By Greg Ostendorf
AUBURN, Ala. -- In just three years, J.B. Grimes left his mark on the Auburn football program. From 2013 to 2015, the offensive line coach built a unit up front that anchored one of the top offenses in college football. During that stretch, the Tigers were consistently among the nation's leaders in offense, averaging 261.7 yards rushing and 453.3 yards of total offense per game.
On Wednesday, Auburn announced that Grimes would be returning to his former role on Gus Malzahn's coaching staff, and if the returning offensive linemen want to know what type of coach and what type of man he is, just take notes from some of his former players.
"What I learned from Coach Grimes was the mental toughness of the game," former Auburn and current NFL offensive lineman Chad Slade said. "I honestly give him all my success that I've had. He taught me a lot. Of course, there's hard work, and I give credit to my coaches here with the Texans, but he was a big part of the reason why I'm in the league still today."
"He's a really disciplined coach, really straight-forward," added former All-SEC offensive lineman Alex Kozan. "He'll help build strong fundamentals with the offensive linemen and really help the younger guys develop. He's a really good coach and a great person. I think everybody saw that in 2015 when he had cancer and kept coaching, didn't miss a day. He's a warrior out there."
Slade still remembers Grimes, a day after he had surgery to remove his lymph nodes and a cancerous spot on his tongue, looking through the weight room doors and watching his players go through a fall scrimmage.
"That's what kind of guy he was," Slade said. "A tough guy, no matter what. He took care of us, but he knows when to get on to us. Of course, I give him a hard time being a little short guy, but he intimidates the big guys. When he gets in your face or tries to coach you, you're going to listen to him. I have the utmost respect for him. He's a great guy."
While at Auburn, Grimes coached players like Greg Robinson and Shon Coleman, who both were selected in the first three rounds of the NFL draft. Robinson was taken No. 2 overall in 2014. Others like Kozan, Slade, Reese Dismukes, Avery Young and Robert Leff all made NFL rosters.
Dismukes, the Rimington Award winner in 2014 under Grimes, says he and his former coach still talk on occasion.
"He's a great guy," Dismukes said. "I definitely look at him as a father figure, someone I'd call up for advice. He's the type of guy that would give his shirt off his back for any one of his guys. He treats every one of his players as if they were one of his kids.
"He's very particular, likes things done his way. He's a stickler about the little things. He's not going to let you get in the way with not doing what he wants to do. Every day, he's going to go out there, and you're going to want to run through a wall for him. You're going to play your best. He'll definitely get the best out of you as a coach."
Grimes is walking into a situation at Auburn where the offensive line is losing four seniors. But for a coach who's been at it more than 30 years, he's seen turnover before. He saw it in 2014 when he had to replace Robinson and again in 2015 when both Slade and Dismukes graduated. He's got plenty of experience working with younger and more inexperienced players.
Kozan should know. He started in 2013 as a redshirt freshman.
"The great thing about Coach Grimes is he really simplifies everything you need to do," Kozan said. "There are no question marks. Every foot, every hand placement, he draws it out. You know it inside and out. So when you're in the game, you can just play fast, which is nice as a player."
That 2013 team led the nation in rushing (328.3 yards per game) on its way to the BCS national championship, and Kozan earned Freshman All-SEC honors.
Greg Ostendorf is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: