Auburn has experienced quite the roller coaster ride over the last four years. After going 8-5 in Gene Chizik’s first season, the Tigers completed a 14-0 season and won the 2010 national championship. However, it was all downhill after the BCS title. Auburn went 11-14 over the last two seasons, which included a horrendous 0-8 record in SEC play in 2012. Chizik was a curious hire from the start and outside of the national championship season, proved to be a very mediocre head coach.
10 Candidates to Replace Gene Chizik at Auburn
Bryan Harsin, offensive coordinator, Texas – Harsin is a rising star in the coaching ranks and figures to make a jump for a head coaching vacancy soon. The former Boise State quarterback worked with the Broncos from 2001-2010 as an assistant, before leaving to take over as Texas’ offensive coordinator in 2011. Harsin doesn’t have head coaching experience but ran one of the nation’s top offenses at Boise State and has brought improvement to the Longhorns’ attack. After watching Auburn struggle on offense in 2012, Harsin’s background on offense has to be appealing.
Mark Hudspeth, head coach, Louisiana-Lafayette – Hudspeth has quietly led Louisiana-Lafayette to back-to-back bowl games and has a 16-8 mark in two seasons with the Ragin’ Cajuns. Before his current job, Hudspeth was 66-21 in seven years as the head coach at North Alabama. The Mississippi native has some SEC experience, working for two seasons under Dan Mullen at Mississippi State. Although Hudspeth isn’t a big-name hire, he has what it takes to lead a SEC program.
Gus Malzahn, head coach, Arkansas State – Malzahn is a name familiar with many at Auburn and was a huge loss for Chizik when he departed after the 2011 season. Although Malzahn is certainly capable of thriving at Auburn, is it too early for him to come back? Malzahn coached at Shiloh Christian and Springdale High Schools and spent 2006 as the offensive coordinator at Arkansas. After leaving Fayetteville after one season, the Texas native made stops as the offensive coordinator at Tulsa and Auburn. Malzahn is 8-3 in his first season at Arkansas State and has helped the Red Wolves record one of the Sun Belt’s top offenses.
Chad Morris, offensive coordinator, Clemson – Morris has no head coaching experience but is one of the hottest names for open vacancies this offseason. Most of Morris’ experience has come on the high school level, making stops at Eustace Independent, Elysian Field, Bay City, Stephenville and Lake Travis. However, in short stints at Tulsa and Clemson, he has proven to be one of the nation’s top offensive minds. Morris commands a hefty salary as an offensive coordinator, so Auburn needs to pay big to pull him away from Clemson.
Bobby Petrino, former Arkansas head coach – Considering the disastrous Jetgate saga that surrounded Auburn and Petrino in 2003, there may be some hesitation on the Tigers’ part to go back in Petrino’s direction. However, if Auburn wants to compete with Alabama and LSU, the former Arkansas coach is the right man for the job. Considering what transpired at Arkansas, Petrino is probably available at a discount price and won’t make the same mistakes that contributed to his departure in Fayetteville.
Brent Pease, offensive coordinator, Florida – Considering the uncertainty surrounding the NCAA investigation, Auburn could struggle to attract elite candidates. If that’s the case, Pease is a name to watch. The Idaho native has spent time as an offensive coordinator at Kentucky, Baylor and Boise State, before coming to Florida in 2012. Pease has no head coaching experience but is a bright offensive mind and is due for a chance to run is own program.
Kirby Smart, defensive coordinator, Alabama – Smart is regarded as one of the nation’s top assistants, working with Nick Saban to coordinate the Alabama defense. Smart is no stranger to life in the SEC, as he played at Georgia and served as an assistant at LSU and Georgia. Just like some other names on this list, the Alabama native has no head coaching experience.
Mark Stoops, defensive coordinator, Florida State – Stoops is a rising star in the assistant ranks and is rumored to be in the mix for the Kentucky vacancy. The Ohio native has stops as an assistant at South Florida, Wyoming, Houston, Miami and Arizona. In three seasons at Florida State’s coordinator, he has helped to resurrect the Seminoles’ defense back into one of the nation’s best. The only knock on Stoops is a lack of head coaching experience.
Charlie Strong, head coach, Louisville – Although geographical ties are sometimes overrated in coaching searches, Strong is an Arkansas native and played at Central Arkansas. In addition to his ties to the state, Strong has SEC experience from stops at Florida, Ole Miss and South Carolina. After going 4-8 in the year prior to his arrival, Louisville went 14-12 from 2010-11 and is on the cusp of a Big East title in 2012. Strong also has strong recruiting ties to Florida.
Willie Taggart, head coach, Western Kentucky – Taggart’s stock cooled some after the Hilltoppers lost three consecutive games in November. However, Western Kentucky rebounded to win the season finale against North Texas to finish 7-5, which gives the Hilltoppers back-to-back winning records for the first time since 2006-07. Although Western Kentucky struggled at the end of the year, Taggart is ready for a shot to lead a BCS program.
Sonny Dykes, head coach, Louisiana Tech – Although Dykes is due for a promotion, his name has come up more in connection with the Arkansas and Kentucky jobs. The ongoing NCAA investigation may not be much but it could scare a candidate like Dykes away from interviewing.
Jimbo Fisher, head coach, Florida State – Fisher’s name has circulated in the rumor mill but don’t bet on him leaving Florida State. Even though he played at Samford and coached at Auburn in the past, Fisher has a better job at Florida State. And it’s also much easier to win in Tallahassee than it is in the shadow of Alabama and LSU right now.
Kliff Kingsbury, offensive coordinator, Texas A&M – Kingsbury has quickly emerged as one of college football’s top offensive coordinators. After playing under Mike Leach at Texas Tech, Kingsbury bounced around the NFL for a couple of seasons and landed on the Houston coaching staff under Kevin Sumlin in 2008. The Texas native led Houston to rank among the nation’s best offenses last year and has played a key role in developing Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M. Kingsbury is young (33) and has no head coaching experience. However, it won’t be long before he picks up his first head coaching offer.