Year
Will Muschamp Auburn Defense LSU, 2003
Nick Holt USC Defense USC, 2003
David Cutcliffe Tennessee Offense Tennessee, 1998
Mike DeBord Michigan Offense Michigan, 1997
Auburn hopes the change pays off.

The Tigers stood out on defense for most of the year but struggled at the end of the season. In the 24-10 CapitalOne Bowl loss to Wisconsin, Auburn allowed 548 yards, the third time in the last four games the Tigers allowed more than 440 yards.

Following the season, Gibbs returned to the NFL, taking a position with the Kansas City Chiefs.

"You're going to see a whole new defense," Herring said. "We're definitely going to have a more aggressive style."

The demeanor is more intense this time around, but Muschamp has not been without patience, especially considering the terminology in the defense has been changed around, something that did not happen when Gibbs replaced Chizik.

"They've been slow to teaching us," Wilhite said. "He knows we've been through a lot. They don't try to push everything on us. We're starting from scratch, but we've adjusted very well."

Muschamp, despite some early growing pains, agrees.

"For the older kids it's tough," Muschamp said. "They're seeing the third face, but kids are resilient. They're good football players and good kids. They're going to respond to the circumstances."

For more coverage of the Auburn Tigers, check out AuburnSports.com.



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