Coaches Auburn, Arkansas Could Be Fighting over Next Season

Barrett Sallee@BarrettSalleeSEC Football Lead WriterSeptember 21, 2012

Auburn head coach Gene Chizik
Auburn head coach Gene ChizikDaniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

Misery loves company, so at least Arkansas and Auburn have each other.

The Razorbacks and Tigers have each sputtered to 1-2 starts this season, which has brought the merits of each of their head coaches into question.

So could the two SEC West programs be battling each other on the head coaching market this season?

It goes without saying that Arkansas will be looking. 

John L. Smith signed a 10-month contract after Bobby Petrino was fired this spring. If athletic director Jeff Long didn't have a very long list before the season, he does now after the slow start and Smith's bizarre antics in front of the media.

The Hogs will have the money and have the resources to be a big player in the offseason coaching bonanza, but could the Razorbacks be fighting with the Auburn Tigers this winter in the offseason coaching sweepstakes?

It's not likely, but it could happen.

Auburn head coach Gene Chizik won a national title in 2010, which earned him a lot of equity on the Plains. But the fourth-year head coach is 17-12 in years other than the national championship year, and the program appears to be going backward.

Nobody questions Chizik's ability to recruit top talent to Auburn. He has reeled in top 15 classes in each of the last three seasons, according to's rankings. But at some point, that talent has to translate to success, and getting blown out by Mississippi State and squeaking out wins vs. Sun Belt teams is far from from successful.

It's going to take a complete disaster—as in, a 3-9 season—for Chizik to lose his job, especially considering the Tigers are undergoing scheme changes on both sides of the football. But judging from the early returns this season, a complete disaster isn't out of the question.

If the two SEC West foes do battle for coaches this offseason, expect Baylor head coach Art Briles to be one at the top of the list.

He has successfully led rebuilding efforts at Houston and Baylor and hasn't missed a beat after losing 2011 Heisman winner Robert Griffin III from last season. He's 61-53 overall, which isn't overly impressive, but the fact that he has proved his ability as a head coach in the Big 12 and led successful rebuilding efforts will make him very desirable.

Arkansas would probably be more likely to land Briles over Auburn due in large part to his familiarity with the state of Texas—which Arkansas recruits heavily. 

Charlie Strong would also be a good candidate for both programs.

Strong has his Louisville program playing at a high level and has spent 18 of the last 22 years in the SEC.

Auburn has a history of being known for defense, which has been a sore spot for the Tigers throughout the Chizik era—even in the national championship era.

Strong was the defensive coordinator for some great Florida defenses in the late 2000s. His Florida defense finished third in the SEC in total defense in 2008, giving up just 285.3 yards per game, and he improved upon that in 2009 when the Gators finished second in the SEC at 252.4 yards per game.

Gus Malzahn has been an offensive coordinator for both programs and would probably considered for each opening.

For Arkansas, that makes sense. Malzahn's roots are in Arkansas, he knows the recruiting landscape and is familiar with the Razorback program.

I'm not necessarily sold on Malzahn as Auburn's head coach, simply because he may have too close of a tie to Chizik's administration.

Either way, I think both Arkansas and Auburn will have to see how Malzahn perform's as Arkansas State's head coach before seriously considering him for the job. 

Some coaches are cut out to be coordinators, and some are better-suited to be head coaches. Malzahn has been successful as an assistant, but the jury is still out on him as a head coach.

If both Arkansas and Auburn are in the head coach market this offseason, it will be fascinating to watch. Both are very good jobs that will be attractive to most big-name coaches on the market.