If you're an athletic director and have a coaching vacancy, and you are looking for the best coach on the market, look no further than former Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino.
But, there's the baggage.
All that baggage.
But if you are to believe reports out there, including the AuburnSports.com Hot Board, that Petrino is sneaking up the short list on the Plains.
Color me shocked, because I didn't think Petrino was a real possibility after Auburn fired Gene Chizik on Sunday.
Petrino's dismissal from Arkansas should—and does—raise a ton of red flags for future employers. It wasn't the affair with former staffer Jessica Dorrell that cost Petrino his job in Fayetteville; it was the coverup and the fact that he lied to Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long.
But it wasn't just the coverup that makes Petrino toxic for Auburn. I figured that Petrino's association with the JetGate scandal in 2003, a scandal that nearly cost Auburn its Southern Associations of Colleges and Schools (SACS) accreditation, would keep him off its head coaching wish list.
Despite those hurdles, it appears that Petrino is gaining traction with select members of Auburn's leadership. Even former basketball star Charles Barkley endorsed Petrino recently, according to WLTZ 38 in Columbus, Ga.
"I understand he has some baggage but he's a hell of a coach, and we shouldn't try to play judge and jury and moral judge," said Barkley. "He made a mistake, he admitted to his mistake, we have to hire a guy who we know can win, and that's him."
Hiring Petrino would be a high-risk, high-reward proposition for Auburn. But if it's looking for the best available candidate, it would be the right call.
He won 29 games over his final three seasons in Arkansas, earned a Sugar Bowl bid following the 2010 season and led the Razorbacks to Top 12 rankings in the final AP poll in his final two seasons.
His offense finished in the top four in the SEC in total offense in every year that he roamed the sideline in Fayetteville.
That makes him attractive for Auburn, which finished 118th out of 124 teams in Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) in total offense (305 YPG), following up on a season where the Tigers finished 100th in total offense (337.8 YPG) in 2011.
Auburn is desperate for a spark, and Petrino would be that spark.
Sure, his 0-4 record against Nick Saban would be an issue. But it's not something that's going to stand in the way, especially considering most coaches have bad records against Saban over the last few years.
But what about the public relations hit?
It would be bad, but one thing we know about Auburn is accustomed to taking PR hits.
The Tigers successfully weathered the Cam Newton NCAA storm in 2010, and they found a way to hoist the crystal football in Glendale, Ariz. at the end of the season. In October of 2011, the NCAA cleared Auburn of any impropriety in the Newton case, as well as several others in the months after winning the national championship.
The program is going through something similar now.
Earlier this month, Yahoo! Sports reported that two assistants—Trooper Taylor and Curtis Luper—were taken off the road and the program was again being looked at by the NCAA. While the report was mostly a re-hash of old news, the investigation is still ongoing.
The words "Auburn" and "NCAA" are sure to draw eyeballs, but if Auburn was in serious trouble, Taylor and Luper wouldn't have been taken off the road, they'd have been fired—and definitely wouldn't be back on the road recruiting for Auburn without a head coach.
Besides, assistants being taken off the road isn't really that big of a deal. Georgia offensive coordinator was taken off for a month this fall for getting a prospect into an $8 tennis match for free.
Petrino's motorcycle crash, the revelation of his affair and the coverup will be hard for him to overcome. But if any program in the country can get past that baggage, it's Auburn.
If it does, the Tigers will land the best coach on the market.
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