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12/1/22 Auburn Articles


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What former Auburn football, Liberty QB Malik Willis said about coach Hugh Freeze's new job

Nick Suss, Montgomery Advertiser
2–3 minutes

Few people have a more unique perspective on Auburn football hiring coach Hugh Freeze than Tennessee Titans quarterback Malik Willis.

Willis, a rookie with the Titans who has started two games this season, played two seasons at Auburn from 2017-18 before transferring to Liberty, where he spent his final three college seasons playing for Freeze. In two years as a starter in 2020-21, Willis led the Flames to an 18-6 record while accounting for 5,117 passing yards, 1,822 rushing yards and 74 total touchdowns.

"I think he'll fit perfectly fine," Willis said about Freeze's prospects at Auburn. "He's a great coach. That's all you want regardless of level or status. You just come in and try to coach the best that you can."

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When asked what makes Freeze so successful as a coach, Willis singled out Freeze's skills as a communicator. He said Freeze does such a good job of clearly communicating what he's asking of his players that the players often don't even realize the skills being ingrained in them.

Willis said he reached out to congratulate Freeze on the new job but didn't reveal any details about their conversation beyond saying, "We chopped it up."

Having the experience he has both at Auburn and under Freeze, Willis said he thinks the only thing Freeze needs to focus on to be successful is trying to win one game every week.

Willis doesn't have all the answers, though. When asked about the positives and negatives of the Auburn job, Willis was blunt.

"I don't know," Willis said. "They've had like three coaches. I don't know."

Nick Suss is the Tennessee Titans beat writer for The Tennessean. Contact Nick at nsuss@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @nicksuss.

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Auburn football hires Jeremy Garrett as new defensive line coach

Lance Dawe
2–3 minutes

Just hours after the news broke that defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh would not be retained at Auburn, the Tigers found their next coach up at the position.

Auburn is set to hire Liberty's defensive line coach Jeremy Garrett for the same position, per Mike Gittens of The War Rapport. Before his time with the Flames, Garrett spend two seasons in the NFL with the Cleveland Browns as an assistant DL coach.

Liberty - who's top three sack artists this season are defensive lineman - ranks No. 3 national in total sacks this season with 41.

The Flames' defense were also inside the top 35 national in yards per carry.

Here's a look at Garrett's entire resume:

2022-present – Liberty (DL)
2020-21 – Cleveland Browns (Asst. DL)
2019 – Vanderbilt (Defensive Quality Control)
2018 – Ensworth HS (HC)
2011-17 – Enworth HS (Defensive Coach)
2010 – Southaven HS (AC)

Auburn let a number of staff members walk this afternoon, including defensive assistant Roc Bellantoni, defensive coordinator Jeff Schmedding, wide receivers coach Ike Hilliard, and offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Will Friend.

Secondary coach Zac Etheridge and linebackers coach Christian Robinson are expected to be retained.

It does not appear that the Tigers will be going to a bowl game (if they are invited) under new head coach Hughe Freeze, based on the cleaning of the cupboard we've seen this week.

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Hugh Freeze parts ways with several more assistants; three still on staff

Christian Clemente
~3 minutes


New Auburn head coach Hugh Freeze met with Auburn's staff on Wednesday and is turning the page.

Sources confirmed to Auburn Undercover that defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh, defensive coordinator Jeff Schmedding, offensive line coach Will Friend and wide receivers coach Ike Hilliard join edge coach Roc Bellantoni and will not be retained as part of Freeze's staff and are let go effective immediately.

Freeze has already opted to retain Cadillac Williams as running backs coach and elevate him to associate head coach, while secondary coach Zac Etheridge and linebackers coach Christian Robinson have not been guaranteed spots on Freeze's staff, but are expected to be retained as of Wednesday afternoon.

Brumbaugh, a former Auburn defensive lineman from 1995-'99, joined Auburn's staff in January. Brumbaugh came over after last working at Oregon as an analyst, with stops at Tennessee, Colorado, Maryland, Kentucky and other spots. Hilliard and Bellantoni were also in their first year on Auburn's coaching staff under Bryan Harsin.

Alabama alum Friend departs after spending two years on staff as the offensive line coach and taking over as co-offensive coordinator with Hilliard when Harsin was dismissed. 

A former Auburn defensive back, Etheridge first joined Harsin's staff as the cornerbacks coach before being elevated to secondary coach and associate head coach for the 2022 season. Etheridge is regarded as one of Auburn's more dynamic recruiters. Robinson joined Auburn in 2022 after a four-year stint at Florida, previously working at his alma mater Georgia, Mississippi State and Ole Miss as a graduate assistant under Freeze in 2015-'16.


When Auburn's staff shook up on Halloween, analysts Joe Bernardi, Mike Hartline and Kendall Simmons were elevated to on-field positions. Auburn Undercover can confirm that there's a strong chance Simmons is offered a chance to return in an off-the-field spot. It's unclear right now who else Freeze will look to keep as off-the-field analysts and graduate assistants.

With the dead period ending on Friday, Freeze is moving quickly to assemble a staff and get pieces in play to go out and conduct visits ahead of the Dec. 21 Signing Day.

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Hugh Freeze makes decision on Auburn defensive coordinator, trio of position coaches, per report

Sydney Hunte
~3 minutes

Hugh Freeze continues to evaluate the current Auburn staff while deciding who will stay on in 2023 and who will go.

Offensive line coach Will Friend — the team’s acting offensive coordinator after the firing of Eric Kiesau in October — along with defensive coordinator Jeff Schmedding, wide receivers coach Ike Hilliard, and defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh have all reportedly been told by Freeze they have been relieved of their duties, per 247Sports’ Christian Clemente.

Friend was hired by Bryan Harsin from Tennessee in Jan. 2021. Schmedding, initially the linebackers coach in 2021, was promoted to defensive coordinator in 2022 by Harsin after serving in the same role with him at Boise State in 2019 and 2020. Hilliard, a former SEC All-American at Florida, joined the program ahead of the 2022 season after several stops in the NFL as a player and later coach. Brumbaugh also came on board in 2022 after a year as a defensive analyst at Oregon, while serving as Tennessee’s co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach before that.

Meanwhile, per Clemente, 2 other position coaches are “expected to be retained” by Freeze: defensive backs coach Zac Etheridge and linebackers coach Christian Robinson.

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'I’m going to have a seat at the table:' Williams' next chapter begins as associate head coach

Nathan King
5–7 minutes


AUBURN, Alabama — Cadillac Williams tried not to get wrapped up in the coaching search. Any investment in the possibility of Auburn removing his interim tag would distract from what he needed to “pour” into his players for the past four weeks.

But that doesn’t mean he didn’t want the job.

Williams confirmed Tuesday he interviewed for Auburn’s head coaching position last week with athletic director John Cohen and others.

And after everything Williams gave to Auburn over the past month since Bryan Harsin was fired and he led the team as a motivational and gravitational interim head coach, it was tough for Cohen to deliver the news.

“Whenever they brought me the news, honestly, they looked more disappointed than me,” Williams told reporters following Hugh Freeze’s introductory Auburn press conference Tuesday morning. “They were: 'I'm sorry.' I'm disappointed; I'm not upset. I was at peace about it.

“I had the opportunity to talk to Coach Freeze last night, and I was sold, to be honest with you.”

Williams already has plenty of recognition, support and love from the fanbase and his team after what he accomplished and how he reinvigorated the program’s energy as the interim coach. And now he’s been promoted for it.

During his intro press conference, Freeze confirmed Williams will be his associate head coach, in addition to his usual running backs duties. That will come with a raise. Both Cohen and Freeze began their remarks by recognizing Williams. The crowd responded both times with a standing ovation.

For Freeze, it was his biggest priority as Auburn’s new head coach to retain Williams: “Just thrilled that he's going to be with us and teach me so much. We're always constantly learning as leaders and I look forward to what he's going to be able to impart to me on the knowledge of the Auburn family and just the feeling that you get here when you arrive and he embodies it every single day. You can tell the passion he has for this place. So thankful he's going to be with us.”

Most programs have an associate head coach. Sometimes it’s just an added title to justify a pay raise. For Freeze, it was so much more than that with Williams, whom the head coach said he’ll be leaning on every day.

“You're invaluable,” Freeze told Williams during a meeting Monday night. “I need your wisdom. I need you to tell me about the players. I need you to tell me about the building. I need you to tell me who is really vital to us really getting this program back to SEC championships.”

On his first official day with his new gig, Williams wasn’t 100 percent certain of what all his responsibilities will be, but he knows he’ll not only be consulted by Freeze, but he’ll have a hand in making major decisions in recruiting, staffing and every other facet of the team.

“I’m going to have a seat at the table with the coaches we bring in,” Williams said. “... Look, this is Coach Freeze's team. I'm here to serve. Like I said before, my seat doesn't dictate my service, so I am looking forward to this opportunity. I'm excited about it and I back coach Freeze and Auburn 100 percent.”

Williams went 2-2 as Auburn’s interim coach, including a furious rally to take Mississippi State to overtime in an eventual loss five days after Harsin was fired. Then the Tigers broke a five-game losing streak with a 13-10 home win over Texas A&M in an atmosphere almost exclusively generated by Williams’ passion, and the fanbase’s subsequent response. They outscored Western Kentucky 24-0 in the second half of a comfortable win, and ran for the most yards (318) ever against a Nick Saban Alabama team in a scrappy Iron Bowl loss.

Williams could have chosen other opportunities. He is, after all, now on his third Auburn head coach since he took over as running backs coach in 2019.

Unsurprisingly, Williams said it was his attachment to Auburn’s players that kept him home.

"Again, it's a lot of kids that I had the opportunity to recruit here,” Williams said. “These past four weeks with these kids has been incredible. And right now, I prayed about it, right now this is where I want to be. I'm forever indebted to the institution.”

Williams’ retention wasn’t a condition for Freeze’s hiring on Auburn’s end. But it was for Freeze. He said Tuesday that — while trying not to get ahead of himself — he thought during the coaching search that, if he landed the Auburn job, he couldn’t succeed without Williams “along my side.”

Freeze invited Williams on stage after the conclusion of the press conference. They held up Freeze’s Auburn jersey together.

Williams is plenty aware of Freeze’s background and how apprehensive some Auburn fans might be to jump on board with his hiring. That's another aspect Williams' support could help Auburn with.

"Trust is something you earn, and just from my conversations with him and being around him, I truly think he's a trustworthy man,” Williams said. “And I'm looking forward to helping him any way I can and get Auburn football back to the top."

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Cadillac Williams 'would love' to see Tank Bigsby return to Auburn in 2023

Published: Nov. 30, 2022, 11:53 a.m.
4–6 minutes

  1. Auburn Football

With NFL Draft decision ahead, Cadillac Williams ‘would love’ to see Tank Bigsby return in 2023

Tank Bigsby and Cadillac Williams

Tank Bigsby (4) breaks off a long run against Texas A&M at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, AL on Saturday, Nov 12, 2022. Todd Van Emst/Auburn TigersTodd Van Emst/Auburn Tigers

Cadillac Williams has been in Tank Bigsby’s shoes.

Nineteen years ago, coming off his best individual season at Auburn, Williams had to weigh whether to declare for the NFL Draft or return for his senior season. Now Bigsby, Auburn’s star running back, faces the same question after wrapping up his junior season just 30 yards shy of back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing campaigns.

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Bigsby has until Jan. 16, the NFL’s deadline for underclassmen to declare for the draft, to make his decision. Williams, as of Tuesday, had yet to hear from Bigsby about which way the 6-foot, 213-pounder may be leaning.

“I have not talked to Tank; I don’t know what he’s thinking,” Williams said Tuesday after new head coach Hugh Freeze was introduced at Auburn. “From Day 1, since I recruited Tank, I told him he’s going to have a decision (to make) in Year 3, and he will have that decision.”

It’s unclear where Bigsby’s NFL stock currently stands, but at the beginning of November, ESPN NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. did not have him among his top-10 running backs on his big board despite having him there this summer. Earlier this season, The Athletic’s NFL Draft expert Dane Brugler had Bigsby in the discussion as the No. 5 running back in the 2023 draft class. That after he had Bigsby as the No. 6 draft-eligible running back in the class during the preseason.

Bigsby’s junior campaign had its ups and downs. He opened the year with 147 yards against Mercer but then experienced a difficult five-game stretch in which he averaged just 3.14 yards per carry and had 198 total rushing yards. During that period, Bigsby averaged just 2.94 yards per carry against Power 5 defenses, in large part due to Auburn’s struggles in run-blocking, as he did most of his damage after contact.

Bigsby got back on track in Auburn’s loss to Ole Miss, rushing for a season-high 174 yards — the most since the final game of his freshman season — and two touchdowns while averaging 8.95 yards per carry. He finished the season on a relatively strong note, as Auburn leaned into its run game during Williams’ stint as interim head coach. Bigsby posted back-to-back 100-yard performances in Auburn’s final two home games, which were the Tigers’ final two wins of the season, and over the back half of the season he averaged 6.25 yards per carry.

Bigsby finished the year with 970 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns on 5.42 yards per carry. He’s now at 2,821 career rushing yards, which puts him seventh on Auburn’s all-time list — just ahead of Brent Fullwood (2,789) and Stephen Davis (2,811) but behind Tre Mason (2,979) for the No. 6 spot.

Bigsby will certainly get feedback from the NFL before making a decision, just as Williams did nearly two decades ago. Williams, despite receiving a late-first round grade, opted to return to Auburn for his senior season for one more go with backfield partner Ronnie Brown. That decision paid off, as Auburn went undefeated in 2004, and both Williams and Brown became top-five picks in the 2005 NFL Draft.

The question is whether Bigsby will follow in his position coach’s footsteps and return for his senior season alongside tag-team partner Jarquez Hunter, who ran for 675 yards and seven scores on 6.49 yards per carry as a sophomore this fall, with Freeze running the show.

“Look, I wish the best for him and his family in whatever decision (he makes),” Williams said. “I mean, I would love to have Tank Bigsby back. Are you kidding me? But I also do know that his dreams, his goals are to change the trajectory of his family. Look, like I tell him, ‘You do what’s best for Tank Bigsby.’ I’m going to support him either way.”

Tom Green is an Auburn beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @Tomas_Verde.

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