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NCAA Cloud Could Lead Auburn To Petrino: The Latest On AU’s Coaching Search

There once was a Led Zeppelin song called “The Song Remains The Same.”  Well, when it comes to coaching searches, the names remain the same.  From school to school and conference to conference.

Hi there, Jimbo Fisher.

Well, hello, Gary Patterson.

When you look at the lists for Tennessee, Arkansas and Auburn, there are plenty of similarities.  Arkansas and Auburn are reportedly interested in TCU’s Patterson.  Tennessee and Auburn are reportedly interested in Fisher.  Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart has had his name tied to both Tennessee and Auburn.  There’s been speculation about Arkansas State’s Gus Malzahn at both Arkansas and Auburn.

Last night, we worked the phones to get the latest skinny — as of last night around 7pm ET — on all three coaching searches in the SEC.  In speaking with an industry source as well as a source inside the Auburn athletic department, here’s what we’ve been able to piece together regarding the Tigers’ search:

 

1.  The biggest question marks for Auburn involve off-the-field issues.  First, the NCAA’s latest investigation into the school.  It had been reported that AU assistants Curtis Luper and Trooper Taylor had been pulled off the road before Gene Chizk and his staff — including Luper and Taylor — were fired.  But AuburnSports.com reported yesterday (behind a paywall) that Luper, Taylor and fellow assistant Tommy Thigpen had decided to continue to try and hold AU’s recruiting class together.  A nice gesture on their parts, but will the NCAA be happy with that?

2.  The three would not be allowed to make calls and try to hang onto recruits if AD Jay Jacobs felt there was a greater NCAA risk in letting them do so.  Jacobs’ sales job to a potential hire will have to be spot-on.  Allowing these three to handle recruiting matters in the interim suggests that he feels AU is not guilty of any major wrongdoing.  That will surely be his spin during the coaching search process.  Whether prospective coaches believe him or not will be an issue.

3.  One source told us that any coach looking at Auburn’s job should first call Lane Kiffin (Southern Cal), Al Golden (Miami), Larry Fedora (North Carolina) and Bill O’Brien (Penn State) to see if what they were told about possible NCAA sanctions during the hiring process actually meshed with what their programs actually, eventually received.  That answer is no, by the way.  A coach considering AU’s position will be aware of NCAA situation and all of those cases mentioned above.

4.  The other issue facing Jacobs during this search is his own job security.  He was on the hot seat at season’s end right along with Chizik.  Many fans, boosters, and even some board members wanted his head on a plate.  Whoever Auburn chases, Jacobs will have to convince that person that he’ll be Auburn’s AD for the long haul.  The potential for NCAA sanctions and for a new boss to take over will both make the Tiger job a bit tougher to sell.

5.  We asked one of our sources if there was also a “Nick Saban fear factor” at play.  Meaning: Who would want to be the #2 guy in the state to Saban?  The response we got back: “Saban won’t be at Alabama forever and there are plenty of ex-Sabanites who were more than willing to step into the SEC already.”  Derek Dooley, formerly of Tennessee, and Will Muschamp of Florida are the two obvious examples.

6.  We’ve been told that Fisher — an “ex-Sabanite” himself — is at the top of Auburn’s wish list.  As we reported a few weeks ago, his recruiting ties for Florida State mesh perfectly with those he’d need on the Plains: the Florida panhandle, southern Georgia, and southern Alabama.  Before the NCAA investigation story broke, we’d been told that Fisher would prefer Auburn’s job to Tennessee’s due to the recruiting base.  But how much will the NCAA cloud hanging over AU impact his thinking?  Also, he’s not believed to be pleased with the administration at FSU.  Would he feel comfortable going to work for Jacobs knowing that he might have a new boss sooner rather than later?

7.  Fisher’s agent, Jimmy Sexton, will most assuredly play Auburn, Tennessee and Florida State against one another to try and land the splashiest deal possible for his client.  Who would win that bidding war (if Fisher is seriously unhappy in Tallahassee)?  Easy answer: Fisher and Sexton.

8.  TCU’s Patterson said this week that “When someone calls, you should always listen because it’s the right thing to do.  But I’ve been at TCU for 15 years now, and I’ve always let that fact speak for itself.”  In other words, Patterson and his agent, George Bass, would chat with Auburn.  But the industry source we spoke to indicated that if Patterson were to leave TCU, Arkansas would probably make the most sense right now because the Hogs have cash to burn and no NCAA officials snooping around.  That said, it appears that he’s already balked at the Razorbacks deal.  Therefore, we believe he’d be a real long shot to land at Auburn.  In fact, we think it’s more likely he’d change his mind and actually move to Fayetteville before moving to the Plains.

9.  Whoever takes over at Auburn will need to know the lay of the land.  That points to Malzahn and Smart.  Malzahn served as Chizik’s offensive coordinator for three seasons and won a BCS championship ring in 2010.  He’s only been a head coach for one season at Arkansas State, but he knows the AU family and they know him.  Smart, on the other hand, knows the state and he knows the enemy.  It’s difficult to picture Auburn grabbing an ex-Bama assistant, but Pat Dye once served under Paul “Bear” Bryant.  Of course, Dye had also moved on and become a head coach at East Carolina and Wyoming before taking the reins on the Plains.  Of these two prospects, Malzahn seems to make the most sense.

10.  Another factor in all of this is the three-man committee Jacobs will lean upon during “his” search.  Ex-Tigers Bo Jackson, Pat Sullivan, and Mac Crawford will assist in finding the right man for the job.  As listed above, that won’t be easy due to the dynamics currently at play.  If they have trouble finding the right coach who will actually yes, might they get desperate?

11.  The industry source we spoke to said that Auburn and ex-Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino — himself a former AU aide — appear destined to partner up at this point.  For weeks, we heard the name Petrino batted about when we spoke with Auburn folks.  But just like everywhere else, there’s a real split when it comes to the coach who lost his last job in scandal.  Some in the AU athletic family believe the coach is a winner and his past troubles should be forgiven.  Others just plain don’t trust him.

12.  As we’ve written previously, Petrino longs for another shot in the SEC.  His father has actually admitted that to the media.  Petrino’s agent has reached out to officials at Auburn, Kentucky (who hired Mark Stoops yesterday) and Tennessee from what we’ve been told.  The Tigers — if they can’t lure in someone else under the current circumstances — could sign Petrino to an ironclad deal that would lock him to Auburn with a high-priced escape clause.  He’d sign such a deal if given the chance.  NCAA issues or not.  An AD on the hot seat or not.  Petrino wants back in and Auburn might find itself desperate enough to take him.

13.  So ironically — if the mess at Auburn prevents the school from landing a big name coach — the Tigers could actually land the best available coach completely by default.  That’s if Jacobs, Jackson, Sullivan, Crawford and the rest of the AU family can hold their nose and hand Petrino a contract.  Hey, Charles Barkley’s OK with it.

 


14 comments
Nashvegas007
Nashvegas007

Two Questions for everyone. 1.  Can any Malzahn supporer for Auburn help rationalize his terrible year in 2011 (#105 in Total offense or something).  2010 the nod goes to Cam.  2009 AU offense was Top 15, but I am not sure #105 and #15 average out to what AU nation would want.  Thoughts?

 

2.  Why is Butch Davis not getting any attention?  He was not even around Miami when all of the wrong doing was happening, and he was absolved of any wrong doing at UNC.  I think we would be a great hire for any of the big 3 SEC schools.

phw63
phw63

fact check:

 

1. none of he assistants were fired.  Not only are they calling recruits, Trooper and Luper are on the road now.

2.  There is no NCAA issue.  If you would listen to Jacobs he told us that during Newton investigation and he has told us again. 

viciousdawg
viciousdawg like.author.displayName 1 Like

Wow John tick off the auburn faithful much? What you said is true but they don't like the truth. Keep up the good work Mr SEC

AllTideUp
AllTideUp

 @viciousdawg The Auburn folks have been in hiding across cyberspace for weeks now.  I guess they had to show up sooner or later.

RT77
RT77

Your sources either know NOTHING of what you supposedly say they know or you are a liar.  Any violations involving Memphis ARE secondary if the even exist at all. YOU could report factual info and not be a a Joe Schadd want to be flame thrower as you are.

badbadhoggie
badbadhoggie

 @RT77

 If they exist, the grade changing etc has been proven as a fact...and as far as looper and taylor lets just say they are know to recruit in the so called "grey area" and its no secret....

RT77
RT77

I used to think this site was informational.  After reading your take on the SEC coaching searches its obvious that you read the same newspapers as the rest of us and simply add a few guesses along with throwing a dart or two in order to write this column.  The Auburn job is far more desirable than the Arky job as a result of many variables, not the least of which are financial resources, facilities, geographical recruiting base, and rich tradition.  There are no pending NCAA penalties.  For God's sake, there hasn't even been a LOI sent to Auburn involving anything.  Not long ago you guys were reporting on the doom and gloom forthcoming with the "bagman" and Cam Newton's Dad.  The NCAA interviewed close to 100 people and searched for 9 months through financial records and found that entire story to have been nothing but fantasy.  You all want to play go fish again i see/.

badbadhoggie
badbadhoggie

 @RT77

 Auburn does have a definate recruiting advantage and a slightly better tradition, but as far as financial resourses and facilities Ark easily matches and probably has better overall facilities than au at the moment...

docaggie
docaggie

I didn't think a SEC head coaching vacancy could look like more of a dumpster fire than the one at Arkansas.  But thanks to the NCAA investigation at Auburn, Arkansas has been relieved of that crown.

VAHogBrown
VAHogBrown

 @docaggie  Of the remaining open SEC coaching vacancies, Arkansas actually has to look the best.  Unlike Auburn or Tennessee, the team is removed from an 11-2 record by just a year.  One would hope, barring Petrino's penchant for aiming for lower ranked recruiting classes that there's a lot of potential waiting to be molded into a Top 15 / Top 10 team.  That is, the likelihood of a new coach coming in and doing well quickly enough to satisfy fans is higher at Arkansas.  Auburn fired its National Championship coach after just two years, Tennessee is a wreck of NCAA violations from the Kiffen era, running low on money, and there's no very recent successful season to point to as reassurance of the players' quality.   Far from being a dumpster fire, it's a nice cozy spot by the fireplace with a glass of the drinker's choice.

Crimson_4_Life
Crimson_4_Life

@MrSEC I'm the end Trooper will be Auburn's new head coach.

sojourner
sojourner

its nice to hear from patterson "that you always listen" to a serious offer.  three years ago our a.d. (mike hamilton) couldn't get the time of day from any coach on everyone's short list.  hence the boy with the orange pants and famous daddy.

Holtbru
Holtbru

Thank You John for this information........BRUCE

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