The Auburn Tigers are narrowing their search for their next head football coach, with Kirby Smart and Bobby Petrino both joining the ranks of top options for the Tigers.
How Smart has maneuvered into the discussion is a bit of a mystery, but he appears to be a solid option for Auburn. While he has a winning pedigree, it is a tough sale to push for Smart over a proven winner like Petrino.
Then again, depending on what camp you reside in, a Bobby Petrino hire may be inexcusable.
Auburn is looking to rebuild a broken program after the firing of Gene Chizik, as the team needs a return to the basics in every facet of the game. Team discipline has become an issue, and the Tigers need a solid disciplinarian to return the program to prominence.
Both Petrino and Smart would bring a tough-as-nails approach to the game for Auburn and install a new order.
If Auburn were to hire Smart, it would be making the safe hire. Petrino brings a lot of baggage, and the images of him with a neck brace and jacked-up face are hard to shake, making him the far riskier option for the Tigers.
Making the Case for Petrino
The hiring of Bobby Petrino would bring a lot of national backlash, as it would look like Auburn is desperate to find a winner to challenge Nick Saban. It would be a “win-at-all-costs” approach, and one that a number of Auburn fans would not be in favor of.
Petrino would provide a surge for Auburn offensively and would likely mold a successful quarterback out of Jonathan Wallace in one offseason. Still, there is no guarantee of success in the SEC.
Although Petrino is a proven winner, he has struggled to win the big games against Alabama and LSU, going 2-6 against the two West division powers in his four years at Arkansas.
While that doesn’t represent what he could accomplish at Auburn, it is an interesting stat line to consider.
Bobby Petrino would be a big-name, national-attention-grabbing hire for Auburn. It might draw negative press to start, but if Petrino wins, his woes will be all but forgotten.
Making the Case for Smart
Kirby Smart is one of the up-and-coming names on the coaching circuit. Eventually, Smart will get his chance to be a head coach, but would he fit at Auburn?
The past six years of Alabama football have been ingrained with tough defense, and Smart has been the leader of the nation’s top unit. Questions follow Smart regarding how much of the defense is his doing and how much of it is Saban’s.
He has no head-coaching experience, but he has served under one of the greatest administrators the game has ever known.
Smart is a relentless recruiter and is the head recruiter for a number of Alabama’s top prospects. He would certainly have a positive impact on the recruiting trail for Auburn, helping solidify commitments and bring in new options for the Tigers.
There have been a number of coordinators-turned-head-coaches that have had major success at their first jobs. Chip Kelly comes to mind.
Given the options that Auburn has for its head-coaching position, Smart would be as solid a hire as any.
Would Smart be Better?
Whether Smart would be a better hire than Petrino is tough to answer. They both have impressive resumes that they bring to the table, but Smart brings zero baggage.
Smart would also be a name that could garner support relatively quickly once hired.
Petrino is a dangerous hire for Auburn from day one. Even if he steps in and succeeds, he would have a tough time winning over a number of important Tigers backers. If Petrino doesn’t win immediately, Auburn may be looking for another head coach sooner than expected.
If the Tigers were to hire Smart, they would likely have more patience. This will be a tough turnaround for the Tigers and it won’t happen overnight. Pulling Smart into the fold would provide Auburn with one of the hottest names in football, and if he wins early, the administration would look like geniuses.
At this point, Smart would be the better hire of the two. Both coaches could and would succeed at Auburn, but Smart would do it with more public support and patience while the product developed.
Auburn needs to make the right move, but the Tigers also need to make a calculated decision. At this point, Smart looks to be the better option of the two.