Among the announcements of Auburn's signees on Early Signing Day, there have also been official announcements of some additions to head coach Hugh Freeze's staff.
Jake Thornton (offensive line), Ben Aigamaua (tight ends), Jeremy Garrett (defensive line), Wesley McGriff (defensive backs) and Josh Aldridge (linebackers) have been announced as new coaches on staff for the Tigers.
In his press conference to discuss the team's new signees, Freeze noted that he is close to hiring a new wide receivers coach, but that hire took a backseat as he focused on recruiting in recent weeks.
Jake Thornton: Offensive line
Thornton arrives in Auburn to take up the same position he held at Ole Miss, serving as offensive line coach for the Rebels for the past two years.
During those two seasons, the Rebels were one of the top ten teams in the nation for total offense and in 2021, they led the SEC in that same metric.
"Jake Thornton is a rising star in our profession and has established himself as one of the best young offensive line coaches in the country," Freeze said. "He helped lead one of the top offenses in the Southeastern Conference over the last two seasons and is a great addition to the Auburn program. He will be a difference maker for our offense."
Thornton's time at Ole Miss had him coaching two All-SEC linemen and an ultimate NFL starter. Prior to coaching for the Rebels, he spent his 2020 season at Gardner-Webb as run game coordinator and offensive line coach.
"I'm very honored and excited to join Coach Freeze's staff at Auburn," Thornton said. "Coach Freeze is one of the best offensive minds in college football and I look forward to working with him to help compete for championships at Auburn. Auburn is known for its blue-collar, hard work mentality and our offensive line will possess that mentality."
Prior to his stint at Gardner-Webb, Thornton spent two seasons at FCS Tennessee Tech. During the 2019 season, his offensive line blocked for an offense that totaled 4,501 yards. He also served as a graduate assistant for Alabama in the 2017 national championship season.
Thornton's first coaching assignment was in 2016 as offensive quality control assistant and assistant offensive line coach at his alma mater, Western Carolina.
Ben Aigamaua: Tight ends
Aigamaua arrives on the Plains with 13 years of coaching experience. His last four years have been spent at Liberty in the same role, with an additional seven years at Ole Miss under his belt.
"Ben played for me at Lambuth and has worked on our staff in various capacities over the past decade," Freeze said. "He is a tireless worker and has developed into an excellent coach, teacher and recruiter. Ben has a unique ability to connect with people and will be a great mentor and coach for the tight ends room."
In his first five seasons with the Rebels, Aigamaua was also under Freeze. From 2012-2018, he served a variety of roles — graduate assistant, offensive analyst and assistant athletic director of community relations.
Opening his coaching career as a graduate assistant, Aigamaua was first at his alma mater Lambuth in 2010, spending 2011 at Arkansas Tech in that same position.
"I've been blessed to play for Coach Freeze and be a part of his staff for over a decade," Aigamaua said. "My family and I are excited to be joining the Auburn family and I'm thrilled to be coaching at this outstanding institution with such a great football tradition."
Jeremy Garrett: Defensive line
Garrett is another coach who has served under Freeze, spending his 2022 season with the Flames in the same role. Prior to that, he spent 2020-2021 with the Cleveland Browns as an assistant defensive line coach.
"I've known Jeremy since I was an assistant coach and he was a player at Ole Miss," Freeze said. "He is a tremendous coach who has been involved in every level of the game from the high school ranks to the National Football League. Jeremy can teach and develop players, is a very good recruiter and is an outstanding individual who we're excited to have join our staff."
Freeze and Garrett first met when Garrett was a defensive lineman for the Rebels from 2004-2007. During that time, Freeze was serving as tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator from 2006-2007.
Garrett entered the college coaching ranks in 2019, spending one year as a defensive quality control assistant at Vanderbilt. Before that, he spent eight years at Ensworth High School in Nashville, Tenn. as associate director of admissions, assistant track and field coach, assistant defensive football coach, fitness department chair and head football coach.
"Auburn is one of the elite programs in college football with a strong tradition of outstanding defenses," Garrett said. "I look forward to helping build a defensive front that will relentlessly compete each and every down. I'm appreciative to Coach Freeze for this opportunity and am excited to be joining the Auburn Family."
Prior to that time as Ensworth, Garrett coached at Southaven High School in Mississippi as an assistant.
Wesley McGriff: Defensive backs
McGriff is no unfamiliar face in Auburn. The new defensive backs coach has spent two different stretches on the Plains, first as an assistant in 2016 and again in 2019-2020. Last season he served as the secondary coach at Louisville.
"Wesley is no stranger to Auburn and the SEC and will bring a veteran presence to our staff," Freeze said. "He has established himself over the last two decades as one of the top recruiters in our conference and brings great energy and enthusiasm to the table."
While at Auburn most recently, McGriff was over NFL Draft selections Noah Igbinoghene and Daniel Thomas. During his first spell with the Tigers, he helped the Tigers get to a Sugar Bowl in 2016 after much improvement in scoring defense, rushing defense and third-down conversion defense.
In his 2021 season, McGriff was the secondary coach at Florida. With more SEC experience in previous years, he also served as defensive coordinator at Ole Miss from 2017-2018.
McGriff also spent three seasons with the New Orleans Saints, working with their defensive backs. In 2011, he was defensive backs coach and recruiting coordinator at Vanderbilt, before that serving as the secondary coach for Miami for four seasons.
"The opportunity to work for Coach Freeze again and return to Auburn is humbling and an honor," McGriff said. "I love Auburn and am so excited to be working for Coach Freeze. He has a proven track record of winning and there's no doubt that he will do that again here on the Plains. It's great to be home.
Prior to that time at Vanderbilt, McGriff held those same two roles at Baylor from 2003-2006. His first coaching role in the SEC was at Kentucky from 2001-2002.
McGriff graduated from Savannah State, starting at linebacker from 1987-1989 then filling a graduate assistant position at his alma mater from 1990-1994.
Josh Aldridge: Linebackers
Aldridge spent his last four seasons at Liberty, serving as co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach in 2022. In his first three seasons with the Flames, Aldridge was defensive line coach before being promoted following the 2021 season.
"Working closely with Josh the last four years, I have witnessed a coach who is a very good teacher, motivator and relates well with his players," Freeze said. "He has a tremendous work ethic and will be a great fit with our staff and our culture at Auburn."
Before arriving at Liberty, Aldridge coached at Division II Lenoir-Rhyne during the 2018 season as defensive coordinator and linebackers coach. Prior to that, he served as the recruiting coordinator and defensive line coach at West Georgia from 2014-2017.
"I've been fortunate to work for Coach Freeze the last four years and I'm appreciative to be joining him again at Auburn," Aldridge said. "I look forward to helping Auburn build a defense that is physical, aggressive and competes for championships. The area surrounding the Plains is very familiar to my family and I can't wait to hit the road in our footprint in search of Auburn men."
Aldridge is a graduate of Harding in 2012 and in that time, was a four-year letter winner and twice named All-Great American Conference honoree.
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Callie Stanford, junior in communications, is the sports editor at the Auburn Plainsman. Currently a junior, she has been with The Plainsman since January 2021.