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Top candidates for Auburn head coaching job

Here’s a look at some potential replacements for Bryan Harsin at Auburn.

Northern Illinois v Kentucky Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

After an offseason coup attempt and a poor start to the 2022 season, Auburn has finally parted ways with head football coach Bryan Harsin. New athletic director John Cohen was part of the inevitable mere minutes after being hired, though technically the fingerprints on the axe go to AU President Christopher Roberts. But the Tigers are now back on the coaching prowl.

The former Boise State head coach’s tenure on the Plains was doomed from the start, as he arrived in the midst of a reported booster struggle within the program where several powerful donors reportedly pushed for defensive coordinator Kevin Steele to be promoted to the top job. Former athletic director Allen Greene took control of the chaotic coaching search to hire Harsin, upsetting a section of those very power brokers.

A rollercoaster 2021 season and the aforementioned coup attempt left the Tigers head coach on shaky ground heading into this season. And with Greene stepping down after his contract wasn’t renewed, the writing was on the wall that Harsin’s time with the program would be coming to a quick end.

That now leaves the question of where the program will turn to next. Auburn has the credentials of being not only an SEC program, but one that has proven itself capable of winning a national championship. The school has close proximity to some of the best recruiting territory in the country and that will make the job attractive to several coaching candidates. However, there’s always an element of chaos when it comes to Auburn, and the instability in the ranks of the program’s power brokers is something that must be addressed internally. Oh yeah, and their main blood rivals are Alabama and Georgia. Good luck with that.

There’s plenty of candidates that could be potentially roaming the sidelines of Jordan-Hare Stadium and we’ll go over some of them below. This is all just spitballing here, please do not come after me Auburn fans.

Auburn head coaching candidates

Mark Stoops

If Auburn wants to establish some consistency and stability, why not just poach one of the most successful current coaches in the SEC?

Mark Stoops officially claimed the title of the winningest head coach in Kentucky football history this season, establishing the Wildcats as a consistent winner in Lexington, KY. The program has reached unprecedented heights under his watch, including six straight bowl seasons and a few 10-win campaigns sprinkled in. But one has to wonder if Stoops is jonesing for a bigger challenge. After a very public beef with head basketball coach John Calipari in August, the campus might no longer be big enough for the both of them. And with Tennessee being a functioning program again, it might be time for the veteran coach to cash out.

Deion Sanders

With more FBS head coaching jobs coming open, Coach Prime’s name continues to be brought up in media circles as a potential candidate to make the jump. And we’ll do the same.

Sanders’ stint at Jackson State has been a success. As of this writing, he is 23-5 at the HBCU power and the 2022 Tigers are currently 8-0 with a chance to run the table in the SWAC. Prime making a jump to an SEC power like Auburn would generate tons of attention and intrigue, on top of him being the first African American head football coach on the Plains. However, there is the major question of whether or not he’d be able to translate his success at JSU to the most competitive conference in he country. As is always the case with Sanders, a potential run at Auburn would be entertaining to say the least.

Lane Kiffin

Things worked out well for Auburn the last time they poached a head coach from SEC West foe Ole Miss. So why not do it again?

For all of the memes and trolling that has been associated with Kiffin, he has quietly proven to be a stable force for programs. He won two Conference USA championships in his three years at FAU and has stabilized Ole Miss in the aftermath of the NCAA sanctions from the Hugh Freeze era. He led the Rebels to a 10-win season and a Sugar Bowl appearance last season and they’ve only lost once in 2022. It’s often been speculated that Kiffin is looking to move on from Oxford, MS, for a bigger job and this would certainly be a step up.

Bill Clark

Pulling Clark out of his recent retirement wouldn’t be a sexy move, but it would make sense.

The former UAB head coach is an Alabama native and has the bonafides of being an Alabama high school football coaching legend. From 1999-2007, he won multiple state championships at Prattville High School, which is a Montgomery suburb just an hour away from Auburn. Of course, Clark is best known for helping resurrect UAB after the program went on a multi-year hiatus. He led the Dragons to five straight bowl appearances and two Conference USA titles before stepping down this past offseason.

Dan Mullen

The news of Harsin’s firing coincided with Auburn tapping Mississippi State athletic director John Cohen to fill its AD vacancy. So how about a reunion between him and former MSU head coach Dan Mullen?

After being let go by Florida following last season, Mullen has spent his time as a college football analyst at ESPN (and doing a pretty good job in that role). He has immense experience and success coaching in the modern SEC, posting a 103-61 record through 13 combined seasons at Mississippi State and Florida. However, that stretch includes just one division title as Mullen’s teams always had a high floor but could never crack the ceiling of the SEC’s elite. He has also been criticized for relatively lackluster recruiting and a prickly personality behind the scenes. Still, SEC experience is SEC experience and we’ll see if he gets a phone call.

Urban Meyer

Any high-profile school searching for a new head coach has to be hearing Meyer’s name thrown around. He found success in the SEC back in the 2000s — albeit, breaking a lot of rules in the process — and if the powers that be at Auburn are willing to overlook quite a few negative reports from just about every coaching stint he’s had, everyone knows that Meyer can win in the NCAA. Is it worth the risk after a $15 million buyout of Harsin? That’s for new AD John Cohen to decide.

Matt Rhule

Rhule was the first NFL head coach to be fired from his position this season and many have speculated an immediate return to the college ranks for him.

Prior to his failed run with the Carolina Panthers, Rhule made a name for himself in the college ranks by fixing up historically moribund programs. First, he led Temple to back-to-back 10-win seasons for the first time in program history and secured the Owls just its second conference championship ever. Next, he took over a Baylor program that had been rocked by the heinous sexual assault scandal under former head coach Art Briles and had the Bears in the Sugar Bowl within three years. There’s a question over whether that would translate to Auburn, but Rhule’s name is worth looking out for over the next few weeks.

Kevin Steele

Let’s round this out with the alleged centerpiece of the aforementioned coup attempt.

A Tennessee grad, Steele has SEC bonafides as an assistant coach with previous stops at Alabama, Auburn, LSU, and his alma mater in Knoxville, TN. His only extended head coaching run was at Baylor from 1999-2002, where he posted a miserable 9-36 record. However, some of that could be chalked up to the poor state of Baylor’s program at the time and it’s unlikely that will be held against him two decades later. He is currently serving as the defensive coordinator under Mario Cristobal at Miami but one quick phone call by the boosters will have him back on the Plains in no time.