Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp watches his players during the first day of spring NCAA college football, Tuesday, March 10, 2015, at the Auburn Athletic Complex in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/AL.com, Julie Bennett)
AL.com, Julie Bennett
March 13, 2015

Will Muschamp faces a different set of challenges these days.

The Auburn defensive coordinator is trying to improve a defense that faded badly last season, teach his scheme to new players and fashion some semblance of a pecking order for the depth chart. It's all familiar territory for Muschamp even if the day-to-day tasks have changed from his time as Florida's head coach that ended just a few months ago.

''I was very involved defensively at Florida and regardless of popular opinion I wasn't as much on offense,'' Muschamp said after a recent practice. ''Should have been, but I wasn't. I enjoy coaching. I enjoy being in the meeting room. I enjoy a lot of things that as a head coach you get pulled away from your meeting room, your position players, the defense, that preparation.

''But I was extremely involved with that in my time at Florida.''

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn hired Muschamp two weeks after his up-and-down tenure with the Gators ended. It didn't come cheap, and brought increased expectations for a defense that has played second fiddle to Malzahn's offense.

Muschamp is believed to be college football's highest paid assistant with a three-year deal worth some $1.6 million annually. Florida also owed him $6.3 million for the final three years of his contract.

Muschamp fielded highly rated defenses at LSU, Texas and a previous stopover in Auburn. He's charged with fixing a defense that allowed at least 31 points in the Tigers' final four games against FBS offenses, all losses. Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon abused Auburn for 251 rushing yards in an Outback Bowl defeat.

The hire paid dividends when Auburn beat Florida out for highly rated defensive end prospect Byron Cowart.

Muschamp has some talent to work with, including linebackers Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy and cornerback Jonathan Jones. Plus, defensive end Carl Lawson is back this spring after missing last season with a knee injury that left Auburn without much of a pass rush.

Georgia transfer Tray Matthews also could provide a boost after sitting out last season.

It's still about the teaching in Auburn's first week of spring practice.

''This is about my sixth time doing this, as far as implementing a new system,'' Muschamp said. ''A lot of trial and error through those years, and figuring out probably the best ways to get things taught in a timely manner for the players.''

His message: ''Just give us effort right now and we'll coach the rest of it.''

Muschamp was an observer in bowl practices. He brought in his former Florida secondary coach Travaris Robinson, an Auburn alum, in the same role. Lance Thompson came over from Alabama to coach linebackers.

Having Muschamp in charge has been an eye-opener for the Tigers in the initial practices.

''He was definitely intense,'' Jones said. ''He knows what he's talking about, so he expects high expectations of us, and we've got to meet his high expectations. He's not going to lower them.''

Malzahn has repeatedly talked Muschamp up as ''the best defensive coordinator in college football.'' It's a partnership that does allow Muschamp to pick the brains of Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee on what works best against the no-huddle offenses that are becoming so prevalent at the college level.

''That's what good staffs do, they share ideas,'' Muschamp said. ''They make sure that we're able to share information, practice the right way, prepare our football team totally to be successful. That's what's been a great experience so far.''

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