Located just far enough away from Montgomery to still justify a daily work commute, the town of Auburn is a pretty cool place outside of the university. It’s also a good school with its own traditions which used to make me cringe until Texas A&M showed up. But I digress.
Auburn has always embraced and promoted the little things that make it think it’s special so it always strikes me odd that they’re willing to set aside those things to be a football power. If those around the program will objectively look at their situation, they’ll realize they have a tough row to hoe if they want to be a perennial power because everything is working against Auburn to make the massive hire they want. There’s no permanent athletic director to get into the process of searching for a coach while schools like Nebraska and Arizona State have already begun their searches with more undoubtedly joining them over the coming weeks. Related to that is the well-known history of meddlesome boosters who recently dragged the current guy through the mud nationally in an attempt to fire him with cause and avoid paying the buyout.
Also, the Tigers’ two biggest rivals, Alabama and Georgia, are fighting for supremacy of college football, dominating recruiting and have more resources. Dynasties don’t last forever but both programs are light years ahead of Auburn right now. Add in the boosters’ micromanagement and I cannot see any reason why a head coach looking to advance or sustain their careers would consider this job. Auburn isn’t a destination job for most in today’s landscape.
Current Auburn HC Bryan Harsin was doomed from the beginning. The hiring made no sense other than he was considered an up-and-coming coach. And it was Allen Greene’s hire without any outside influence. In no way was Harsin ever going to succeed and when he is fired, Auburn will have spent more than $36 million in two years trying to find “their guy.”
So how bad are things right now? REALLY bad.
For those who don’t know, Doug Barfield is one of the few universally unpopular former Auburn head coaches.
This year’s edition of The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry should be Harsin’s Waterloo. It’ll be so bad there’ll be “no choice”/perfect excuse to fire him and end this failed experiment. So who are the candidates and which ones are unrealistic and which ones are viable?
Let’s start with the “make them say no” group of potential targets:
Coach Neon, respectfully, is definitely the sexiest hire Auburn can make. His presence would bring instant attention and could really help overcome some obstacles. But his resume is thinner than a strung-out supermodel and he’d want complete control which isn’t the standard operating procedure there. Sanders would also require a hefty salary and there are indications that he wants to help raise the profile of HBCUs, which are vastly under appreciated in my opinion as their forced existences produced some of football’s greatest. It’s a huge gamble that I don’t think Auburn will wager.
This move makes zero sense for Kiffin unless Auburn can get DEEP into its pockets. Kiffin is already establishing a strong program at Ole Miss where his persona is a great fit for him. Oxford’s never lost a party and Kiffin’s the rush chair who’s damn glad to meet you. Ole Miss will pony up enough in a contract extension to keep him there. Don’t set your sights on the Lane Train pulling into Auburn.
Many Auburn fans continue to complain about Alabama “selling its soul for Nick Satan” as if he was Joseph Stalin and not a guy who helped lead tornado recovery efforts, takes care of kids or builds houses for needy families. So it’s ironic that they’re using this argument to justify hiring a coach who has had serious issues at his previous three jobs, the last of which ended in multiple controversies. If Auburn wants to wildly overpay him to come in, maybe win then leave after a few years and hang something around their neck in the process, be my guest.
Why am I not surprised?
Of course, there are plenty of other names.
So who should be the next great Auburn Man? The school’s ethos is communal, idealistic and more about the journey than the destination if that makes sense. They want a cultural fit as well as a winner and after seeing how Bruce Pearl’s time has gone so far, it makes sense. Pearl arrived with baggage but he fully embraced the fan base which combined with the winning has made him a god there. And there’s one coach in a similar situation and would also embrace the Auburn traditions: Liberty HC Hugh Freeze.
In my opinion, Freeze is all around the absolute best hire to make. He has previous success in the SEC and knows the landscape, he’ll probably come much cheaper than most other candidates because of the opportunity for his redemption, and he’s already a cultural fit who will likely fully embrace the Auburn community. And I believe Auburn should make him its top candidate instead of risking the embarrassment of chasing others only to get rejected.
So Auburn fans, look at your situation and temper your expectations. Your HC job isn’t a destination job for most these days; a solid program no doubt but it’s not a top-tier job. Until the team has the resources and infrastructure in place to compete with Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State and Clemson, Auburn will always be climbing uphill. Face facts, accept that your team cannot be elite for some time, and try to enjoy what you do have. This too shall pass Tigers fans… maybe. Focus on the things you do have right now.
War Eagle anyway, right?