- After finishing 6-4 during the regular season, Auburn fired head coach Gus Malzahn
- Liberty head coach Hugh Freeze holds the highest odds to replace him at +250, followed by Louisiana’s Billy Napier (+300)
- Have a complete look at the candidates and their odds below
Gus Malzahn gave the Auburn program some good memories during his run as head coach, but after wrapping up a frustrating 6-4 season, the Tigers chose to part ways with him on Sunday.
Malzahn was hired ahead of the 2013 season and finished at Auburn with a 68-35 record. Reaction to his dismissal widely suggested that the Tigers’ offensive production in recent seasons has been a disappointment. Malzahn tried to address that by hiring former SMU and Arkansas head coach Chad Morris as offensive coordinator and signing five-star quarterback Bo Nix in 2019.
Odds have since been posted on his likely replacement, and the list of candidates features one of the deeper fields in recent memory. Auburn owes Malzahn more than $27 million dollars to show him the door, so perhaps there is value in considering Auburn’s more cost-efficient options.
Odds to Become Next Auburn Head Coach
|Coach, Current School||Odds|
|Hugh Freeze, Liberty||+250|
|Billy Napier, Louisiana||+300|
|Mario Cristobal, Oregon||+300|
|Kevin Steele, Auburn||+600|
|Bill Clark, UAB||+1000|
|Brent Venables, Clemson||+1200|
|Jamey Chadwell, Coastal Carolina||+1400|
|Matt Campbell, Iowa State||+1400|
|Steve Sarkisian, Alabama||+1400|
|Tony Elliott, Clemson||+1600|
|Mark Stoops, Kentucky||+1600|
|Dave Doeren, NC State||+2200|
|James Franklin, Penn State||+2200|
|Luke Fickell, Cincinnati||+2200|
|Neal Brown, West Virginia||+2200|
Odds as of Dec. 14th
Examining the Top Choices
The odds begin with Hugh Freeze, who was cast from Ole Miss in 2017 following his moral and recruiting indiscretions as Rebels’ head coach. Now, clear of the resulting NCAA penalties, he has turned Liberty into one of college football’s strongest independent football programs.
At Ole Miss, he inherited a team that won two games in 2011, but he turned the Rebels into a nine-win team by 2014. Freeze won ten games the following season and finished with a 3-1 record in bowl games.
If Hugh Freeze leaves Liberty, former Baylor coach Art Briles would be a leading candidate to replace Freeze, sources told @Stadium
— Brett McMurphy (@Brett_McMurphy) December 13, 2020
Liberty has played one of the nation’s softest schedules, but has been a top-20 scoring offense. The Flames offense is also among the country’s best in plays per game, time of possession, and yards per play.
For the time being, Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele has been named interim head coach. His potential to carry on in the role is twofold: Does Auburn choose to take on more of an expense in letting Steele, and likely the rest of the coaching staff? Also, what is his potential to keep current players from throwing their names into the transfer portal while maintaining established relationships with recruits?
This year, the Tigers defense suffered from not finding quality replacements for the top defenders lost from last year’s team. Two decades ago, Steele was Baylor’s head coach for four seasons, but the Bears never won more than three games in a single season with him at the helm.
Interesting Alternate Candidates
The third man up, Mario Cristobal, is the current head coach at Oregon and a former assistant at Alabama.
Without a top-end QB and numerous defensive starters opting-out this season, the Ducks have taken a step back this season. Although he spent time in Tuscaloosa, his recruiting ties don’t lie heavily in the deep south, and Auburn should be looking to win the prospects in its own state.
Louisiana’s Billy Napier just signed a contract extension ahead of this season, but his stock is as high as it’s ever been right now, and he should take an offer from Auburn if he gets one. The same could be said for Coastal Carolina’s Jamey Chadwell, who has a much lower buyout figure.
What a year it’s been, @Lane_Kiffin. pic.twitter.com/YGk7gEq60t
— Ole Miss Football (@OleMissFB) December 7, 2020
Current Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin is a mysterious omission from the list. After reviving optimism for the Rebels this season, he doesn’t have a reported buyout in his contract and is a fun foil to Nick Saban, given their history.
UAB’s Bill Clark actually has one of the highest buyout numbers on this list, but his relationships with players and coaches in Alabama make him someone that has to be seriously discussed.
Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops has been resourceful, but doesn’t have much of a resumé when it comes to offensive success. Iowa State’s Matt Campbell had been floated as a top candidate for recent openings at Ohio State, Missouri, and Arkansas over the past few seasons, but his stomping grounds lie in the midwest, not the deep south.
Penn State has won its last three games, but this has been a disastrous season for the Nittany Lions. James Franklin’s first priority should be to finish with a dominating performance against Illinois, which would likely get him a pass until early next year. Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian seems better off continuing at Alabama after stabilizing his career with Nick Saban.