Hayes: The Plains truth: Who in their right mind wants this Auburn job?
We have to look at the next Auburn football coach from a position of want.
More specifically: Who in their right mind wants the job?
Or as one Power 5 coach texted me earlier Monday, “If I know it’s my last job and I’m looking for a cash grab, sure. But no one willingly walks into that thing.”
He’s not the only coach with those feelings.
The job has become toxic since fat cat Auburn boosters tried last offseason to force out coach Bryan Harsin after Year 1 — and took it to a disturbing level with reckless social media plants aimed to destroy his family.
The coaching fraternity took notice of the depth and breadth those with money and power at Auburn were willing to reach to fire a football coach. And now it’s all coming back to haunt them.
Because no matter the money and no matter the sales pitch, the Loveliest Village has a stain.
The worst thing that could’ve happened last year was the Auburn boosters failing to fire Harsin, and allowing him to swing in limbo as the victim for an entire offseason.
It allowed Harsin to strut into SEC Media Days in July with his back bowed and proclaim that the coup failed. It underscored that for the first time, someone stood up to the bully boosters at Auburn and won — albeit temporarily.
Now Auburn has a big problem on its hands. Those same boosters who wanted 64-year-old Kevin Steele last year and didn’t get their wish will again want what they can’t have.
Auburn may get a young coordinator (Mississippi State DC Zach Arnett) or old-school throwback (Steele, now the Miami DC), or a former Power 5 coach desperate for a job (Dan Mullen).
They’re not getting Lane Kiffin.
They’re not getting James Franklin (another coach the AU boosters wanted) or Matt Rhule or PJ Fleck or Dave Aranda or any other no-nonsense, successful coach to clean up a mess.
Ole Miss will not only pay Kiffin whatever he wants, it’s a better job than Auburn. NIL and the transfer portal is the tide that has lifted all boats, and Kiffin has a firm handle on where it’s headed in Oxford.
Franklin won big at the most difficult spot in the SEC (Vanderbilt), with all of that heavy lifting and constant pushback that Vandy couldn’t be a football school. And that job is still less stressful than Auburn.
Rhule took the Baylor job after the program and university were engulfed by sexual assault allegations, and won 11 games by Year 3. He went 1-11 in his first season at Baylor and would never make it to Year 3 at Auburn if his first season included 11 losses.
If Aranda is coming back to the SEC, he’s not changing everything about him as a person, and what he preaches and believes, to hitch his wagon to Auburn.
Look, Billy Napier turned down Auburn 2 years ago to spend another season at Group of 5 Louisiana.
“I had opportunities at other schools,” Napier told me this summer. “But the alignment in every instance wasn’t right.”
Translation: Those who should have power don’t, and everyone isn’t on the same page, working together, with the same central focus of how to run a successful program.
So where does Auburn go? It won’t hurt to take a run at Urban Meyer, who is good for at least one more job in college football. Might even be able to keep him invested for more than a few years with the right contract and a fully-funded NIL.
The next coach at Auburn must be an elite recruiter. He must be charismatic and energetic, and he must be a high-level competitor, motivator and organizer.
Mullen would be a disaster. Steele would be worse.
The best fit for Auburn — the only fit for Auburn — is Liberty coach Hugh Freeze.
He has a history of winning in the SEC at Ole Miss, and going head-to-head with the behemoth that is Alabama coach Nick Saban — and winning twice.
He was fired at Ole Miss because of NCAA violations and “personal failings.” The violations — paying players — are no longer an issue with NIL (and the looming pay-for-play), and is Auburn really the first to cast the stone of personal failings?
Freeze just signed a multi-year extension with Liberty through 2030, one that will pay him $5 million per. Auburn could double that if need be.
The only question: Is Freeze, who is happy and healthy at Liberty, ready to jump back into the meatgrinder that is the SEC — and right into the biggest unknown of all at Auburn?
More specifically: Why in his right mind would he want the job?