Auburn is in full search mode for a head coach. After firing Gene Chizik just two years removed from winning the 2010 national championship, the football program is looking to rebound after failing to win a game in the SEC in 2012.
Although the search has led the committee to names like Bobby Petrino, Kirby Smart and Jimbo Fisher, there's another head coach who has experience with the program, runs the offense that many on the current roster were recruited to play and could be lured back to big-time SEC football.
That man is former offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, the head coach at Arkansas State.
For starters, there's no guarantee that Malzahn would want to return to Auburn. According to AL.com, Malzahn deflected questions about the Auburn job during his weekly press conference with Arkansas State media.
However, if he does decide he wants to help prove that Cam Newton wasn't the only reason the Tigers won the national championship in 2010, the opportunity is available to him.
The offense that Malzahn runs wasn't employed by offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler and Chizik during the team's 3-9 season. They went to a more pro-style attack that was difficult for the dual-threat running QBs Chizik had recruited for Malzahn's offense.
Looking at the 2013 recruiting class, Malzahn would already have a new toy to play with were he to take the Auburn job. As noted by WarBlogle.com, the Tigers have a QB coming in who fits his system.
Carver's offense, that Auburn QB-commit Jeremy Johnson runs, uses the Gus Malzahn numbered flipboard system. Just an observation.— WarBlogle.com (@WarBlogle) December 1, 2012
Current Tiger QB Kiehl Frazier, who struggled so mightily with the new offense this year, would also be a beneficiary of the return of the man who helped convince him to come to Auburn.
Apparently, fans are on the bandwagon already.
According to Oanow.com, Malzahn is the leader in the site's poll about who should be the head coach in 2013. He has 25 percent of the vote, while the next closest candidate, Petrino, comes in at 18 percent. Twenty-six percent of the voters were unsure.
Of course, there are certainly obstacles to his return. He's still involved with a period of time at Auburn that is mired in controversy. The circumstances behind Newton's decision to sign with Auburn sparked questions about possible NCAA recruiting violations that linger still and created great controversy.
As noted by radio personality Bo Mattingly, that might be in the back of Malzahn's mind when making a decision should he be offered the job.
Finebaum: I think Gus Malzahn's problem at Auburn is the NCAA investigation. I'm in no way saying he was involved. But other staffers were.— Bo Mattingly (@SportsTalkwBo) November 26, 2012
Such speculation might drive Malzahn away from the program. Also, the administration might want to close the door on that part of the school's history.
Will Auburn try to revive the 2010 spark? Or would it be better to start over completely? Can the program succeed with the SEC as tough as it is and newcomer Texas A&M as another threat?
All are legitimate questions that the school will have to answer internally.
Still, the pieces are in place for Malzahn to come in and compete yet again. His Arkansas State team is 8-3 and playing for the Sun Belt championship on Saturday. He knows how to win games, and Auburn fans fell in love with his spread-based offense from Day 1.
With so many other coaches in the mix and the job one of the more prestigious in the country, this search could go any direction. But there's no doubt the school needs to make a decision to get the ball rolling with recruiting for 2013 and beyond, so the decision-makers must come up with a solution quickly.
If Auburn wants to win in 2013, Malzahn is the way to go.
Ethan Grant is a featured columnist for B/R's Breaking News Team.