Bryan Harsin’s replacement at Auburn? Lane Kiffin, Hugh Freeze names to watch
As long-awaited, Bryan Harsin didn’t make it out of Year 2 at Auburn. That Tigers fired former Boise State coach who just never fitted in well and didn’t have the support of almost everyone who was important there. In addition, and mainly because of these two things, recruit at maroon was in a terrible state. The good news is that Auburn has some very interesting options and will attract some great coaches. Eventually, Gene Chizik won a national title there and his successor Gus Malzahn brought the Tigers to the brink of another.
Lane Kiffin, Ole Miss head coach
The biggest name to watch is currently working at the SEC West. It’s Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin, Nick Saban’s former OC, who is 18-4 with the rebels the last two seasons and 10-3 in the SEC. His team is No. 11 in the country. He’s one of the better offensive heads in college football. He’s also proven adept at using social media and knows how to build enthusiasm, like the one that gave the rebels a lot of momentum. When Kiffin left Tuscaloosa, there was much skepticism about trusting him to run his own program, but hiring him proved a very wise gamble Florida Atlantic, who went 26-13 in his three seasons. Rumor has it that Kiffin was interested in the job two years ago when Harsin got it. Of the three biggest names in the game, he might feel like the safest and most attractive option for the Tiger brokers.
hugh freeze, freedom head coach
Former Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze left the SEC amid scandal, but no one doubts his sharp offensive mind and he knows how to recruit in the SEC. Freeze led the Rebels into the top 10, beating Nick Saban Alabama team twice. He reappeared at Liberty and is 33-12 overall. There have been rumors that SEC chief Greg Sankey is opposed to one of his programs hiring Freeze as head coach. Freeze is still a very polarizing figure, but if Auburn hired him, he’d have the Tigers back in the top 20 before long.
Deion Sanders, Jackson State head coach
The biggest wild card in this quest is also a head coach in the Deep South, but he runs an FCS program: Jackson State’s Deion Sanders.
The 55-year-old is 19-2 over the last two seasons and was honored with the Eddie Robinson Award for Best FCS Head Coach of the Season in 2021. He improved that roster dramatically, landing big-name recruits who probably never thought of going to Jackson State. Last December, Sanders pulled off a massive recruiting coup, beating everyone, including his alma mater, for Travis Hunter, the nation’s No. 1 recruit. Undoubtedly, Sanders would be a major force in recruiting. Nobody is as present as he is. The guy is Saban’s co-star in all those Aflac commercials and got caught up in that NIL dust between the Alabama head coach and Jimbo Fisher. Sanders was the only one of the three who probably didn’t look bad or need to apologize. We’ve heard mixed reactions about whether Auburn Brass would be okay with Sanders taking over. The feeling here is that the Tigers would be foolish not to seriously consider him to see if it seems like a good fit.
Matt Rhule, former head coach of the Carolina Panthers
Former Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule is expected to be considered. He fought in the NFL but did a very good job at Temple and did a great job on the overhaul Baylor. In the temple that owls went from 2-10 to 20-7 in his last two seasons. He then turned down Oregon for the Baylor job, turning a one-win team into an 11-3 two seasons later. He is a recognized expert in evaluation and development. The downside: The Pennsylvania native has never worked at the SEC, and after the way Harsin flopped at Auburn, it’s likely going to be hard for people to get past.
Mark Stoops, Kentucky head coach
Kentucky coach Mark Stoops knows how to win in the SEC. He’s had two 10-win seasons in the last four seasons, and in Kentucky, that’s a remarkable feat. That wildcats had just one 10-win season in the last 65 years. Kentucky is 5-3 so far, which has felt a little disappointing given how much he’s raised expectations around the program. Would he leave Lexington for another job with the SEC, even though it’s one where, prior to Harsin, the last two coaches have either won or played for a national title? It might be hard to say no, but he feels comfortable enough in the UK where that might be the case.
Dan Lanning, Oregon head coach
Dan Lanning, 36, of Oregon, knows the SEC well from his time on the Alabama and Georgia staffs. He had a very good debut season in Oregon with a 7-1 run. A year, and that’s not even a full season, isn’t a lot of experience for a job like this. It’s probably too early for Auburn to make such a move.
(Photo by Lane Kiffin: Justin Ford / Getty Images)
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