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Meet Hugh Freeze’s 2023 Auburn football coaching staff 12/30/2022 Tom Green,

Hugh Freeze’s first Auburn coaching staff is complete.

Freeze finalized his staff, officially, on Thursday after the program announced the addition of former Tigers wide receiver Marcus Davis as the team’s new wide receivers coach. The hiring of Davis comes just more than a month after Freeze was named Auburn’s head coach on Nov. 28, and now as the calendar is set to flip to 2023, Freeze’s inaugural on-field staff on the Plains is complete.

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Among Freeze’s 10 assistant coaches are a pair of holdovers from the previous staff (both of whom are Auburn alumni), an additional former Tiger in Davis, two established coordinators, three former Liberty assistants who followed Freeze from Lynchburg, Va., another assistant returning for a third stint on the Plains and another up-and-comer with SEC coaching experience.

Here’s a look at Freeze’s complete on-field staff, plus strength and conditioning coach.

Philip Montgomery, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach

The former Tulsa head coach will serve as Auburn’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, as well as the team’s primary offensive play-caller. The 51-year-old Montgomery spent the last eight seasons as Tulsa’s head coach, going 43-53 during that time. Prior to that, he was on Art Briles’ Baylor staff for seven seasons, first as co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach/running backs coach from 2008-11, then as the Bears’ offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for three seasons, when he was recognized as one of the top play-callers in the nation and was named a finalist for the Broyles Award in 2013.

Montgomery has 20 years of experience at the college level and has mentored several highly productive quarterbacks during his career, including Heisman winner Robert Griffin III, former Big 12 Player of the Year Bryce Petty, Baylor All-American Nick Florence, Conference USA MVP Kevin Kolb and former Houston star Case Keenum.

Ron Roberts, defensive coordinator

Another assistant with Baylor ties, Roberts spent the last three seasons as defensive coordinator in Waco, Texas, on Dave Aranda’s staff. At Baylor, Roberts’ unit was a top-10 scoring defense in 2021 (18.3 points per game) but took a step back this fall after losing several key players in the offseason, and he was fired at the end of the season.

The 55-year-old Roberts previously spent time at Louisiana-Lafayette (2018-19) and before that was the head coach at Southeastern Louisiana (2012-17) and Delta State (2007-11). He has more than three decades of coaching experience, and his influence within the college game is far-reaching — he brought along both Aranda and current Alabama defensive coordinator Pete Golding while at Delta State and then Southeastern Louisiana, while other branches on his coaching tree include Cincinnati defensive coordinator Bryan Brown and Florida co-defensive coordinator Patrick Toney, among others.

Cadillac Williams, running backs coach/associate head coach

One of Freeze’s first orders of business upon being named Auburn’s head coach was retaining Williams, who served as the Tigers’ interim coach during the final month of the season following Bryan Harsin’s firing on Halloween. Williams, who will be in his fifth season on staff in 2023, has been a mainstay at his alma mater now spanning three head coaches — and two interim coaches, including himself. He joined Gus Malzahn’s staff for the 2019 season, was retained by Harsin after the 2020 season and has grown into a well-respected figure not just on the Plains but across the country after the way he handled his stint leading the program at the end of the season.

Williams guided Auburn to a 2-2 record in November, snapping a five-game losing streak in the process and breathing fresh life into a program and fanbase that was in dire need of resuscitation following the disaster that was Harsin’s tenure. Along with being retained as running backs coach, Williams added the title of associate head coach, further highlighting his importance to what Freeze hopes to build at Auburn.

Marcus Davis, wide receivers coach

The youngest coach on staff, Davis returns to his alma mater amid what has been a fast rise for him in the coaching industry. Davis has just two seasons of on-field experience, coaching wide receivers at Hawaii during the 2021 season and spending last season in the same role at Georgia Southern. Prior to that, Davis was a graduate assistant at Florida State in 2020 (under former Auburn offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham), and he spent the 2018 and 2019 seasons in a support role on the Plains, first as an analyst and then in player personnel and development.

Davis played at Auburn from 2013-16 and was part of the program’s last SEC championship team, when he started for the national runner-up Tigers at receiver as a true freshman. As a coach, Davis helped produce an all-conference receiver at Hawaii in 2021, when Calvin Turner Jr. had 876 receiving yards, 1,523 all-purpose yards and 12 total touchdowns. Hawaii’s Nick Mardner also approached a 1,000-yard receiving season under Davis, finishing that year with 46 catches for 913 yards and five touchdowns. During his season at Georgia Southern, Davis coached a unit that set a school record with nine individual 100-yard receiving games in an offense that finished fourth nationally in passing. He was responsible for a trio of productive receivers in Khaleb Hood (school-record 87 catches for 925 yards), Jeremy Singleton (66 catches for 714 yards) and Derwin Burgess Jr. (58 catches for 717 yards and seven touchdowns).

Ben Aigamaua, tight ends coach

One of a trio of former Liberty assistants who have joined Freeze’s on-field staff, Aigamaua has been a staple of Freeze’s staffs over the years and was the Flames’ tight ends coach for the last four seasons. Aigamaua played for Freeze at Lambuth before first joining him as a graduate assistant in 2010.

That was followed by a season at Arkansas Tech in a similar role in 2011, after which Aigamaua reunited with Freeze at Ole Miss. Aigamaua was at Ole Miss from 2012-18, with the first five of those years working alongside Freeze. During his time with the Rebels, Aigamaua served various roles, including graduate assistant, offensive analyst and assistant athletics director of community relations. In all, he has 13 years of experience at the college level, including the last four as an on-field assistant at Liberty.

Jake Thornton, offensive line coach

Thornton is the lone on-field staffer to join Freeze’s staff after spending last season at another SEC program, as he comes to Auburn after two seasons at the offensive line coach at Ole Miss under Lane Kiffin. During each of his two years with the Rebels, Ole Miss’ offense was top-10 nationally in total offense, leading the SEC in that mark in 2021 (492.5 yards per game) and ranking second in the conference this season (496.2).

Ole Miss led the SEC and was third nationally this year in rushing offense (256.46 yards per game), finishing behind only a pair of service academies (Air Force and Army). The Rebels finished 11th nationally and fourth in the SEC in yards per carry (5.43), while freshman running back Quinshon Judkins led the league and set program single-season records with 1,565 yards and 16 touchdowns.

Thornton has seven years of coaching experience, beginning in 2016 as a quality control assistant and assistant offensive line coach at Western Carolina, his alma mater. He spent the 2017 season as a graduate assistant at Alabama, which won the national title that year. That was followed by two seasons as offensive line coach at Tennessee Tech. He spent 2020 as run game coordinator and offensive line coach at Gardner-Webb before making the jump to the SEC with Ole Miss.

Jeremy Garrett, defensive line coach

Garrett was one of the first additions to Freeze’s Auburn staff, following the head coach from Liberty after spending the 2022 season as the Flames’ defensive line coach. Under Garrett, Liberty’s defense led the country in tackles for loss (109) entering bowl season and finished third among FBS programs in sacks (41). The Flames were 34th nationally in run defense with Garrett on staff, limiting opponents to 3.76 yards per carry.

Prior to joining Freeze at Liberty, Garrett spent two seasons with the NFL’s Cleveland Browns as an assistant defensive line coach, working with the likes of first-team All-Pro defensive end Myles Garrett, Olivier Vernon and Jadeveon Clowney. In 2019, Garrett was a defensive quality control assistant at Vanderbilt under then-coach Derek Mason. A former defensive lineman at Ole Miss when Freeze was an assistant for the Rebels, Garrett has 13 years of coaching experience under his belt. He got his start as a high school coach in Mississippi and Tennessee before his lone season at Vanderbilt.

Josh Aldridge, linebackers coach

The third Liberty assistant to join Freeze’s on-field staff, Aldridge comes to the Plains after spending the last four seasons with the Flames, first as defensive line coach from 2019-21 (he was also co-defensive coordinator in 2021), before shifting to linebackers coach and defensive coordinator this past season. Aldridge also served as Liberty’s interim coach for its bowl game after Freeze accepted the Auburn job.

The 33-year-old Aldridge has coached at the college level since 2013, though all of his FBS experience has come during the last four seasons at Liberty. He made his foray into coaching in 2013 at FCS program Lindenwood as a graduate assistant before making the move to Division II at Ouachita Baptist as defensive line coach that same year. From 2014-17 he was the defensive line coach at recruiting coordinator at West Georgia, where he overlapped with Cadillac Williams on staff during the 2016 season, before spending the 2018 season at Division II Lenoir-Rhyne as defensive coordinator.

This past season as Liberty’s defensive coordinator, Aldridge’s defense led the nation in tackles for loss, was fourth in sacks, 15th in interceptions, and 19th in third-down defense.

Zac Etheridge, defensive backs coach

One of two on-field assistants retained by Freeze, Etheridge will enter his third season coaching defensive backs at his alma mater. Etheridge was initially hired prior to the 2021 season as part of Harsin’s inaugural staff and was officially retained by Freeze earlier this month.

A former four-year starter at defensive back and captain on the 2010 national championship team, Etheridge is one of three former Tigers—each of whom won at least an SEC title during his playing days—to be part of Freeze’s first Auburn staff. Prior to returning to his alma mater in 2021, Etheridge spent two seasons at Houston on Dana Holgorsen’s staff. Etheridge is a former All-American who got into coaching in 2012 as a graduate assistant at Penn State. He spent the 2013 and 2014 seasons in a similar role at Georgia Tech before getting his first on-field opportunity at Western Carolina in 2016 as cornerbacks and outside linebackers coach for two seasons. In 2018, he was hired as cornerbacks coach at Louisiana, where he worked under then-Ragin’ Cajuns defensive coordinator Ron Roberts.

Etheridge has been a rising star in the coaching business and has also developed a reputation as a strong recruiter. He has had a hand in helping Auburn land 11 of its blue-chip signees over the last two recruiting cycles.

Wesley McGriff, defensive backs coach

Another familiar face returning to the Plains, McGriff will be starting his third stint as an assistant coach at Auburn after previously spending two different shifts on Gus Malzahn’s staff, first in 2016 and then during the 2019-20 seasons. McGriff returns to Auburn after spending the 2022 season as Louisville’s co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach. Prior to that, he spent the 2021 campaign as the secondary coach at Florida. Between his first two spells at Auburn, McGriff worked at Ole Miss as co-defensive coordinator—hired by Freeze prior to the 2017 season, though Freeze resigned before the start of the year.

Along with his prior stops at Auburn, Florida, Ole Miss and Louisville, McGriff has coached at Vanderbilt (2011), Miami (2007-10), Baylor (2003-06) and Kentucky (2001-02), as well as a three-year tenure in the NFL with the New Orleans Saints from 2013-15. McGriff got his start at Savannah State in 1990 before moving on to Kentucky State from 1995-99 and then a season at Eastern Kentucky in 2000 before making the move to big-time college football.

During his time at Louisville this past season, the Cardinals were 34th nationally in pass defense (206.5 yards per game) and 43rd in defensive pass efficiency (125.34). They ranked 35th in third-down defense (34.59 percent) and 10th among FBS teams in red-zone defense (73.81 percent), while also ranking 14th in red-zone touchdown defense (47.2 percent).

Tom Green is an Auburn beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @Tomas_Verde.

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