Auburn fired coach Gus Malzahn on Sunday, becoming the third SEC program to change head coaches this offseason. Malzahn went 6-4 this fall and went 67-35 overall as Auburn’s head coach. The Tigers won the SEC title and played for the 2013 national championship but never reached those levels the rest of his tenure. Auburn did win 67 games overall but eclipsed double-digit victories (10) just once after 2013. Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele will work as the program’s interim coach.
Who could replace Malzahn at Auburn? Here are eight names to watch in the coaching search:
8 Coaching Candidates to Replace Gus Malzahn at Auburn
Jamey Chadwell, Head Coach, Coastal Carolina
Chadwell’s name is likely to pop up with every Power 5 opening this offseason. It’s a longshot he ends up here, but Chadwell’s resume is impressive. He’s 15-7 over the last two years at Coastal Carolina and has the program sitting 10-0 with a Sun Belt East Division title in 2020. He previously went 35-14 at Charleston Southern, 3-7 at Delta State and 22-14 at North Greenville.
Bill Clark, Head Coach, UAB
Clark has extensive ties to the state of Alabama and an impressive resume from his stint at UAB. After a year at Jacksonville State (11-4), Clark was hired to be the head coach in Birmingham. The Blazers are 39-22 under Clark’s direction and have won three consecutive Conference USA West Division titles. Clark’s tenure is even more impressive when you consider the program shut down after the 2014 season and had to reboot in ’17.
Mario Cristobal, Head Coach, Oregon
Cristobal has experience in SEC territory thanks to a previous stint as Alabama’s offensive line coach (2013-16). The Miami native is also a proven head coach thanks to two stints. From 2007-12, he built FIU into a bowl team and finished with a 27-47 overall record. Cristobal was promoted to head coach at Oregon prior to the 2017 bowl game and is 24-9 over the last two years. The Ducks finished 12-2 and won the Rose Bowl last fall.
Tony Elliott, Offensive Coordinator, Clemson
Elliott is due for an opportunity to run his own program after thriving as Clemson’s play-caller since 2015. The California native played his college ball at Clemson and started his coaching career at South Carolina State in 2006. After two years there and three at Furman (2008-10), Elliott returned to Death Valley to coach running backs in 2011. After Chad Morris left the program in 2015, Elliott was promoted to play-caller and Clemson has consistently ranked among the nation’s top offenses under his watch. Elliott is also regarded as an excellent recruiter, which is certainly needed in the SEC.
Hugh Freeze, Head Coach, Liberty
It’s safe to assume Freeze is near the top of Auburn’s list. From 2012-16, Freeze went 39-25 and guided the program to four bowl trips at Ole Miss. He also went 20-5 at Lambuth from 2008-09 and 10-2 at Arkansas State in ’11. Freeze resigned at Ole Miss following 2016 due to off-field issues and spent two years away from the field. Freeze landed at Liberty prior to 2019 and is 17-6 since taking over as head coach.
Billy Napier, Head Coach, Louisiana
Napier’s name has popped up in connection with the Vanderbilt and South Carolina openings this offseason and he should be a candidate here. After stints as an assistant at Clemson, Arizona State and Alabama, he was hired as Louisiana’s head coach in 2018. The Ragin’ Cajuns showed instant improvement, going 7-7 in his first year. Louisiana is 27-11 overall under Napier and has won the Sun Belt’s West Division in all three seasons.
Steve Sarkisian, Offensive Coordinator, Alabama
Would Auburn look to its in-state rival for a head coach? Sarkisian is due for another chance to run a Power 5 program after coordinating Alabama’s offense the last couple of years. Under Sarkisian’s watch the Crimson Tide have developed one of the nation’s top attacks on an annual basis. Sarkisian previously went 34-29 as Washington’s head coach from 2009-13 and 12-6 at USC from 2014-15.
Brent Venables, Defensive Coordinator, Clemson
Venables has a hefty salary and isn’t in any pressure to be a head coach. However, could the opening at Auburn be of interest? The Kansas native is one of the best coordinators in college football and has been instrumental in developing Clemson into an annual national title contender. He’s coached at Clemson since 2012 and spent time at Oklahoma and Kansas State as an assistant.