AUBURN, Ala. – Here’s what we can safely assume Auburn would look for in a new head coach:
- Somebody with SEC roots, or at least strong southern ties. Every Auburn head coach since 1950 either went to Auburn (Ralph “Shug” Jordan), served as an assistant at Auburn (Doug Barfield, Gene Chizik), played football in the SEC (Pat Dye) came directly from an SEC program (Tommy Tuberville) or came directly from an in-state program (Terry Bowden).
- Somebody who can recruit. Hard. That’s what Chizik hung his hat on, and what’s necessary of whoever has to coach the other major program in this state alongside the Sabanator.
- Somebody relatively young, but not exactly a spring chicken. Pat Dye was 41 when he started at Auburn. Bowden was 37. Tuberville was 44, Chizik was 47.
- Somebody with previous head coaching experience. The last four hires did – Tuberville had four years at Ole Miss under his belt, Chizik was taken straight from Iowa State while Dye and Bowden cut their teeth at non-BCS programs. This rule might be a little more negotiable; Will Muschamp, Dabo Swinney, Jimbo Fisher, Bret Bielema, Bo Pelini and Paul Rhoads (to name six) are getting along fine in their first head jobs.
Here’s a short list of five hot candidates (with ages in parentheses) which make the most sense in orange and blue. Then follows a longer list of 25 secondary people to keep in mind as well. 30 names in all.
THE AUBURN TIES
JIMBO FISHER (47), Florida State
Auburn’d love to have him back – he was QBs coach from 1993-98, Terry Bowden’s entire tenure. Question is whether Jimbo would leave what he’s got in Tallahassee for a school which broke it off with Bowden on awkward terms.
GUS MALZAHN (46), Arkansas State
Sexy name. Auburn knows if he’s really, really ready to take on the big, bad SEC. Would he bolt the Red Wolves after one year, with many of his former Auburn recruits on this roster?
THE RIVAL’S DISCIPLE
KIRBY SMART (36), defensive coordinator, Alabama
Jumping ship directly from the Jets to the Sharks? From the Montagues to the Capulets? Weirder things have happened, I suppose. Saban has all but guaranteed he’ll be leading a major program sooner rather than later.
Smart has no head coaching experience. But his credentials speak for themselves. The Saban Way works. Now, how responsible has Smart been for the wild success at Alabama? Might be a reasonably price-efficient risk to find out.
BOBBY PETRINO (51), former head coach, Arkansas.
Talk about a firestorm. Talk about rolling the dice. He’d be one of the most polarizing possible picks not only among the Auburn Family, but fan bases across the SEC.
His glittering 75-26 college record as a head coach is a factor, but so is his involvement in ‘Jetgate’ from Tommy Tuberville’s ouster, and the way he basically quit on the Atlanta Falcons to flee for Arkansas. Then he was involved in a motorcycle accident and his unsavory relationship with a young woman he hired to the athletic department was uncovered. That might be too much for the three SEC schools seeking a head coach besides Arkansas to overlook.
But then again. 75-26.
THE ROUND PEG IN A ROUND HOLE
CHARLIE STRONG (52), Louisville
In his 30 years of coaching, 21 have been with SEC schools – including 2002-09 as Florida’s defensive coordinator. What Steve Kragthorpe couldn’t clean up from the Petrino mess, Strong has done impeccably. There’s absolutely no question if Strong wants to leave, now’s the time to do so … like, about five seconds after the Cardinals play their bowl game . When Louisville was 8-0, it was only ranked 10th in the BCS standings because the Big East is the Big East. And that’s the long-term crutch.
Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich would lead you to believe his school will pull out all the stops to keep their man.
But it’s not like SEC schools will nickel-and-dime their coaches. Six of the 14 highest-paid coaches entering this year in college football are in this conference, including Chizik. Strong’s contract explicitly states his salary (before bonuses) is $1.6 million a year, a below-average figure in the SEC.
So Louisville’s honchos might be ready for a financial fight, and good on them. But they might lose. Question will be, which SEC school will win?
THE DREAMY NAMES
CHRIS PETERSEN (48), Boise State
Okay, that 82-8 career record’s pretty ridiculous. But he has zero southeast connections. None. Not happening. That said, he has been hotly-rumored to be headed to Arkansas, or perhaps Oregon if Chip Kelly leaves for the NFL.
GARY PATTERSON (52), TCU
Perpetually a target of coaching rumors. TCU’s less obscure than Boise State – geographically and by new conference affiliation – but Patterson seems content in Fort Worth.
DANA HOLGORSEN (41), West Virginia
Amazing first half to 2012 went awry with a five-game losing streak. It’d be a total blindside to the Mountaineers. But you never know. Rich Rodriguez has set a precedent for these types of things.
THE CURRENT HEAD COACHES
SONNY DYKES (42), Louisiana Tech
WAC champs last year, logged time ranked this year. Spent two one-year stints as an assistant at Kentucky.
DAVID CUTCLIFFE (58), Duke
Born and raised in Birmingham. Alabama grad. Bear Bryant disciple. Manning brothers mentor. Spent six years at Banks (Ala.), followed by the next 17 years at Tennessee (an eternity as an assistant) and then seven fine seasons at Ole Miss. He’s 21-36 at Duke, but 6-3 this year. On paper, makes a lot of sense. Again, the two unknown factors are a) Auburn’s interest in bringing him to his home state, and b) Cutcliffe’s interest in leaving Duke for a new job in his late 50s. Cutcliffe’s already shot down rumors of him going back to Tennessee, and he did recently sign a very long-term extension to stay with the Blue Devils until the end of this decade.
MIKE MACINTYRE (47), San Jose State
Miami native played two years each at Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech, has spent time on Georgia, Ole Miss staffs. Spartans are 10-2, no easy feat for a program which has gone bowling once in 22 years. MacIntyre just signed a long-term extension in January.
TODD BERRY (51), Louisiana-Monroe
Moderate success throughout his career … at 46-78, that’s being kind. But he has shown some guts this season with the Warhawks.
SKIP HOLTZ (48), South Florida
Six years at South Carolina, from 1999-2004. Not a good year for the Bulls, at 3-8. Record of 88-70 as a collegiate head coach at UConn, East Carolina and USF. Son of Lou, who previously insisted Auburn couldn’t fire Chizik.
STEVE ADDAZIO (53), Temple
Was on offensive staff at Florida from 2005-10. They did okay. Has a 12-11 record in two years with the Owls, beat Wyoming in the New Mexico Bowl last year.
MARIO CRISTOBAL (42), Florida International
Stock was probably higher the past couple years, as surprise co-Sun Belt champs in 2010 and 8-5 last year. Now the Panthers went meek 3-9 in 2012.
RICK STOCKSTILL (54), Middle Tennessee
Former Florida State quarterback stopped for two years in the SEC (South Carolina WR coach, 2004-05) before his first head gig with the Blue Raiders. An even 43-43 in seven years, but he went 10-3 in 2009 and they’re 8-3 today.
WILLIE TAGGART (35), Western Kentucky
Would he leave his alma mater? He’s a bright young coaching prospect.
KEVIN WILSON (51), Indiana
Hey, he’s got to be considered. Auburn clearly has a thing for Big Ten coaches with experience in Florida and a 5-19 lifetime record.
TIM BECKMAN (47), Illinois
Waaaaaaaay back in 1988-89, he was a grad assistant under Pat Dye. Hasn’t been in SEC country since. And he just started with the Illini this year. And he’s 2-10. But hey, he’s got Auburn ties, darn it.
TIM STOWERS (54), former head coach, Georgia Southern/Rhode Island
Currently an assistant at Central Connecticut, his resume doesn’t scream SEC coach in the making. But he is from Union Springs, Ala. … he was a two-year letterman for Auburn, as a linebacker and two-way lineman … served five years on the Auburn staff after college … has an 84-80 record in 14 years as a head coach, but none at the Division I level. It’s an outside-the-box thought.
THE CONFERENCE FOES
DAN MULLEN (40), Mississippi State
Fifteen years ago, Auburn poached Tuberville from Ole Miss after four years and a 25-20 record, including 12-20 in the SEC. Mullen is 28-18 in his fourth season, including 12-16 in the SEC. Just saying. Granted, they’d have to bury the hatchet, since Mullen was rumored to tattle on Auburn during the Cam Newton recruiting investigation saga.
JAMES FRANKLIN (40), Vanderbilt
Did some impressive things with this 8-win squad in Nashville. Funny thing is, his win over Auburn wasn’t particularly well-coached.
WILL MUSCHAMP (41), Florida
If Florida’s 2012 was like its 2011, this might have been a serious consideration, since Gators fans would’ve been anxious for a change. Not anymore.
THE HOT ASSISTANTS
Note: None have ever been a collegiate head coach
MANNY DIAZ (38), defensive coordinator, Texas
This season hasn’t gone as the Longhorns would have hoped, but like Smart, he’s a future head coach. Future could be now. Diaz – yet another Miami-born member of this list – has spent basically his whole career in the southeast at NC State, Middle Tennessee and Mississippi State.
LORENZO WARD (45), defensive coordinator, South Carolina
Another guy who’s been successful in and out of the SEC that makes sense on paper. But would Auburn want him, and would he want Auburn (or, for that matter, a head coaching opportunity in general)? All about fitting a round peg into a round hole.
DAN ROUSHAR (49), offensive coordinator, Michigan State
PAT NARDUZZI (46), defensive coordinator, Michigan State
Mark Dantonio’s signed a contract for life in East Lansing, but he won’t be able to hold onto his coordinators forever. Neither guy has much experience in SEC country.
TODD MONKEN (45), offensive coordinator, Oklahoma State
Can I interest you in the No. 3 offense in the country? He stepped in for Dana Holgorsen, and that’s worked out okay for West Virginia. Monken logged a combined six years in Louisiana (La Tech, LSU) coaching receivers.
KLIFF KINGSBURY (33), offensive coordinator, Texas A&M
He is but four years older than a current rookie quarterback in the NFL. He’s three months older than Toledo’s Matt Campbell, currently the youngest Division I head coach. But he’s already got four full years at Houston as a quality control, QB coach and coordinator, and Johnny Manziel’s breakout has landed Kingsbury on the Broyles Award short list. Why not?
MARK STOOPS (45), defensive coordinator, Florida State
Younger brother of Bob. If Jimbo’s not interested in Auburn, maybe just go a couple offices down the hall and knock on that door.