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New Auburn assistants hoping to help script turnaround

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AUBURN, Ala. (AP) Travis Williams has been through the ups and downs at Auburn, from Southeastern Conference champions to teams stuck in the middle of the pack.

The former Tigers linebacker is now one of five new assistants hoping to help coach Gus Malzahn script another turnaround story. They're arriving at a potentially pivotal time in Malzahn's tenure after Auburn has lost 11 games in two seasons since winning the SEC and making the national title game in his 2013 debut.

''At this place, you're expected to win,'' Williams, who is coaching his old position, said on Tuesday. ''I want to win, and I want that challenge. It puts your back against the wall and you just scrap it out and put your best foot forward. That's what this place is about.

''As far as pressure, I don't see any pressure.''

Malzahn turned to new assistants mostly familiar to him and/or Auburn fans after staffers left for other jobs, including South Carolina coach Will Muschamp, replaced as defensive coordinator by Kevin Steele.

Williams and receivers coach Kodi Burns are former Auburn players, with both playing on undefeated teams - and underachieving ones, too. Offensive line coach Herb Hand left Penn State to join Malzahn, who worked with him on Tulsa offenses that led the nation in both 2007 and 2008.

Former New Orleans Saints assistant Wesley McGriff is the secondary coach and co-defensive coordinator.

They're joining a program that has flourished on the recruiting trail but followed up that big 2013 season with records of 8-5 and 7-6. Auburn has won only two of its last 11 SEC games and especially struggled after getting picked as the league favorite last season.

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Burns played on the Tigers' 2010 national championship team and was a graduate assistant three years later. He returned after single seasons at Samford and Middle Tennessee State and so far likes what he sees from the current group.

''I think we have kids that care,'' Burns said. ''I think we have really good kids that want to be coached, that want to be great. Obviously last year was a little bit of a down year but at the same time our guys are hungry. We ain't talking about last year any more. We're moving on.

''It's a new day and it's time to look forward to the 2016 season. I think we have guys that are young, that are moldable, that are hungry, that want to work. I think that's really important.''

There are plenty of issues to settle in the rest of spring practice and preseason camp, the most prominent one being a quarterback battle between onetime starters Jeremy Johnson and Sean White and junior college transfer John Franklin.

Burns and Williams are trying to mold young players into starters in groups that have had their struggles in recent seasons. Hand must find replacements for tackles Shon Coleman and Avery Young, who left early to enter the NFL draft.

Hand said rejoining Malzahn was a big part of his decision to leave Penn State for Auburn after two seasons as the offensive line coach and run game coordinator.

''I really believe that Gus' greatest strength is that he brings out the best in people,'' Hand said. ''I really believe that. He's brought out the best in me as a coach and as a person. I know that. I firmly believe that the best is ahead for us. I have ultimate confidence in that, and then my confidence in Gus.''

Some things have changed, though. Hand used to call the cerebral Malzahn nicknames like Boy Genius and Inspector Gadget.

''But he's Coach Malzahn now,'' Hand said. ''He's the head guy.''