It was announced on Sunday that Auburn and head coach Gene Chizik has parted ways just a day after a 49-0 beatdown by rival Alabama left the Tigers with a disappointing 3-9 record for the year and an 0-8 conference record, their worst in school history.
Chizik, who arrived as Tigers head coach after the 2008 season following a two-year stint as Iowa State head coach, where he went 5-19, appeared headed towards a great run on the plains following his second season on the job, leading Auburn to a 14-0 record and the school’s first national title since 1957 with the help of quarterback Cam Newton.
However, Auburn began to go downhill once the Heisman-winning quarterback left for the NFL, as the team managed a respectable 8-5 season in 2011 before having what most experts consider the worst season for the Tigers in at least the last sixty years, losing by seventeen points or more six times.
The Chizik era at Auburn will be remembered as one with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, and while some may have believed that the crystal ball Chizk brought to the plains just two seasons ago would have bought him a good bit of immunity, the extreme lack of progress that the Tigers showed this year made it clear that a change was needed.
Now that Chizik has been handed his walking papers, who will lead the Tigers in 2013? Here are five candidates that I believe Auburn should pursue:
Dan Mullen, Mississippi State HC – Now in his fourth season as Bulldogs head coach, it seems like from the outside looking in that Mullen will leave Starkville for a bigger job sooner rather than later. A former assistant at Florida under Urban Meyer, Mullen may not have had much luck against Alabama or LSU at Mississippi State (has a career record of 0-8 against the two), but it is clear that it is harder to bring in five-star players to play for the Bulldogs than it would be for the Tigers. Mullen may be reluctant to leave for a team within the same division, but it wouldn’t hurt Auburn for them to at least see if he is interested.
Rodney Garner, Georgia Recruiting Coordinator – Probably a darkhorse for this job, Garner has ties to Auburn, graduating from the school in 1990 and serving on the Tigers coaching staff in several different capacities from 1990 to 1995. Now in his fifteenth season on the Bulldogs’ coaching staff, Garner has played a huge role in bringing in the talent that the Bulldogs have had on the field year in and year out. While some may frown upon hiring Garner due to the lack of name recognition as far as the general public is concerned, I believe that Garner could put together a great staff at Auburn and would set the Tigers up for a significant amount of success.
James Franklin, Vanderbilt HC – Similar to Mullen at Mississippi State, Franklin has become a hot coaching commodity thanks to the outstanding job he has done as Commodores head coach, which includes Vanderbilt winning six games in a row to give the team its first back-to-back bowl eligible seasons in school history. Also rumored to be a candidate for the N.C. State head coaching position, Franklin will have his fair share of jobs to choose from; it will be interesting to see if he chooses to take a new job or continue to Anchor Down in Nashville.
Gus Malzahn, Arkansas State HC – The offensive coordinator for Auburn for the first two years of the Gene Chizik era, Malzahn has had a solid first season as a head coach with the Red Wolves, posting an 8-3 record with one game remaining in the regular season. The question concerning the chances Malzahn lands this job is whether or not the powers that be at Auburn want to bring back a coach that was part of staff that ultimately failed miserably.
Kirby Smart, Alabama DC – I’ve seen the 30 For 30 documentary “Roll Tide War Eagle”; I know that Auburn and Alabama do not get along together. Having said that, Auburn may just have to turn to their bitter rival in Tuscaloosa and make the call for Smart, who is now in his sixth season as an assistant with the Crimson Tide. With nine years of coaching in the Southeastern Conference under his belt, it appears that Smart knows what it truly takes to win in the SEC, something that Chizik and his staff apparently forgot.