That was the sound of the first proverbial sonic boom of the 2020-21 coaching carousel, as Auburn moved Sunday to part ways with long-time head coach Gus Malzahn.
And the move, inside of athletics director Allen Greene’s third full year on the Plains, carries with it one of the largest price-tags in recent college football history: a more than $20 million charge on the Auburn budget.
Oh, and this is important to note: Malzahn’s pact includes no mitigation and no offset language. Malzahn gets $21.45 million, to be precise.
Malzahn gets 50% within 30 days of today – $10.725 million – for his dismissal.
Where does Auburn go?
One prominent industry source on Sunday told FootballScoop.com, “They have to get a big name.” He then followed up as many others did in conversations, when he noted how much Auburn was set to pay Malzahn not to be his coach.
So, look for this job to attract the deepest pool of candidates – those real and those who might be dreaming – as soon as possible.
Steve Sarkisian, Alabama offensive coordinator. He won at a fairly decent clip as a head coach in PAC-12 at both Southern Cal and Washington, was a successful NFL play-caller and now has fully rebooted his career in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, as visionary of an Alabama offensive set school and SEC records and threatening national marks as well.
Sarkisian had been a top candidate at Arizona when it moved over the weekend to fire Kevin Sumlin, but the Wildcats have now found somewhat-unexpected competition from Auburn.
Hugh Freeze, Liberty. Check the record: Freeze is a fabulous winner at every single stop along his career arc, from high school to college football’s lowest levels to Ole Miss and now Liberty, an incredible winner already in Freeze’s two years atop the Flames’ program.
Freeze owns what no other current SEC does: multiple wins (and in consecutive fashion) against Saban in the regular season. Freeze’s Rebels at Ole Miss defeated Saban twice in a row, nearly claimed a third-straight win in the series and also pumped numerous players into the NFL.
Yes, Freeze’s tenure at Ole Miss flamed out but it’s important to note: Freeze got only a one-year penalty from the NCAA while current Auburn basketball coach Bruce Pearl had been hammered with a three-year show-cause penalty.
Sure, the SEC had Mike Slive and not Greg Sankey as commissioner at the time Pearl returned into the league – but Sankey already was Slive’s top lieutenant.
“The SEC cannot block a school that wants to hire Huge Freeze,” said a prominent college athletics veteran who presently works with multiple SEC athletics departments.
Freeze has been eyed as a coveted candidate at Tennessee, should the Volunteers move to part ways with third-year coach Jeremy Pruitt. The Vols on Saturday snapped a six-game, double-digit losing streak that set the benchmark for the worst such skid in the program’s nearly 125-year history. Pruitt’s tenure also has been dotted by an incredible volume of staff turnover.
One source said, “I can’t see them going NFL; can’t risk it not working and can’t afford to wait around until January to make a hire.”
Josh Heupel, Central Florida head coach. Heupel has sustained success at Central Florida, even as Scott Frost has left and struggled in his rebuild at Nebraska. Meanwhile, Heupel, a Heisman Trophy runner-up at Oklahoma, engineers an exciting brand of offense, has strong recruiting ties throughout Florida and, again, has the potential to put fans in the seat with an exciting brand of football. That’s key as Alabama not only dominates in-state (and college football in general), but now Alabama does so in incredibly explosive fashion on offense.
Billy Napier, Louisiana head coach. He very likely could have had an SEC job already – most notably South Carolina, which made Napier its first interview last month after it fired Will Muschamp. Napier’s star has continued to ascend and the Cajuns have made incredible commitment to keep him. But Napier should be a factor at Auburn.
Mario Cristobal has been mentioned as a potential candidate. Mario reportedly would come with a nearly $8 million cost to buy out of his contract at Oregon. Good football coach, steep price tag. Note, Cristobal’s buyout reportedly reduces to $5 million on January 1st.
As always, stay tuned to The Scoop for the latest coaching news.