There are countless decisions that’ll define Hugh Freeze’s time on The Plains.

Which quarterback will he start? Which recruits will he go all out for? Which Auburn functions are worth making an appearance at?

(If you don’t think that last one was important, see how it worked out for Freeze’s predecessor.)

But before Freeze ever coaches a down at Auburn, he had an even more urgent priority: Assemble a whale of a staff.

Retaining Cadillac Williams was a goal before Freeze ever signed. Well, one can assume that based on his mentioning of the Auburn legend/interim coach in the opening statement of his introductory press conference.

Check that box.

Hiring a first-rate offensive coordinator with experience operating modern offenses that have a proven track record at the Power 5 level was another top priority. Philip Montgomery, who spent 7 seasons calling plays at Baylor during the rise of the Art Briles offense and 8 years as the head coach at Tulsa, will allow Freeze to run an offense with concepts we’ve seen recently at Tennessee, Ole Miss and Arkansas.

Check that box.

Hiring a coveted defensive coordinator who was set to get autonomy at whatever Power 5 school he chose was also a top priority. Ron Roberts, who spent the past 3 seasons at Baylor working with Dave Aranda after totally flipping Billy Napier’s Louisiana into a top-20 defensive unit, will allow Freeze to focus on mastering all things quarterback play and big-picture offensive issues.

Check that box, too.

So far, so good for Freeze. I’d argue he already out-performed his predecessor at the whole “assembling a whale of a staff” thing. Well, at least with his coordinators. After all, Bryan Harsin was smart enough to keep Cadillac on staff.

But in many ways, Harsin’s undoing was how those staff moves were handled. It probably wasn’t the best sign that he was on his 3rd OC just 14 months into the job, and the well-documented Derek Mason departure for a pay cut wasn’t necessarily a box Harsin hoped to check.

Freeze had a pretty low bar to clear in terms of his staff decisions. Some might point to Roberts and Montgomery as recently fired coaches and say that Freeze’s first staff is already a swing and a miss. I’d argue a bit more context is needed for both situations.

Roberts was fired because Baylor, on the heels of its best season in school history, had a setback defensive season in which it allowed 8 more points per game. Baylor also entered the year ranked No. 113 in FBS in percentage of returning defensive production for a team that ranked No. 41 in the 247sports talent composite. In other words, a setback year was likely. It’s also worth noting Roberts didn’t have total defensive autonomy with Aranda.

At Auburn, that won’t be an issue. Roberts will also likely be working with top-20 talent on an annual basis.

Does that guarantee success? Of course not. Auburn had top-20 talent in 2022 and it barely cracked the top 100 in scoring. Depth issues hurt a group who consistently ranked in the top 20 in scoring during the Gus Malzahn era.

What Auburn rarely did during the Malzahn era — and it surely didn’t during the Harsin era — was put together a top 20 offense. Auburn hasn’t finished in the top half in FBS in scoring since 2019, and the last top-20 offense came in that wild 2013 season. From 2014-22, Freeze and Montgomery led 4 different offenses that ranked in the top 20 in scoring. Mind you, that was at Baylor, Ole Miss, Tulsa and Liberty.

Montgomery can now get back to his roots as a play-caller while Freeze can oversee the up-tempo, spread offense like Lane Kiffin at Ole Miss and like Josh Heupel at Tennessee. That’s how modern offenses operate. You don’t need a head coach to be a primary play-caller. Go ask Jimbo Fisher about that. Hence, why he couldn’t run an up-tempo offense.

Freeze’s thought process behind his hires make a ton of sense, especially if Auburn is going to be a player recruiting in the state of Texas. Combine that with the recruiting prowess of Freeze and Cadillac in the Southeast? Yeah, that can be an excellent formula for a team in need of a pretty significant rebuild.

The beauty of a 2022 rebuild, however, is that once you get those big-time staff hires in place, the transfer portal is your best friend. That’s not to say that Freeze will somehow find a couple guys to be the heart and soul of the defense after losing Derick Hall and Owen Pappoe to the NFL Draft, nor should we assume that Freeze’s first QB1 will be some star out of the portal.

Freeze could take the Brian Kelly approach. Kelly loaded up on defensive players in the transfer portal, but he was extremely selective in using it for a quarterback and he didn’t take a big swing until Jayden Daniels made the mid-spring decision to leave Arizona State. It worked out well for Kelly. Maybe it could’ve also worked out for Kelly if he had gone with an in-house option like Garrett Nussmeier or Myles Brennan.

Perhaps Freeze and Montgomery will opt to see what they have in Robby Ashford. There are similarities to Ashford and Malik Willis, who left Auburn and became a star working with Freeze at Liberty. At the very least, Montgomery’s arrival will give the Tigers a clear identity to build that offensive foundation, which was lacking for far too much of the Harsin era.

Time will tell what Auburn’s identity will be with Freeze. He might have both coordinators for 4 years, or he might fire both after a year or 2. What we do know is that Freeze brought on a pair of coaches who should be able to exist in the modern world of college football, both running spread offenses and defending them.

Consider that an ideal early box to check.