Kerryon Johnson is not pleased over how the Auburn Tigers parted ways with Gus Malzahn.
The Auburn Tigers terminated longtime head coach Gus Malzahn after eight seasons over a week ago, bringing an Auburn legend like Detroit Lions running back Kerryon Johnson to question his school’s decision-making process over firing its successful head coach.
Malzahn was let go after going 6-4 in a 10-game, SEC-only schedule. Three of the Tigers’ four losses were to three of the top 10 teams in the country: Alabama, Georgia and Texas A&M. Though Auburn never won 10 games in back-to-back seasons under Malzahn, the Tigers won the SEC West twice in 2013 and 2017, coming up one play short of winning it all vs. Florida State.
What on Planet Earth is going on with the Auburn head coaching search?
Initially, the idea behind Auburn firing Malzahn was that it had a strong head-coaching candidate in mind. That guy was thought to be former Ole Miss Rebels and current Liberty Flames head coach Hugh Freeze. While Freeze would have been the best candidate Auburn could have hired, he is no longer a candidate, possibly over his Arkansas State Red Wolves connection. . .with Malzahn.
Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns head coach Billy Napier was a top candidate for this gig as well, but the former Nick Saban disciple with the Alabama Crimson Tide likes what he is building in the Sun Belt at his emerging Group of 5 power house. There is also the possibility that Auburn removes the interim tag from defensive coordinator Kevin Steele and promotes from within to a full-time role.
Steele is a phenomenal coordinator, a great recruiter and beloved by many of the Auburn faithful, but that is contingent on what he is. . .as a coordinator. This is a guy who won a single Big 12 game nearly two decades ago in his initial run as a head coach with the Baylor Bears. Of course, there are a few candidates Auburn may still go after. Let’s just hope Auburn finds its guy before too long.
If you think Lane Kiffin will leave Ole Miss for a team within the SEC West after one season, you are out of your mind. Then again, he did leave the Tennessee Volunteers after one season on the job in 2009 for the USC Trojans. A few years later, he was famously fired on the tarmac. Kiffin has too much positive momentum in Oxford to ruin his entire coaching reputation yet again right now.
So who could Auburn hire to replace Malzahn? Besides Steele, perhaps either Clemson Tigers coordinator in Tony Elliott or Brent Venables could work? What about Alabama Crimson Tide offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian? How about UAB Blazers head coach Bill Clark or West Virginia Mountaineers head coach Neal Brown, who previously crushed it with the Troy Trojans?
Ultimately, Johnson is giving us the tried and true cliche of be careful what you wish for here. Auburn is a top-15 program in the country and will occasionally beat rivals Alabama and Georgia in the same season to win the SEC West and get to Atlanta. If a blue-blood job like this is going to fire a head coach, you should have your replacement in the bag. This is getting worse by the hour.
Auburn has not been the same since Johnson was their star tailback three seasons ago.