“I felt like they always had something that I didn’t have,” said Craig, Auburn’s new co-offensive coordinator. “They were recruiting for the school that they played for. Those are two great guys, and at the end of the day they can always use that as a sales pitch.”
So when Craig was offered a position on Gus Malzahn’s coaching staff, he jumped at the opportunity to return to Auburn.
Or as he calls it, home.
“I’m glad to be home, first and foremost,” Craig said. “I’m excited about the season. I’m excited about the possibilities. I feel very comfortable here. I’m looking forward to great things, point blank.”
In addition to being co-offensive coordinator, Craig will coach wide receivers and assume the role of recruiting coordinator.
Another new face joining Craig on the offensive side of the ball is offensive line coach J.B. Grimes.
Grimes spent the past season working with Malzahn at Arkansas State.
“We practice and play really fast,” Grimes said of Malzahn’s offensive philosophy. “That was one of the first things I was really impressed with in our first spring practice when we were at Arkansas State. These guys have got to be in great condition. You can’t have a bunch of fat offensive linemen out there running around and playing this system.”
Grimes plans on bringing toughness to the offensive line that will help give Auburn an edge in the running game.
“I’ve always believed that you’ve got to keep a hard edge in the running game,” Grimes said. “You’ve got to keep it physical. Football’s a tough game played by tough people.”
Grimes spent time coaching at Mississippi State alongside three of Auburn’s new hires: defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, co-defensive coordinator Charlie Harbison and defensive backs coach Melvin Smith.
“We put together a pretty good football team in a rebuilding process over there,” Grimes said. “I credit those guys for the type of recruiting that they did over there, and we left Dan Mullen with some pretty good players.”
Co-defensive coordinator Charlie Harbison and cornerbacks coach Melvin Smith were together on Mississippi State’s coaching staff in 2007.
Harbison will also coach defensive backs along with Smith, but the two aren’t concerned with clashing philosophies.
“Melvin and I are like brothers,” Harbison said. “So anyone think thinks what we do is opposite, it’s not. It takes a special group, special people, special coaches to work hand in hand and work together. It’s easy. He’s my brother, like a hand in a glove.”
“We’re like brothers, and we look after each other,” Smith said. “It’s kind of like two pilots on a plane.”
Harbison, also known as “Coach Cheese” for much of his career, will adapt to Ellis Johnson’s 4-2-5 defense, which is geared toward stopping spread offenses.
“You’re getting guys on the field that can play in space,” Harbison said.
In terms of what type of player in which the defensive coaches are interested, look no further than former Mississippi State cornerback Jonthan Banks.
Banks, who graduated after last season, won the Jim Thorpe Award, given to the nation’s top defensive back. Banks played cornerback for Smith at Mississippi State, despite not playing the position in high school.
“I love good football players,” Smith said. “When I’m recruiting a defensive back, I like guys that are the engines of their team. I had a kid that played for me this year – and I’ve been coaching 31 years – and he won the Thorpe Award as a cornerback, but he never played corner in high school. He was a quarterback/safety.”
Malzahn hired an entirely new staff of his own, yet most of the coaches are familiar with each other.
And the veterans on staff are embracing the younger coaches.
“I got the job Thursday night, I was on the plane headed to Orlando,” Dameyune Craig said. “When I stepped on the plane, coach Melvin Smith was waiting on me. He welcomed me with open arms. He just told me how excited he was for the staff to have me, and he made me feel welcome.”
The assistants are excited to see what the team can accomplish under Malzahn.
“I think he’s very innovative,” Craig said. “You gotta have a plan in life, and you have to be ahead of the curve, because if you’re not you get stuck behind.”
“He’s an excellent coach,” Melvin Smith said. “His demeanor on the sideline, just the way he hit college football was impressive to me.”
“His vision, number one, is make sure these kids are going in the right direction,” Harbison said. “And he’s a man of faith, and that’s important in any business. And that’s what attracted me to him.”