Column: Auburn’s candidates for head coach job

By Billy Whyte

It is a glorious time at Alabama.

Not only is our much-cherished Crimson Tide one win away from returning to the national championship game and having a chance at defending its title, but we’ve had the opportunity to enjoy watching the complete demise of our most hated rival Auburn.

Auburn, only two years removed from winning a national championship, finished 0-8 in SEC play for the first time in school history, with the season ending in a 49-0 loss to Alabama – the most lopsided Iron Bowl since 1948. Roll Tide. So, not surprisingly, head coach Gene Chizik was fired.

So the question becomes who will be next in line to get repeatedly beaten by Saban?

For one it definitely won’t be Jon Gruden or Jeff Fisher. I’m not sure where this misguided optimism from Auburn fans comes from, but Gruden can essentially get any NFL head coaching gig that opens up at this point, and Fisher, in is his first year trying to fix the St. Louis Rams, has not only never coached in college, but has been coaching in the NFL since 1985.

There is also very little chance Stanford head coach David Shaw or Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher will be wearing orange anytime soon. Shaw has enjoyed two double-digit wins seasons, and has proven the Cardinal can survive without Andrew Luck. Fisher may be dissatisfied with the state of the ACC, but he has done a great job recruiting at Florida State and has recently reconfirmed his commitment to the Seminoles.

Bobby Petrino, a former Auburn offensive coordinator, is a popular candidate and a name to keep an eye on, but a portion of Auburn’s athletic department is against hiring him after the scandal in 2002, when the athletic department secretly interviewed Petrino for the head coaching job when Tommy Tuberville’s fate had yet to be decided, resulting in multiple members of the athletic department being fired. And since Auburn stresses its “family values,” it’s unlikely we will see Petrino at Auburn either.

I also don’t see Nick Saban’s right hand man and prince of his kingdom, defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, turning Benedict Arnold on us and going to Auburn. He is also the hottest head coaching candidate of any coordinator in the country, and is biding his time until whatever job he wants opens up, so it’s unlikely he would go to Auburn anyways.

So, the most likely candidates are Louisville head coach Charlie Strong, Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris and Arkansas State head coach Guz Malzahn.

Strong has had success at Louisville, Ky., winning a conference title last year, and has strong ties to the SEC after coaching at Florida for eight years. He should also receive a lot of attention from Arkansas, Tennessee, and other schools, along with the fact Louisville seems committed to trying to keep him there for a while, so his availability may be tough.

Morris is the hottest coordinator in the country after Smart, so it’s no wonder Clemson has shelled out money to keep him last year and made him the highest paid coordinator in the country. His offensive philosophy would be a much-needed cure for Auburn’s ailing and jumbled offensive attack, but the only knock on Morris is his lack of experience and his lack of connections to the SEC.

But why hire the protégé when you can get his former Tulsa mentor and beloved former offensive coordinator Malzahn? He orchestrated an offense that carried the Tigers to a national championship, has shown great success at Arkansas State in his first year, and while at Auburn was considered one of the best recruiters in the SEC. Plus, with such discontent in the Tigers fan base, this would be a move that would make the Tiger faithful satisfied. If Auburn is wise, there is no reason they should not hire Malzahn.

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