The question Nick Eason heard everyone ask when he was named the Auburn football defensive line coach in January was, “Can he recruit?”
It is a fair question. He does not have much experience doing that, especially compared to Tracy Rocker, who agreed to join first-year coach Bryan Harsin’s staff before leaving for an NFL job less than two weeks later; and Rodney Garner, who held the job all eight seasons under former coach Gus Malzahn.
Eason is an NFL guy. He spent the past two seasons on staff with the Cincinnati Bengals and the five before that between the Cleveland Browns and Tennessee Titans. He has coached only one college season, and that was at Austin Peay in 2018. He did spend 13 days on Derek Mason’s Vanderbilt staff prior to the 2019 season, but that wasn’t enough time to dive too deep into recruiting.
So… Can he recruit?
“I said, ‘Absolutely,’” Eason said.
There is already some evidence to support that claim. Two of the eight transfers Auburn has brought in this offseason, Tony Fair and Marcus Harris, are defensive linemen. Both raved about Eason for the same reason.
“He can tell me exactly what I need to do to get to the next level from Auburn,” Harris said.
That’s because Eason has done it. He played four seasons for Clemson, starting 35 games and totaling 153 tackles and 15 sacks. He was selected in the fourth round of the 2003 draft and was in the NFL for 10 seasons with four teams. He won a Super Bowl ring with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2009.
So he understands what it takes to make it to the NFL and have a career there. He also knows what professional organizations look for when they evaluate college prospects. He’s been a part of that process as a coach; studying film, doing scouting reports and going to the Senior Bowl and combine. He’s worked with some standout players, including former Auburn star Carl Lawson.
“He knows what he’s talking about,” Fair said. “There’s nothing more you can ask for in a coach than for him in the same exact shoes that you want to be in. So that’s why I was like, ‘This is the perfect fit.’”
Eason has big shoes to fill. No Auburn assistant recruited better than Garner did over the last decade. He signed 26 blue-chip defensive linemen across eight classes from 2013-20, including four of the program’s nine five-stars during that span.
That list includes Lawson, Montravius Adams, Dontavius Russell, Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson — all of whom are in the NFL.
“The history as far as great defensive lines here at Auburn dates back many, many years before I ever came along,” Eason said. “Want to continue that tradition here."
Eason hasn’t landed a commitment from a high school recruit yet; just transfers. He’s been here less than five months, and the 2022 recruiting cycle didn’t really kick into high gear until the dead period was lifted at the start of this month.
But he has already drawn positive reviews. Eason’s outgoing personality and ear-to-ear smile were well-received during Auburn’s first official visit weekend of the Harsin era June 4-6. Kaleb Artis, a three-star defensive lineman from New York, said Eason brought his mother to tears when he played guitar as the staff sang her happy birthday.
“You think about recruiting and everything, and all of the stuff you have to do — the guy cares about people in the building,” Harsin said. “He is a people person. He is a guy who is a connector so there is no issue with this guy when it comes to recruiting because he is just that type of person who is going to connect.”
That’s what excited Eason most about transitioning to college after spending 17 of the past 18 years in the NFL.
“Just having the opportunity, man, to inspire kids. In the NFL, guys have millions of dollars. They have this money, these contracts,” Eason said. “I get the opportunity to get a kid at 17, 18 years old and watch him develop as a man. To me, that’s more self-gratifying.”