Craig Comes Home to Auburn
By Matt Smith
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Thought of as one of the best recruiters in the South, Dameyune Craig has spent the past three seasons with Jimbo Fisher at Florida State.
New Auburn coach Gus Malzahn continued his impressive wave of assistant coach hires on Thursday when the school announced former Tigers quarterback Dameyune Craig would join Malzahn’s staff as co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach.
“This is a great opportunity for me and my family to come back home to Auburn,” Craig said. “I have a tremendous amount of confidence in Coach Malzahn and the staff he has assembled and I look forward to getting Auburn back to being a force in college football. Auburn speaks for itself and I’m excited to return to a place that holds a special place in my heart.”
A two-year starter at Auburn, Craig led the Tigers to back-to-back bowl wins in 1996 and 1997, as well as the 1997 SEC West title and the program’s first ever appearance in the SEC Championship Game. Auburn fell to Peyton Manning and Tennessee in that game, 30-29. Craig is also the last Tigers quarterback to defeat two top 10 teams on the road in the same season, having defeated No. 10 LSU in Baton Rouge and No. 7 Georgia in Athens during the Tigers’ magical 1997 season.
Craig, 38, is the second former Tiger to recently return to the Plains, joining Rodney Garner, who was hired away from Georgia on Dec. 20 after 15 seasons in Athens to coach the defensive line. Malzahn has now made eight of nine expected hires, with one more defensive assistant expected to be made in the coming days.
Thought of as one of the best recruiters in the South, Craig has spent the past three seasons with Jimbo Fisher at Florida State. The Seminoles’ recruiting classes with Craig on staff ranked No. 10, No. 2 and No. 6 nationally by Rivals.com. Prior to his time in Tallahassee, Craig spent two years with Nick Saban at LSU and the Miami Dolphins before returning to his home state of Alabama for short stints at Tuskegee and South Alabama.
The combination of Garner and Craig gives Auburn an elite pair of recruiters to replace the departed Curtis Luper and Trooper Taylor, thought of as they key cogs in the resurgence of Auburn recruiting during the Gene Chizik era. Neither was retained by Malzahn, and reports had surfaced during the 2012 season that one or both had been pulled off the road due to a pending NCAA investigation. Craig was the recruiting coordinator at Florida State, while Garner will serve in that capacity at Auburn.
Craig was named the ACC Recruiter of the Year by both Scout/Fox Sports Next and Rivals.com and appeared on rankings of top national recruiters by both Rivals.com and 24/7 Sports. He was the primary recruiter for Jameis Winston, the No. 1 quarterback in the nation in the 2012 class. Despite Winston having grown up outside of Birmingham, Craig lured Winston to Tallahassee, becoming the first five-star quarterback to sign with Florida State since Xavier Lee in 2004.
With National Signing Day less than five weeks away, it’s imperative that Craig and the rest of the new staff regain some of the recruiting momentum the program lost after going 0-8 in the SEC and dismissing Chizik just two years after winning the national title. The top priorities are reaffirming fledgling commitments from consensus five-star defensive linemen Carl Lawson and Dee Liner, and adding to a class that currently stands at just 13, smallest in the SEC.
For a program that is coming off of its worst season in the modern era, the Craig hire continues to show that Auburn’s place at the bottom of the SEC West may only be temporary. While luring elite recruits wasn’t necessarily the problem under the old staff, changes in scheme led to underdevelopment of that talent. The cupboard isn’t bare, and with Malzahn only a year removed from being Auburn’s offensive coordinator, there shouldn’t have to be too much fitting of square pegs in round holes.
Like Garner, Craig’s homecoming is one that was expected eventually. However, getting both Tigers greats to return to Auburn in a matter of weeks was not anticipated. Both men clearly believe in Malzahn, a promising sign for a program that so desperately needed one.