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4 Auburn Tigers coaching candidates to replace Bryan Harsin

Matt Johnson
Auburn Tigers coaching candidates, Auburn coach candidates
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Auburn Tigers coaching search in 2020 ended with Bryan Harsin taking over the program, officially replacing Gus Malzahn on Dec. 22, 2020. Less than two years later, issues within the Auburn football program could result in a new coaching search.

Harsin’s fit in Auburn seemed strange at the time. The former Boise State quarterback spent the majority of his life in Boise, Idaho and landed his dream job in 2014. Despite not having any experience in the SEC, he jumped at the opportunity to coach the Tigers.

One year later, the situation in Auburn is deteriorating and it’s a bad look for both Harsin and university officials.

Evaluating the Bryan Harsin situation and Auburn’s investigation

NCAA Football: Birmingham Bowl-Houston at Auburn
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Change is inevitable at every program and coaches aren’t going to be loved by everyone in the building. But the situation going on with the Auburn Tigers is troubling. Harsin accepted the job 14 months ago and already went through five coordinators, a seemingly unprecedented amount of turnover from an SEC school.

ESPN’s story details part of the problem, with Harsin reportedly alienating players and assistant coaches. There also seems to be recent evidence to validate those reports considering former Auburn defensive coordinator Derek Mason took a pay cut to leave the SEC program and join the Oklahoma State Cowboys. On top of that, offensive coordinator Austin Davis resigned less than two months after being hired by the program.

Auburn’s players also have issues with Harsin. The spring isn’t even over and 20 student-athletes have left the football program. Former receiver Kobe Hudson called Harson a dictator on Instagram and players have expressed frustration over Harsin not doing little things like taking an interest in asking about their families.

  • Bryan Harsin buyout: $18.3 million

Burning relationships between assistant coaches and players is a big enough problem. But Auburn’s boosters and biggest supporters also don’t like that Harsin doesn’t embrace the program’s traditions, like skipping Bo Jackson’s charity golf tournament. SEC assistant coaches also told ESPN that Harsin “doesn’t work in recruiting” and believes his smarts will win games.

Auburn is now conducting an inquiry into Harsin’s tenure after just one season. With mounting pressure, even a massive buyout and the money already owed to Malzahn might not stop a coaching change.

With all that in mind, let’s dive into potential Auburn Tigers coaching candidates

Hugh Freeze, Liberty Flames head coach

NCAA Football: LendingTree Bowl-Eastern Michigan at Liberty
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If money isn’t an issue, a call that must be made by Auburn’s boosters, the focus will immediately go towards Hugh Freeze. There is certainly scandal attached to the 52-year-old’s resume, but there is no doubt he is an excellent football coach who knows how to recruit and is familiar with the SEC.

Freeze would bring an exciting offense to Jordan-Hare Stadium. Liberty averaged 33.6 points per game this season, with a balanced aerial attack (255 pass ypg) and ground game (180.8 rush ypg). We saw quarterback Malik Willis blossom, becoming a coveted NFL prospect despite playing at a smaller program.

It would take a significant amount of money to lure Freeze. But he’d love an opportunity to coach in the SEC again and he’d certainly fare much better inside the building and on the recruiting trail than Harsin. If there is an Auburn coaching search, Freeze will be a potential target.

Kevin Steele, former Auburn Tigers defensive coordinator

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This wouldn’t be a popular hire among the Auburn Tigers fan base. The famous ‘#StopTheSteele’ moment captured just how badly fans don’t want to see Steele leading this program. Sentiments toward Steele aren’t entirely his fault, with many just expressing frustration at the idea of him replacing Malzahn. But given the state of this program currently, hiring him as head coach might be a realistic option.

Keep in mind, firing Harsin means paying more than $40 million in buyout money within the next two years. While ABurn could try and get around that, exploring a way to fire Harsin with cause, it likely doesn’t end well. With so much money spent on coaches not being involved with the football program, the Tigers would likely have to spend less on an actual head coach.

Steele, currently serving as the Miami Hurricanes defensive coordinator, would finally get a chance to be a head coach. Auburn knows it would be hiring a great defensive mind who could turn this unit into a great group, making this a competitive team. The ceiling would be low, but the Tigers could conduct a new coaching search in 2023 or ’24 with a wider pool of coaching candidates and more money to spend.

Bill Clark, UAB Blazers head coach

NCAA Football: Independence Bowl-Brigham Young at UAB
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Bill Clark took over a UAB football program after it shut down for two years, that’s the ultimate rebuild project. He worked a job with very little financial backing, limited resources and a football roster that needed to be constructed from the ground up. UAB went 8-5 in its first season back and delivered an 11-3 record the following year. While they haven’t quite matched those heights since, the Blazers are coming off a nine-win season.

  • Bill Clark record: 49-26, 2-2 in bowl games

There’s certainly a level of risk here. Clark lacks any experience at a Power 5 program, making a jump to the SEC a massive challenge. But the 53-year-old has won at every stop in his coaching career. Money won’t be an issue, the Tigers can offer Clark far more than he’ll ever make at UAB. But he made it clear in 2020, he wants control over his coaching staff hires. It proved to be an issue the last time he spoke to the Auburn Tigers, but the university’s experiences with Harsin should change things this time around.

Jamey Chadwell, Coastal Carolina Chanticleers head coach

NCAA Football: Coastal Carolina at Appalachian State
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If we’re making the call, the Auburn Tigers fire Harsin and hire Jamey Chadwell as head coach. Coastal Carolina’s leader is responsible for building a Sun Belt powerhouse, delivering consecutive 11-2 seasons after taking over the program in 2017.

The numbers Coastal Carolina’s offense produced with Caldwell’s play-calling are stellar. The Chanticleers averaged 40.9 points and nearly 500 total yards per game in 2021. They also played great situational football, averaging the 11th-most points per second half (18) and leading the country in third-down conversion rate (53.28%).

Chadwell is ready for a bigger job, even if means making the leap to the SEC. He doesn’t come with the baggage that Feeze carries, he’s a more creative hire than bringing back Steele and he might offer more long-term upside than Clark. If Bryan Harsin is gone, Jamey Chadwell should become the next Auburn Tigers head coach.