AUBURN — Coaching search season arrived early for Auburn football.
AU is seeking a replacement for Bryan Harsin, who didn't last two full seasons in one of the most pressure-packed jobs in college football. Patience is minimal, boosters are monolithic and the schedule is mortifying. Harsin was fired Monday.
Still, Auburn possesses the proven quality of a national championship ceiling, which not every SEC school can say. Who will take on the task of reviving the program? Here are 13 early suggestions.
Auburn football coaching search: 13 candidates to replace fired Bryan Harsin
Lane Kiffin, Ole Miss
Maybe not the most likely candidate, but first on our list because of his track record in making Ole Miss relevant on the national scene. After building a successful program at Ole Miss, why wouldn't Kiffin be compelled by the chance to coach somewhere with a higher ceiling − and a chance to beat Nick Saban in a rivalry game?
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Jeff Grimes, Baylor offensive coordinator
He already has a national championship ring as a token of his four years coaching Gene Chizik's Auburn offensive line. Now he's an esteemed offensive coordinator who has been named one of five finalists for the Frank Broyles Award honoring college football's best assistant coach two consecutive years for his play-calling at two different schools (Baylor and BYU). Grimes led Baylor to 5.37 yards per rushing attempt last year, No. 10 nationally.
Mike Leach, Mississippi State
John Cohen, who resigned as athletics director at Mississippi State, is expected to be named Auburn's new AD. In fact, the firing of Harsin came on the heels of reports that Cohen was heading to Auburn. Cohen hired the enigmatic Leach at Mississippi State, and he's gone 16-16 midway through his third season after a 4-7 start. Leach, however, did well at Texas Tech and Washington State, two programs where it's hard to win. Could Cohen bring Leach with him?
Travis Williams, UCF defensive coordinator
Gus Malzahn's defensive coordinator at UCF was also a key member of his Auburn staff from 2014-20. Williams also has a 2010 championship ring for his help as a graduate assistant. The former Tigers linebacker (2001-05) is a reputed recruiter.
Mark Stoops, Kentucky
Another current SEC head coach worth feeling out. Would Stoops leave the comfort of his Kentucky throne, where he has turned one of the most low-stakes jobs in the league into one of its longest and most successful tenures? Probably not, especially for the Auburn pressure cooker that runs on booster adrenaline. Not to mention Kentucky is giving him $6.75 million this year (way more than Harsin's salary), and he's set to reach $8 million in 2027.
Deion Sanders, Jackson State
Sanders said Saturday on "College GameDay" in Jackson, Mississippi, that he will entertain other job offers, and it seems inevitable that it will be in the Power Five. The Jackson State coach would be a high-risk, potentially high-reward swing. The obstacle for Auburn: If Sanders is your coach, it's on his terms, not yours. The obstacle for Sanders: He would have to break his Aflac peace treaty with Saban.
Kevin Steele, Miami defensive coordinator
Now for the complete opposite of Sanders: the institutionally groomed former defensive coordinator who understands what Auburn is. Many felt he was supposed to get this job in 2020. But Allen Greene went off script, and here we are. Steele might be enjoying his honeymoon phase in Miami too much.
Hugh Freeze, Liberty
There's just no stopping Freeze's name from getting thrown around, no matter how many times he gets in his own way. He's winning at Liberty. The proponents like to think of him as the football equivalent of a Bruce Pearl hire, with all the good and baggage that entails. Reports emerged last week that Freeze has agreed to terms with Liberty on a long-term, fully guaranteed extension, but it's not known if he has signed that deal.
Matt Campbell, Iowa State
A nationwide hot board fixture for years. Campbell even reportedly interviewed with the Detroit Lions at one point but was never offered the job. What would it take to tear him away from Iowa State, where he has been since 2016?
Matt Rhule, most recently Carolina Panthers
Rhule's NFL career never got off the ground, as he only managed an 11-27 record in two-plus years with the Panthers. But he's a proven program-builder at the college level, having overseen eight- and 10-win improvements within three years at Temple and Baylor, respectively.
Charles Huff, Marshall
After the colossal failure of the Harsin experiment, it seems unlikely that Auburn would go again in the direction of an emergent Group of Five coach. But aside from toppling Notre Dame at Marshall, Huff does have the distinction of SEC experience as an associate head coach and run game coordinator at Alabama and Mississippi State.
Todd Monken, Georgia OC
After arriving at Georgia with years of NFL experience, his next trick was making Stetson Bennett into a hometown hero. Once upon a time, Monken coached with Brian Kelly at Grand Valley State. That would make for intriguing Auburn-LSU matchups. Perhaps Monken could also reel in Dell McGee, an Auburn alum and Georgia run game coordinator, to his staff. There was buzz surrounding McGee last year for Harsin's offensive coordinator opening.
Bobby Petrino, Missouri State
Don't look now, but Petrino has an FCS school playing competitive football. Missouri State led his former team by double digits in the fourth quarter before crashing in Arkansas. Petrino would get an annual opportunity for redemption if he came to Auburn.
This article originally appeared on Montgomery Advertiser: Auburn football coaching search: 13 candidates to replace Bryan Harsin