By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - When talking to parents of the football players he's recruiting, Travis Williams points to himself and fellow assistant coaches Rodney Garner and Kodi Burns as Exhibits A, B and C. His message: Auburn looks after its own.
"It's a great selling point for parents," said Williams, who along with Burns and Garner, coaches at his alma mater on Gus Malzahn's staff. "We're doing everything we say we are doing for our kids. If you do right by Auburn, Auburn will do right by you."
The trio are part of 19 former Auburn student-athletes working full-time in Auburn's Athletics department, along with an army of former Tigers working as graduate assistants and interns, gaining experience in everything from media relations to event operations.
"I'm the linebackers coach. I played linebacker here," Williams said. "It doesn't get any better than that. Up and down the halls, different people are coming back. It's a testament to our athletic director and our leadership. We're going to get the right people in the right seats. Get their career started. It's awesome."
Director of Athletics Jay Jacobs, himself a former Auburn football player, says student-athletes bring transferable skills to the job.
"They've had the opportunity to be around a team and learn time management, how to communicate, critical thinking and working and relying on people who come from different socioeconomic backgrounds, different ethnicities," Jacobs said.
"For a team to be successful, you need to work with people who often times don't resemble you, or think like you do, or respond like you do," he said. "Athletics creates attributes that you very rarely find in other places. It's a great teacher."
Hiring former Auburn student-athletes, Jacobs says, is a bonus.
"To bring someone who already knows what the Auburn Creed is about - work and hard work, and that they get only what they earn - they already have those things built in," he said. "It's less risk because they have demonstrated for the last four to five years, they know how to do things that ordinary students may not yet know how to do.
'They have to produce every day'
"I also believe in raising our own. If we are going to go out and bring in someone, let's bring in our own first. Let's take care of the Auburn Family first. These young ladies and these young men have an opportunity to get job experience and work in this department. We are going to hold them to a really high level because of our expectation for them. They have to produce every day. I don't think there is a better place to do that than our Athletics department."
Ashley Wallace, Auburn's coordinator of recruiting operations, is the most recent former Tiger to join the department full-time.
"It's been an amazing opportunity just because Auburn has done so much for me," said Wallace, who played soccer from 2010-2013. "It's a great time to be able to give back to a place that has really changed my life. I've been blessed to work for a program and university that really cares about its students and alumni."
Tra'Cee Tanner played four seasons on Auburn's women's basketball team while majoring in apparel merchandising. An internship in the Athletics department led to a full-time gig as an equipment attendant handling inventory for Olympic sports.
"I actually learned more about the buying side and merchandising here than I think I would working at someplace like Betsey Johnson," Tanner said. "I like the environment. It feels great to give back because Auburn has given so much to me. To continue to keep a relationship with the student-athletes here is really important to me."
Auburn's all-time leading scorer in men's basketball, Chuck Person came back to the Plains to join Bruce Pearl's staff after nearly three decades playing and coaching in the NBA.
"It is a dream come true for me to be working at Auburn," Person said. "Auburn prepared me for my career and it has now come full circle. I wouldn't have been able to accomplish what I have in my professional career without Auburn. Now, it gives me much pride to help our student-athletes grow every day, just like the guidance I received from Coach Sonny Smith when I first came to Auburn back in the 80s."
'You can achieve anything'
Brett Hawke helped Auburn win its first two swimming and diving national championships in 1997 and 1999. Twenty years after arriving at Auburn from Australia, Hawke begins his tenth season as Auburn's head coach.
"Auburn really transformed my life as a 21-year-old when I first moved to America," Hawke said. "I didn't know anything about tradition. I didn't know what `War Eagle' meant. Over time, I learned that team meant something. Tradition means something. Through hard work and perseverance, you can achieve anything in life. It has given me the tools to now give back to student-athletes I work with who face challenges, and who are striving for success. It just means something more to be able to work for a place that has given you all of those tools."
Other former student-athletes working full-time for Auburn Athletics include Bernard Hill (football), senior associate athletics director, Ben Thomas (football), director of facilities, Bryan Karkoska (football), head strength coach, Olympic sports, Jorrell Bostrom (football), director of player development, Kenneth Carter (football), assistant director of player development, Carly Ziyenge (soccer), academic counselor, Sammy Towne (soccer), director of soccer operations, Alli Bracewell (women's basketball), director of video services, women's basketball, Tyler McGill (swimming), assistant swimming coach, Arianna Vanderpool-Wallace (swimming), director of swimming operations and Jessica Braswell (equestrian), assistant equestrian coach.
Auburn's national championship equestrian coach, Greg Williams, got his start as an Auburn student on the rodeo club team. Helen Baggett, assistant director for Athletics development, danced for Tigers Paws while Emily Ann Tatum, assistant to the head football coach, cheered. Football chaplain Chette Williams played for Coach Pat Dye.
The SEC's motto -- It Just Means More -- applies to working for one's alma mater, Jacobs says.
"They know what it means to win," he said. "It is different here in the Southeastern Conference. It's different at Auburn, it's different in the SEC West. The student-athletes already know it is different. They value that and appreciate that. They know what it takes every day to be able to compete in this league. It does mean more. They bring more every day. They know what bringing more can result in. They already had the opportunity to compete for a championship, so they want everyone else around them to do the same."