Bryan Harsin Out: Potential Replacements at Auburn

by Connor Jackson
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After less than two years as head coach at Auburn, Bryan Harsin has been fired.

For the second time in two years, Auburn will begin a search for its next head football coach. Harsin was 9-12 with the Tigers in 21 games and 3-5 so far this season.

Here are some candidates, plus an outlook on the Auburn football program.

State of The Program

Auburn is a program with rich history and tradition. It is one of seven programs since 2010 to have won a national title, and its success goes back further generations. At their best, the Tigers are a yearly threat to Alabama in the SEC West.

However, the last few seasons have fallen well short of Auburn’s standards. Two head coaches in as many years is unheard of for some, but it is the sticky situation Auburn has found itself in.

Not to mention, Auburn has been viewed as a dysfunctional program with many sketchy things going on behind closed doors. This past offseason’s attempt to oust Harsin is the most recent proof of that.

In addition to history and tradition, Auburn has some of the best facilities and fanfare in the country. There is also a chance Auburn could be the best job that opens this offseason.

However, recent turmoil within the program vs. a lack of stability at the athletics director position puts Auburn in a tough spot. Also, it will be paying the buyouts of two head coaches.

Most Realistic Options

Hugh Freeze – Liberty Head Coach

Hugh Freeze is mentioned in practically every head coach opening, and for good reason. He has built Liberty into a respectable football program and developed quarterback Malik Willis into an early-round NFL draft pick. He also has ties to the SEC and had a good run at Ole Miss.

However, some of that success is certainly tainted. Freeze was fired from Ole Miss due to disorderly conduct, which is likely a reason major schools have been so hesitant on hiring him.

At some point, Freeze will get an opportunity. Would Auburn be willing to give it to him? Who knows?

If it does, Freeze would be up to the challenge. His signature could also come at a reasonable price.

Freeze would likely have interest in Auburn, but his past could be too much for the Tigers to take a chance on.

Jeff Grimes – Baylor Offensive Coordinator

Jeff Grimes has yet to be a head coach, but is a veteran coach who has had plenty of success. He also has ties to Auburn and the SEC. Grimes was the offensive line coach at Auburn during the 2010 national championship season.

Later, he would serve as offensive coordinators at BYU, where he helped turn Zach Wilson into one of the more prolific passers in recent history. Now at Baylor, he has worked alongside Dave Aranda and has the Bears as one of the premier programs in the Big 12.

Grimes would not be a flashy pick. At 53, he has no head coaching experience and is not a name that typically floats around among head coaching candidates. However, he has ties to Auburn and is one of the best offensive line coaches in the country; those things alone would have him in contention.

The next step in his career would be becoming a head coach. Auburn could potentially be his next stop.

Kevin Steele – Miami Defensive Coordinator 

As much as Auburn fans hate to admit it, Kevin Steele could absolutely be in play here. In fact, some believe the original plan after firing Gus Malzahn was to make Steele the head coach. That did not happen, and Auburn ultimately went with Harsin.

Currently at Miami, Steele is one of the most experienced coaches in football. He has spent time at numerous Power 5 schools as the defensive coordinator, including Auburn from 2016 to 2020. However, a 9-36 career record as head coach is certainly scary to take a chance on, especially in a 64-year-old coach. This would not be the popular choice among Auburn fans, but the fact of the matter is that it is indeed a possibility.

Long Shots 

Lane Kiffin – Ole Miss Head Coach

There is a good chance that Lane Kiffin and the other coaches under this category will be in play for the job. However, hiring coaches of this caliber is easier said than done; that is why they are listed as long shots.

Sources at Auburn all seem to be under the same consensus. Kiffin should and will be under some sort of consideration for the job. He is one of the best offensive minds in the game, almost immediately turned around a struggling Ole Miss program, and has found ways to win games in unique ways.

Kiffin seems to be settling in at Ole Miss, but there is reason to believe he would be interested in the Auburn job. Kiffin would have access to more resources at Auburn and would be closer than ever to Nick Saban.

Mark Stoops – Kentucky Head Coach

Mark Stoops has made it clear: He wants to be in Kentucky. A recent contract extension is proof of that. Still, at some point, Stoops could look to bet on himself and see what he can do at a bigger job.

In Lexington, Stoops has won at a level never before seen. 10 wins for Kentucky used to be a pipe dream. Now, it is starting to become the norm.

A combination of recruiting at a high level and good coordinator hires keeps the Kentucky program operating like a well-oiled machine. Could Stoops translate his success at Kentucky to a larger job like Auburn? Probably so.

However, the logistics behind this are not in Auburn’s favor. Stoops would be leaving a job with high security for one of the toughest jobs in the country. Unless Auburn hires away his athletics director, it is hard to see Stoops making that jump. His name will float around, however.

Other Names to Watch

Dell McGee – Georgia Running Backs Coach

McGee could be the next former Kirby Smart assistant to enter the head coaching ranks. He has solidified himself as one of the best recruiters in the country and has a long track record of success as an assistant.

Not only is Auburn his alma mater, but he also has deep recruiting ties to the area. For many reasons, McGee would be a good fit. With Geoff Collins out in Atlanta, McGee is also thought to be an early candidate for the Georgia Tech job.

Matt Rhule – Former Temple, Baylor and Carolina Panthers Head Coach

Could the former Baylor head coach return to the college ranks? It certainly seems like a strong possibility.

Rhule was considered a name to watch this past winter as someone who could replace Harsin. During his tenure in the NFL, things did not go particularly well. In less than three seasons with the Carolina Panthers, Rhule finished 11-27.

Featured image courtesy of Auburn athletics

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