Carnell Williams

Auburn running backs coach Carnell Williams was the only assistant coach retained from Gus Malzahn's staff by coach Bryan Harsin

Despite needing a do-over on his choice to coach the defensive line, Bryan Harsin is moving into the next stage of his transition as head coach of the Auburn football Tigers.

Winter workouts are into their second week as the new coaching staff gets its first opportunity to see the talent returning for the 2021 season. The coaches will have a better idea of what they are working with following 15 days of spring practice, which will get started in mid-March.

Harsin’s on-the-field staff of 10 assistants includes two former Auburn players, Carnell “Cadillac” Williams and Zach Etheridge. Williams is the only hold-over from Gus Malzahn’s group of position coaches and will continue to work with the running backs. Etheridge made the move back to Auburn from the University of Houston where he won praise for coaching cornerbacks, which is his assignment at his alma mater.

Defensive line coach Tracy Rocker, who made the move from the University of South Carolina, was barely around long enough to unpack his bags before he accepted a job coaching defensive linemen in the NFL for the Philadelphia Eagles. This is the second time Rocker left his alma mater to coach in the NFL. Following the 2010 national championship season, his second year as an Auburn coach, Rocker took a job with the NFL’s Tennessee Titans.

Rocker spent three seasons coaching in the NFL before returning to the SEC for defensive line coaching assignments at Georgia (2014-16), Tennessee (2017-19) and last season at South Carolina.

Harsin wasted no time in coming up with a replacement for Rocker, turning to the NFL for his hire. Nick Eason, who spent the previous two years coaching defensive linemen for the Cincinnati Bengals, accepted the offer to join Auburn’s staff. Before that he coached defensive linemen for the Titans after playing in the NFL following graduation from Clemson.

Auburn’s head coach seems pumped up about the hire of a coach he calls a “great teacher” and a rising star in the coaching business. The big question about Eason is will he be a good recruiter, something assistant coaches at the NFL level don’t have to worry about as part of their job descriptions.

Harsin is betting that Eason picks up that part of his job quickly and says, “What stands out about Nick, in addition, is his personality, professionalism and an ability to form a relationship with people very quickly.”

For Harsin and the Tigers moving forward, recruiting is going to be a major focus with Auburn’s 2021 class leaving a good bit to be desired, which is not surprising with a coaching change prior to the very important early signing period in December, something that many recruits were not expecting.

Mark Murphy is the editor of Inside the Auburn Tigers magazine and newsletter

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