Auburn Coaching Search: Casting a Wide Net and Hoping to Land the Big Fish

Trampes CrowContributor IDecember 6, 2008

No matter what your opinion of Tommy Tuberville’s departure, this much we know—the divorce is final.

Both sides agreed that a split was in order. The separation has been made public to family and friends. The alimony payments have been set. Now Auburn is left to live with the departure of one of its all-time great head coaches.

Most agree that of all the current job openings in college football, the Auburn head job is the highest profile, most promising, and likely most lucrative gig to be had. But whom should Auburn target and who will be willing to step into a job where the expectations and competition are so incredibly high?

The SEC is a potential slaughterhouse for head coaches and Auburn is historically a place where expectations run unusually high. This is even more pronounced now as the current fan base is split between the Pro-Tuberville and Anti-Tuberville factions. 

The former is certain that letting coach Tuberville go was a huge mistake and they look to the Auburn administration to hire a winner and make this mess worthwhile. The latter is sure that Tuberville was the problem and just knows that Auburn can do better. Anything less than quick success will be met with serious grumblings in and around the Auburn Nation.  

There are dozens of factors that go into selecting Auburn’s next head coach but this much we can be pretty sure of—the new guy has to be able to keep up with Saban, Meyer, Richt and Co. 

That means being energetic, intense, and a recruiting machine. Like many high-profile college football transitions, several names have already come and gone in the four day old process but here is a list, in no particular order, of “possibles” broken down by type with a bit of analysis on each. 

Group A“The Household Names”

This list is composed of proven head coaches who would bring instant credibility and cache to the Auburn job, a la Nick Saban.

Jon Gruden, head coach, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Yeas: Young, energetic, intense, and a proven winner in both college and the NFL. Would bring instant credibility to the program.

Nays: Would be a very difficult get. Already turned down one SEC offer at Tennessee. Currently coaching a team that will make the NFL playoffs and could be playing until mid- January or longer.

Odds of becoming Auburn’s 25th head coach:  750 to 1

Bill Cowher, former head coach, Pittsburgh Steelers

Yeas: Like Gruden only with an even longer track record of success.

Nays: Another difficult get. Cowher already turned down a college coaching opportunity at his alma mater, NC State. Plus with a host of NFL jobs opening in the near future, Cowher might wait to return to the pros.

Odds of becoming Auburn’s 25th head coach:  300 to 1



Dennis Erickson, head coach, Arizona State University

Yeas: Proven winner with two national championships at Miami.  Cap’n Dennis is known for being one of the most easily relocated coaches in all of football.  Could be lured in by the kind of paycheck Jay Jacobs says Auburn can provide.

Nays: Has a good thing going at ASU.  May prefer the low stress, low expectation environment in Tempe as opposed to the pressure cooker SEC.

Odds of becoming Auburn’s 25th head coach:  500 to 1

Mike Leach, head coach, Texas Tech

Yeas: Leach is a proven winner and a coach who is used to recruiting players to a smaller, rural school against bigger schools with larger budgets and higher profiles. Leach is also an offensive genius who could revitalize an Auburn offense that has struggled mightily for the better part of three seasons.

Nays: Leach is a bit odd. His eccentricity might not play in the SEC and there is not a lot of evidence that his offensive schemes would be successful against lightning fast SEC defenses.

Odds of becoming Auburn’s 25th head coach:  75 to 1


Steve Spurrier, head coach, South Carolina

Yeas: He’s the Old Ball Coach. Impeccable record. Offensive mastermind. Has done a respectable job with South Carolina despite a lack of resources and talent.

Nays: At times seems disinterested and lacks energy of some of the league’s younger coaches. Would also only come if offered a huge paycheck which could be money wasted in just a few years when Spurrier decides he needs more time to hit the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail.

Odds of becoming Auburn’s 25th head coach:  100 to 1


Group B“The Next Big Things”

This group is comprised of current assistants and head coaches at less prominent programs who have strong track records but lack head coaching experience at top-level schools. 

Turner Gill, head coach, University of Buffalo

Yeas: Gill’s resume is incredibly impressive. He has been successful at every stop in his football career. He just led Buffalo to a MAC championship. Also outside of a purely football standpoint, hiring Gill would be a hopeful sight given Auburn’s sometime rocky history of race relations.

Nays: Has no SEC experience and might not be seasoned enough to survive the gauntlet. Also, was passed over last year for the top spot at his alma mater, Nebraska. That’s curious and cause for some concern. 

Odds of becoming Auburn’s 25th head coach: 10 to 1



Jimbo Fisher, offensive coordinator, Florida State

Yeas: Highly successful coordinator who has already been tabbed “head coach in waiting” at FSU. Strong offensive credentials and has Auburn ties as a former coordinator under Terry Bowden.

Nays: Ties to Bowden may be a detractor given the Bowden Era’s unceremonious end. Has a significant buyout and may not be motivated to leave when already promised the FSU job.

Odds of becoming Auburn’s 25th head coach:  25 to 1



Will Muschamp, defensive coordinator, Texas

Yeas: Young, energetic, intense product of the Saban coaching tree. Coach Boom has already proven himself at Auburn as both a coach and a YouTube sensation. Luring him back after being named coach in waiting to Mack Brown would be huge for Auburn.

Nays: There is a reason he left Auburn in the first place so would likely be a tough get. Also, he plays perfectly as a defensive coordinator but is he ready for the head coach’s seat?

Odds of becoming Auburn’s 25th head coach:  600 to 1



Paul Johnson, head coach, Georgia Tech

Yeas: Winner at every stop including the woefully under resourced Naval Academy.  Coming off a solid first year at Tech in which he defeated UGA. Runs an offense that would lend itself to Auburn’s current talent.

Nays: Unlikely to bail on Tech after just one season. 

Odds of becoming Auburn’s 25th head coach:  75 to 1


Group AU“The Family Guys”

Inevitably, anytime there is a coaching change, there is a call to bring in a homegrown product. It happened during the last two coaching changes at Auburn and is happening again now among many in the Auburn Nation.


Pat Sullivan, head coach, Samford University

Yeas: He’s an Auburn legend who would gain instant acceptance from the fractured Auburn faithful. The last time Auburn hired a Samford head coach, it worked out. At least for a couple of years.

Nays: His head coaching record has been less than spectacular. At TCU, he managed only one bowl appearance and two winning seasons out of six. There is also a general sense that Sullivan represents a coaching school of thought that has been eclipsed by the current crop of successful head coaches.

Odds of becoming Auburn’s 25th head coach:  200 to 1



Pat Nix, offensive coordinator, University of Miami

Yeas: Another legend who quarterbacked Auburn in some of its greatest games. Has been a successful coordinator at two significant programs—Georgia Tech and Miami. At 36, if successful, could be at Auburn for a long time.

Nays: Only head coaching experience was at Henderson State where Nix was hired at the ripe old age of 26.

Odds of becoming Auburn’s 25th head coach:  50 to 1  


Derek Dooley, head coach, Louisiana Tech

Yeas: OK, Dooley isn’t really a “family guy” but he makes in into this group thanks to his father, former Auburn player and legendary Georgia coach Vince Dooley. Dooley the younger is particularly intriguing because of his youth, pedigree, and resume. Dooley is also the La. Tech Athletic Director so he has management skill. He also cut his coaching teeth as a Saban assistant.

Nays: Only two years of head coaching experience so does not have much of a body of work to examine. Like his father, may be a tough sell to take the job. Vince was offered the Auburn head job in the early 80’s and opted to stay at UGA. He was also rumored to have been offered the Auburn AD spot when Jacobs was hired. Given that Auburn could not convince the elder Dooley to come home, there could be similar difficulties nabbing Derek.

Odds of becoming Auburn’s 25th head coach:  75 to 1


There is little doubt that this list will change dramatically in the days and weeks to come. Let’s just hope the hiring is handled more deftly than Tuberville’s departure.

If we are lucky, a new head coach will be in place before Christmas and it will leave the Auburn faithful feeling as if we got a hot new gadget and not a lump of coal.


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