Auburn's awful 2012 season, which ended with a 49-0 defeat to rival Alabama in the Iron Bowl, proved that the Tigers needed to make a head coaching change.
Gene Chizik won the national title in his second season with the Tigers thanks to the brilliant play of quarterback Cam Newton, but over the past two seasons (including 2012), Auburn's record was just 11-14. The Tigers also went win-less during SEC play this year.
The school made the correct decision to fire Chizik (via ESPN), and now the search for his replacement will begin.
Let's look at three coaches who should be considered as candidates to replace Chizik as head coach of Auburn football.
Gary Patterson, TCU
The TCU head coach has done a remarkable job building the Horned Frogs football program into one of the nation's finest.
He's been at TCU since 2000 and has a record of 116-34. Patterson helped turn TCU into a national power by leading the school to two BCS bowl games, including a perfect 13-0 season and a Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin in 2010. Since 2005, TCU is 6-2 in bowl games.
Patterson is a great teacher, he motivates his players well and has proven at TCU that he's a solid recruiter.
Auburn should make Patterson its No. 1 target in the school's search for a new head coach.
Kirby Smart, Alabama
Kirby Smart is Alabama's defensive coordinator, and an ideal replacement for Chizik. Smart's coaching and defensive schemes have been largely responsible for the Crimson Tide's success on defense over the last few seasons.
Alabama finished No. 1 in points allowed last year and will likely do so again this season. The team has also sent multiple defensive players to the NFL as first-round picks in the last few NFL drafts.
Against Alabama, Texas A&M, Georgia and LSU, the Tigers gave up an average of 40.5 points per game this year. Auburn cannot play this poorly defensively and expect to compete in a conference as challenging as the SEC.
Smart would improve the Tigers' defensive play, and help Auburn compete for SEC titles again.
James Franklin, Vanderbilt
James Franklin has done a great job turning Vanderbilt into a competitive football program after the school struggled for so many years in the SEC.
He took over a team that was 2-10 in 2009 and 2010, and led Vanderbilt to a 6-7 record in 2011 and 8-4 this season.
Franklin has achieved impressive success without much top-tier talent at Vanderbilt, and has also done a fine job recruiting. He would be a great coach to lead Auburn into the future.