Potential candidates for Auburn's DC job
Gus Malzahn awoke Monday morning beginning the search for Auburn’s fourth defensive coordinator in five years.
News of Ellis Johnson’s firing broke late Sunday afternoon, less than 24 hours after Auburn gave up a record 55 points to Alabama in the Iron Bowl.
Malzahn has a track record of hiring quickly, and a quick hire would benefit the Tigers. A new coordinator would have time to salvage defensive recruits, and perhaps attract new recruits, in addition to a chance to help coach in the bowl game.
Here are five names to mull, as compiled by AL.com, who spoke to sources close to the program. These five coaches are believed to be considered serious candidates for the opening.
Related: Gus Malzahn releases statement regarding the firing of Ellis Johnson
Will Muschamp, former Florida head coach
This is the hot name, and he has to be No. 1 on the candidates list. Will Muschamp spent two seasons as defensive coordinator under Tommy Tuberville. His Auburn defense topped the SEC in scoring defense in 2007 and ranked seventh nationally in 2006.
Could Muschamp sit out 2015? Some have talked about it. However, if he does decide to coach again in 2015, it will almost assuredly be in the SEC. Malzahn and director of athletics Jay Jacobs may have to outbid Texas A&M for Muschamp’s services, however.
The thought of a Muschamp-Malzahn combo should terrify the rest of the SEC, and it makes the most sense out of any of the candidates…almost too much sense.
Bo Pelini, former Nebraska head coach
Bo Pelini is an interesting target, because it’s unknown whether or not he’s interested in returning back to the coordinator level. The canned Nebraska coach is proven as an SEC defensive coordinator from his days at LSU, where his defenses ranked third nationally in all three of his seasons, which included a BCS national championship in 2007.
Pelini could take the Tommy Tuberville route and become a head coach at a lower FBS program, though it has been reported he’s interested in returning to the SEC.
The Malzahn-Pelini combo is also extremely attractive, but it’s not as attractive as the Malzhan-Muschamp tandem.
Manny Diaz, Louisiana Tech
Diaz could be the wildcard, but he could also be the best option. He possesses SEC experience, and has done a great job turning around the Louisiana Tech defense under Skip Holtz. His Bulldogs defense ranks 29th nationally in total defense in 2014, up from 63rd in 2013.
He struggled in two seasons at Texas toward the end of Mack Brown’s tenure, but had success as defensive coordinator at Mississippi State. His 2010 MSU defense allowed just 19.9 points per game and held Malzahn’s high-powered offense in check with Cam Newton in a 19-14 loss.
Diaz is a young, proven coach who has worked with offensive-minded coaches and done so successfully.
Dave Aranda, Wisconsin defensive coordinator
Aranda is an off-the-radar option, but if Malzahn is looking for someone with no SEC connections, it is believed the current Wisconsin defensive coordinator could get a look. His defense ranks second in the FBS in total defense allowing just 260.3 yards per game and fourth in scoring defense, giving up 16.8 points per game.
Charles Kelly, Florida State defensive coordinator
Kelly replaced the departed Jeremy Pruitt, in his first season as defensive coordinator at Florida State. He was on the defensive staff of Pruitt during last season’s national championship run. The Seminoles rank 27th overall in scoring defense and seventh in red zone defense.
Kelly is becoming a valuable commodity among the coaching ranks, but he also holds connections to Auburn and Malzahn. He played defensive back at Auburn under Pat Dye in the late 1980s and coached at Henderson State — Malzahn’s alma mater — in 1999.
Others: Could Auburn also look at Clemson DC Brent Venables? He has one of the top defenses in the country, and he’s also been linked to the Texas A&M job. Also, Memphis defensive coordinator Barry Odom is a potential target. Odom previously coached at Missouri, and has done a respectable job turning around the Memphis defense.