Auburn fired Gus Malzahn after eight seasons on Sunday. It was a marriage that yielded some results, including a national title appearance in 2013, but the long stretch of four-loss seasons with inconsistent success offensively was too much to overcome.
Now, the Tigers have to turn their attention to the future. There are plenty of viable coaching candidates out there, but there are a select few who deserve more attention than the others.
Below I give some information on those top candidates while also revealing how I would rank each hire (on a scale of 1 to 10) if it were to happen. Obviously a lot can change, but there are at least two options that would stand out above the rest.
Kevin Steele, DC, Auburn
Breakdown: Kevin Steele looks like the front-runner to land the job. Auburn fans aren’t going to like this hire if it happens, but there are a few positives. It makes sense from a recruiting standpoint with Early Signing Day on Wednesday, and maybe it will allow the future offensive coordinator … to just be the offensive coordinator.
Record as HC: 9-36 (.200) — 4 seasons
Hugh Freeze, HC, Liberty
Breakdown: I’ve heard conflicting reports on Hugh Freeze. Some have said there’s no way he ends up being the pick, while others have said he should be the heavy favorite. I’m leaning toward the former, as there just hasn’t been enough traction there. He’s a popular name, but what does he give that Malzahn didn’t?
Record as HC: 66-34 (.660) — 8 seasons
Mario Cristobal, HC, Oregon
Breakdown: There are two names I would consider a “home run hire” for the Tigers, and Mario Cristobal is one of them. He’s a fantastic recruiter who knows how to recruit the Southeast area (mostly Florida). He also likes to build from the trenches out, and he’s had plenty of success as a head coach. Is Cristobal interested, though?
Record as HC: 51-56 (.477) — 10 seasons
Billy Napier, HC, Louisiana-Lafayette
Breakdown: Billy Napier isn’t getting the same love as some of the other candidates on this list, but he would be a solid hire. He understands how to build a program, but he’s also got plenty of experience with top-notch programs such as Alabama and Clemson. Napier is waiting for the right opportunity, but will that be Auburn?
Record as HC: 27-11 (.711) — 3 seasons
Lane Kiffin, HC, Ole Miss
Breakdown: Speaking of home run hires, I still believe a Lane Kiffin-Auburn marriage would be epic. Kiffin is already becoming a thorn in Nick Saban’s side, and that would magnify on The Plains. He’s extremely innovative, and he’s fun. His recruiting at Ole Miss hasn’t been anything to write home about, but I believe that would change with the Tigers.
Record as HC: 66-38 (.635) — 9 seasons
Steve Sarkisian, OC, Alabama
Breakdown: Steve Sarkisian is starting to seem unrealistic. There just hasn’t been a lot of traction, but he would be a solid hire. Would his strong ties to the West Coast be diminished without the “Alabama” brand? Maybe, but he’s got plenty of Power Five head coaching experience, he’s got a great offensive mind and it would simultaneously help Auburn while hurting Alabama.
Record as HC: 46-35 (.568) — 7 seasons
Bill Clark, HC, UAB
Breakdown: It’s still odd that Bill Clark’s name doesn’t come up more in these coaching talks. Both before or after it was shut down, Clark has built the UAB program twice. He’s got strong ties to the state of Alabama from his days as a college and high school coach. Auburn could do much worse.
Record as HC: 39-22 (.639) — 5 seasons
Joe Brady, OC, Carolina Panthers
Breakdown: I think Auburn is a couple years too soon here, but Joe Brady is going to be a head coach some day. With that being said, it could come on the NFL level, and that seems like where he wants to be. This marriage seems like a long shot, but he should at least be mentioned.
Record as HC: N/A
Others options: Jamey Chadwell, Coastal Carolina HC; Matt Campbell, Iowa State HC; Brent Venables, Clemson DC; Billy Elliott, Clemson OC, Bill O’Brien, former Houston Texans HC
Follow Clint Lamb on Twitter @ClintRLamb.