FLOWERY BRANCH, GA. — Auburn’s still running through exit interviews this week, offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham said, with players filing in and out of his office in the athletics complex on campus, and the one belonging to head coach Gus Malzahn down the hall.
Soon enough, behind closed doors, those two coaches will get together — and the talk will turn to decision-making.
Auburn hopes to narrow down its race for the starting quarterback job down to two players in the coming weeks, Dillingham said Tuesday during a tour stop here in Georgia, while also saying the coaches wouldn’t push the issue unless clear frontrunners emerge.
Plenty of steps have been made in that process already, taken in the 15 practices Auburn went through this spring in camp.
Plenty more are left to be made though, like Dillingham eluded to, in final meetings with players to close the spring, and the evaluations made by the coaches reflecting on those spring practices and reviewing tape.
Dillingham said he and Malzahn would finish those interviews this week and then get together this weekend to discuss a plan for what’s next.
“I think the ideal situation is narrowing it down to two guys who we feel like can win it, but at the same time you can never push those things,” Dillingham said Tuesday on the back porch of a clubhouse at Eagle Ranch resort — getting set to step inside and deliver his keynote to excited members of the Lanierland Auburn Club.
Auburn capped its spring camp with A-Day on April 13. Malzahn said then that Auburn hoped to establish “some kind of order” among the four quarterbacks who entered spring with what he called an even shot at winning the starting job, splitting practice snaps evenly. He said then it’s not realistic for four players to keep getting even repetitions and that he wanted the race to narrow down in some kind of way going into the summer.
Publicly naming a pair of frontrunners would give those players a vote of confidence toward becoming vocal leaders in the summer, when organized practice gives way to voluntary workouts, often times player-led and player-organized. A pecking order would give quarterbacks and receivers an idea of who to throw with on those hot summer days.
Even as the race narrows down, the battle for the starting job seems bound to carry on into fall practice.
“A starter will emerge when a starter emerges,” Dillingham said Tuesday. “People always ask if there’s a timeline — ‘When are you going to make a decision?’ Every situation is different. A decision is going to be made on our starting quarterback when one of the guys on our football team rises up and they make the decision.
“It’s a decision the offensive coordinator and the head coach make but at the same time it’s a decision the player makes. When the player separates themselves from one another, that’s when the decision is made, but until then we’ll go status quo.”
Those four quarterbacks who split repetitions this spring and showed their stuff to fans at A-Day are junior Malik Willis, true freshman Bo Nix, and redshirt freshmen Joey Gatewood and Cord Sandberg.
Gatewood and Nix took first-half snaps with the first-team offense at A-Day, while Willis and Gatewood started the game with the second-team offense. That may well have been different during Auburn’s two closed-door scrimmages in Jordan-Hare Stadium earlier in the spring.
At A-Day, Gatewood and Nix both engineered two touchdown drives each against the second-team defense, while Willis helped put together one touchdown drive against the first-team defense.
“Once we finish (exit interviews) up, then me and Coach Malzahn will get together this weekend and kind of discuss a plan in terms of where we want to go from there,” Dillingham said. “I was pleased with, honestly, how they all played.
“I mean, if you look at the first half, which was really the half where we were being aggressive and getting after it, I mean, I felt like I all those guys showed some ability to be successful at this level.”
Malzahn is set to speak publicly on May 1 in Dothan.
Auburn opens its 2019 regular season against Oregon in a showcase showdown at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.