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Malzahn names Smith to staff

AUBURN — The Gus Bus runs on holidays.

Not even Christmas is a day of rest for Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, who announced additions to his offensive line and coaching staff.

Top-ranked junior college offensive lineman Devonte Danzey signed his National Letter of Intent with Auburn and hours later 18-year SEC veteran Melvin Smith, an assistant at Mississippi State, was hired to be Auburn’s cornerbacks coach, Malzahn announced in a pair of statements Tuesday.

The hiring of Smith, who spent the past seven seasons coaching cornerbacks and the secondary at Mississippi State, completes Auburn’s defensive coaching staff. He joins defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, safeties coach and co-defensive coordinator Charlie Harbison and defensive line coach, assistant head coach and recruiting coordinator Rodney Garner.

“When we discussed this job, Gus told me that he was looking for men of character and integrity who were excellent coaches,” Smith said in a statement. “When I saw who he hired to his staff and having worked previously with Ellis, Charlie and (offensive line coach) J.B. (Grimes), I knew that’s exactly that was the type of men he was hiring. This is a tremendous opportunity for me and my family.”

Smith, Johnson, Harbison and Grimes worked together at MSU in 2007. With Johnson as defensive coordinator, Harbison as co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach and Smith as cornerbacks coach, the Bulldogs were seventh in the nation in pass defense and 20th in the nation in pass efficiency defense in 2007.

Prior to this season’s 28-10 loss to the Bulldogs in which Kiehl Frazier threw three interceptions and had two fumbles, Auburn lost to Mississippi State just one time since 2000 — a 19-14 loss in 2007.

Among the players Smith coached at MSU is corner Jonathan Banks, who won the 2012 Jim Thorpe Award and was a Walter Camp All-American and a first-team All-SEC selection.

The Bulldogs ranked 47th nationally in pass defense (223.92 yards per game) and tied for 18th in interceptions (16), which ranked third-best in the SEC.

In 2009, Smith guided a Bulldogs secondary that led the SEC with 17 interceptions.

“He has a reputation for his ability to develop players, and his 31-year coaching resume speaks for itself,” Malzahn said of Smith in a statement.

The Auburn secondary returns nearly all of its starting personnel, losing only defensive back T’Sharvan Bell to graduation. At corner, junior Chris Davis, sophomore Jonathan Mincy and freshmen Jonathan Jones and Josh Holsey return.

The Auburn secondary ranked 100th in pass efficiency against (145.68) and had just one interception, a 60-yard INT return touchdown by safety Trent Fisher against Alabama A&M, as the Tigers defense tied for last in the country with just two interceptions.

Prior to his second stint in Starkville, Smith coached safeties at Texas A&M from 2003-05, and at Alabama in 2002. He coached defensive backs at MSU from 1996-2001 and wide receivers in 1995.

Terms of Smith’s contract were not immediately available.

The remaining coaching vacancies are at running back, wide receiver, tight end and special teams.

During a Dec. 11 appearance at the Montgomery Quarterback Club, Malzahn said he was going to spend yesterday’s holiday with his wife and daughters.

“I’m going to spend 48 hours or more with them, and I’m not going to think about anything but them,” he said before joking, “I got to be honest, unless a certain recruit calls.”

Well a certain recruit did call as Danzey, the nation’s top-ranked junior college offensive guard according to 247sports, became the second official signing for Malzahn.

Danzey was a starting offensive tackle at Hutchinson Community College in Hutchinson, Kan., helping an offense that scored the second-most points in team history and three times broke the 700-yard mark for total offense. He helped block for running back Terrell Lane, who broke both the Hutchinson CC single-game rushing record and single-season rushing record.

A three-star prospect, Danzey (6-foot-3, 303 pounds) will have three years of eligibility at Auburn. He’ll fill an immediate need with only right guard Chad Slade returning at the guard position following the transfer of Christian Westerman to Arizona State coupled with the graduation of John Sullen.

Hutchinson CC has regularly produced Division I players including former Auburn quarterback Chris Todd, who played for the Tigers in 2008-09.

Danzey made news earlier this month when being recruited by then-Texas Tech coach and former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville. Danzey said Tuberville left during dinner with himself, two other recruits and several coaches the night before he was announced as Cincinnati’s new coach.

“The waitress brought our food out and we thought (Tuberville) went to the bathroom, but he never came back to dinner,” Danzey told 247Sports.com. “We still had a good time at night, but it was crazy how he just got up and left out of nowhere and left people in the dark and in the shadow.”

Cincinnati later issued a statement denying Danzey’s claim.

Danzey is the second JUCO player Auburn has signed this month. The Tigers signed the No. 1-ranked junior college running back, Cameron Artis-Payne, on Dec. 19.

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