SELMA — Wesley McGriff called it a short conversation.
When Gus Malzahn made the call, there wasn’t much that needed to be said on either side. By the time they both put down their phones in a few minutes’ time, McGriff might as well have been right back on staff.
McGriff’s made a seemingly seamless transition back on the job on the Plains, and after a “great” spring camp, the Tigers’ secondary coach is ready for his first season back roaming the sideline in Jordan-Hare Stadium this fall.
Malzahn named McGriff the newest member of the Auburn staff back in February, but in so many ways, McGriff wasn’t all that new. McGriff coached at Auburn in the 2016 season before leaving for a two-year stint as the defensive coordinator at Ole Miss.
Speaking with reporters on Tuesday for the first time since his return, McGriff said he feels at home at Auburn and plans to retire on the Plains — talking just before a visit with the Dallas County Auburn Club.
McGriff never even sold his house in Auburn from his first stint on the Plains. He was in town, he says, when the opportunity came up.
“It was a short conversation,” McGriff laughed, going back to when Malzahn called him up.
At the time, former Auburn secondary coach Greg Brown was in the early stages of making his jump to Purdue.
“(Malzahn) said he wanted to talk with me and start (the search) with me, and I said, ‘Well, it’s going to end with me, if you offer,’” McGriff said. “But it was a real short conversation.
“To be back at Auburn, and to be with those guys, (defensive coordinator Kevin Steele) and Malzahn, it’s a no-brainer,” he also said. “I’m blessed to have the opportunity and I’m looking forward to the season.”
McGriff coaches defensive backs alongside fellow assistant Marcus Woodson.
McGriff said, on a given day, one will coach the safeties and the other will coach the corners, and on another given day, they’ll switch.
“We want to make sure that we use both of our experiences and expertise to make sure we have those guys game ready,” McGriff said. “We definitely work well together. We’re not going to pigeon-hole one another. It’s going to work out great.
“It was a great spring. I leaned on his background. He leaned on mine.”
With McGriff on staff as a secondary coach in 2016, Auburn boasted the nation’s seventh-best scoring defense, allowing 17.1 points per game that season.
His Rebel defenses struggled at Ole Miss. Affected by NCAA sanctions, the Rebels program finished as the SEC’s worst team in total defense in 2017 and 2018.
But McGriff was high on Malzahn’s list when the Tigers needed to fill a void on its staff — and McGriff was quick to jump right back on board at Auburn, and even right back into familiar chairs at Auburn.
“It’s really good to transition into a familiar environment — the easiest transition I’ve had in my entire coaching career, coming back into a familiar place, sitting in the same seat I did in ’16, both in the defensive meetings and staff meetings,” he said.
“And just seeing those familiar faces, is really good.”
Before his first run with Auburn, McGriff spent three seasons working with defensive backs in the NFL with the New Orleans Saints from 2013-15.
This spring, rejoined veteran players he had coached already at Auburn like senior Daniel Thomas and redshirt senior Jeremiah Dinson, and found plenty to get excited about in young rising stars like Roger McCreary, Christian Tutt, Smoke Monday and more.
“Auburn’s a first-class program,” McGriff said. “It’s always been a place I wanted to coach in my coaching career. Had a chance to do it in ’16, and to have the chance to come back, it’s hard to turn down.
“And to add to that point, I’m going to retire in Auburn. That’s going to be my ‘forever spot.’”