“Just watching from the sideline, I saw the same coach I saw in meetings,” said Equae, Auburn’s junior defensive end. “He’s a guy who is so amped up and fired up about football. You just feed off of that, as a player.”
Friday marked Auburn’s first spring practice and the first with two new coordinators, VanGorder on defense and Scot Loeffler on offense.
The two new coordinators are the center of curiosity as the Tigers begin the on-field work toward bettering their 8-5 showing in 2011, a showing that included blowout losses to the best teams on their schedule.
Gone are Gus Malzahn, now head coach at Arkansas State, and Ted Roof, now defensive coordinator at Penn State. Gone are Malzahn’s spread-style offense and, Auburn fans hope, Roof’s leaky defenses.
In come Loeffler and VanGorder, apparently with on a mission to return Auburn to its roots as a pro-set, run-firstteam with a physical, hard-nosed defense.
Until Friday, it was all a matter of meeting-room concepts. On Friday, the Tigers began putting concepts into practice in shorts, with the practice personalities of their new coaches on full display.
VanGorder comes with a track record, having been a defensive coordinator with the University of Georgia and the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons. Still, his new players are just getting to know him.
“He’s really intense, and I like that,” middle linebacker Jake Holland said. “It gets us going.”
And Auburn’s defensive players probably haven’t seen the main thrust of VanGorder’s intensity.
Friday marked his first practice with a new team. Much of his system has yet to be installed, and his players are still getting to know him as much as his concepts on how to run the 4-3 scheme.
Because of many mistakes that are bound to follow, VanGorder said he’s actually dialing back his intensity a bit.
“I found myself frustrated a number of times,” he said. “I had to remind myself that I was prepared, going in, for exactly that. What took place was exactly what I figured would.
“With that, I was hoping to stay a little bit calmer.”
It didn’t always work out, even on a day when the Tigers practiced in merely shorts and helmets. VanGorder’s system requires more communication from linebackers and safeties, and he wasn’t always hearing — or seeing — the right things.
“There were a couple of times when it just bothers you with bad execution,” he said.
Loeffler, who doubles as Auburn’s quarterbacks coach, is working in a new system with new terminology and technique. Quarterbacks used to taking shotgun snaps must adjust to working more under center.
“I like it,” sophomore Kiehl Frazier said. “I haven’t done it much ever in my career, but we’re working on it a lot under Coach Loeffler, and I’m getting the hang of it.”
Frazier said Loeffler will also allow quarterbacks more leeway to change plays at the line of scrimmage.
“It’s different than last year,” Frazier said. “Last year, we really didn’t make any calls at all.”
Loeffler has spent much of his career as a quarterbacks coach with one year as a coordinator, last season at Temple. He’s known as a quarterback doctor, and his pupils have included Tom Brady and Tim Tebow.
One practice in, he has made an impression on his new pupils.
“I would say Coach Loeffler is more kind of excited, more out there,” Frazier said. “Coach Malzahn was more kind of strictly business.”
Excitability kept Loeffler awake Thursday night, anticipating the first practice in his new gig.
“I felt like it was game day today,” he said. “It was great. The anticipation was great, and the enthusiasm with the players and coaches was great.”
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576. Follow on Twitter @jmedley_star.