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Auburn coaching carousel: Who could be next?

In wake of the recent termination of former Auburn head coach Bryan Harsin, the rumors have already begun to circulate as to who could be the next head coach of the Tigers. The Auburn head coaching vacancy will be the subject of sports media speculation until the role has been filled.

The Auburn job is widely considered one of the most desired jobs in the country. In addition to being a tradition-steeped program in the SEC, Auburn’s legacy of winning coupled with significant investment in the program and the fertile recruiting grounds in Alabama and throughout the southeast contribute to the desirability of the job.

The hiring will be one of the most consequential in the program’s history. Auburn fans have been clamoring to return to the consistent success experienced under the likes of Pat Dye and Tommy Tuberville. New athletic director John Cohen will have a monumental task on his hands from Day 1.

Hugh Freeze
Record: 83-41
Freeze has emerged as the front-runner. He has demonstrated his ability to inherit tough situations and instantly get results. When Freeze arrived at Ole Miss, he was able to turn around a midling program quickly. He’s a prolific recruiter, play caller and has the perfect personality for the Auburn job. Freeze has been bowl eligible for four seasons in a row. The primary detractor for many with Freeze was a scandal that he was embroiled in that led to his termination from Ole Miss. That being said, Auburn has had success with coaches that have been previously involved in situations similar to Freeze (see: Bruce Pearl).

Lane Kiffin
Record: 85-44
Kiffin’s name has been tossed around as a potential candidate for the Auburn job. After a couple of underwhelming stints at USC and Tennessee, Kiffin revived his career under the tutelage of Coach Nick Saban as offensive coordinator. He has been innovative in his scheme as well as his recruiting philosophy. His ability to adapt to the new age of college football with NIL and the transfer portal has been a master class. After losing numerous players to attrition after Ole Miss’ first 10-win season a year ago, Kiffin replenished his roster via the transfer portal, and it has paid dividends. It has long been rumored that Kiffin would like to eventually replace Saban. If that’s the case, taking the Auburn job would almost certainly take him out of contention to be the next guy in Tuscaloosa. Additionally, many wonder if leaving an established Ole Miss program that he has firing on all cylinders to take the Auburn job would make sense.

Deion Sanders
Record: 23-5
“Coach Prime” originally received a tremendous amount of buzz when Auburn decided to part ways with Bryan Harsin. He’s proven to be a top-notch recruiter without the benefits and resources that a program such as Auburn provides. But is he prepared to be the lead man at a program of Auburn’s magnitude? He has been a tremendous coach and ambassador for HBCUs, but the SEC/Power 5 is a completely different beast. For context, Jackson State’s football budget in 2021 was $2.1 million while Auburn’s exceeded $133 million. Sanders is the ultimate competitor dating back to his playing days, but would Auburn feel comfortable in his ability to compete against the likes of Saban, Smart, Heupel, et al?

Matt Rhule
Record: 47-43
Rhule didn’t work out as the head coach of the Carolina Panthers, but who does? He was fired after two below-average seasons in the NFL. Before the NFL, Rhule won at Temple and Baylor. He had two 10-win seasons at Temple and an 11-win season with Baylor. Rhule’s offenses have been dynamic in college, and he has done a great job at hiring top-notch staff. He could be a great fit, but is he too much of an outsider for the job? Additionally, it is rumored that Rhule is the frontrunner to take the Nebraska coaching job.

Mark Stoops
Record: 66-57
Stoops checks a lot of boxes. He’s a big name with a proven record of winning in the SEC. He has been at Kentucky for almost 10 seasons, and he has experienced a tremendous amount of success. He’s done a lot with very little. The main question mark for Stoops taking the Auburn job is whether he would even consider leaving. He’s Kentucky’s winningest coach and, at this point in his career, could remain head coach until his retirement.

Jeff Grimes
Record: 0-0
Grimes is a dark-horse candidate. He does not have any experience as a head coach at the collegiate ranks. That aside, Grimes does bolster an impressive resume as an assistant. Early in his career, he was primarily an offensive line coach at a number of different stops, including three seasons with Auburn under former head coach Gene Chizik. Most recently, he has been the running game coordinator and offensive coordinator at LSU, BYU, and Baylor. Grimes has been noted for his ability to develop players and install sound offensive schemes. The drawback on Grimes is going to be the lack of head coaching experience. However, his ties to Auburn coupled with his successful background make him a name to watch.

Carnell “Cadillac” Williams
Record: 1-1
Interim coach Carnell Williams has the Auburn faithful believing. The atmosphere in Jordan-Hare Stadium was undeniable this past weekend as the Tigers defeated Texas A&M to give Williams his first victory as head coach. Williams, like Grimes, has very little-to-no experience as a head coach. That being said, Williams is a true Auburn man through-and-through. The former Auburn running back was one of the 2000s’ most electric players. He racked up countless accolades and awards as a player for the Tigers. Now, he has the team and the fanbase believing again. We have seen the infectious enthusiasm that he and his team exude. He also has the recruiting chops and extremely close ties with high school football juggernaut IMG Academy where he served as running backs coach. Williams will have two to three games left on his audition to be the next man up. Will it be enough for him to earn the removal of the interim title?

Auburn’s coaching search has been the topic of much discussion and speculation. Every week, a new frontrunner emerges for the highly coveted position.

Regardless of the final decision, it will certainly send shockwaves throughout Alabama, the SEC, and the college football world.

Dylan Smith is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @DylanSmithAL

Ben Richardson is contributing sports writer for Yellowhammer News

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