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Forde-Yard Dash: Auburn's Coaching Search is Already Off to a Comical Start

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Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football, where hirings and firings and signing day and conference championships are all trying to coexist in the same week—which is not helping with Christmas shopping:

MORE DASH: Texas, Auburn DivergeEverything Florida Lost | Championship Week 

FOURTH QUARTER: THE AUBURN SEARCH IS ALREADY HILARIOUS

In the first 30 hours after Auburn fired Gus Malzahn (32), winner of two-thirds of his games and the only coach not named Nick Saban to capture the SEC West twice in the last decade, the athletic department has shown why it leads the nation in palace intrigue. (Make it barn intrigue, this being Auburn.)

Athletic director Allen Greene (33) sent a letter to donors Monday saying the search to replace Malzahn is underway. Lord only knows how many backseat drivers Greene will have for this ride. This has always been Empowered Booster Central, and it’s good to know some things don’t change.

One comment heard multiple times from industry sources Monday: “A lot of cooks in the kitchen.”

Another comment heard: “People are divided into camps.”

What a surprise.

Auburn has hired a search firm, Atlanta-based Parker Executive Search, and president Jay Gogue has formed a search committee. Those developments indicate that this will not be a fast process. But 247 Sports reported that Gogue is “being urged to move quickly.”

One camp likes Liberty coach Hugh Freeze, and one source says Freeze could get an interview this week. But another camp says Greene doesn’t want him because of the NCAA issues on Freeze’s watch at Mississippi and he will not be a candidate.

Auburn defensive coordinator and interim head coach Kevin Steele is a top candidate to replace Gus Malzahn

Another camp likes defensive coordinator Kevin Steele (34). That quickly gained traction Monday afternoon, and that also would be the Auburn-est hire imaginable. Would a school pay more than $21 million to buy out a coach only to hire his assistant? A guy who had a 9-36 record as a head coach at Baylor—including a 1-31 conference record? One school might.

This is actually an old page from the Auburn booster playbook. In the late 1990s, there were reports that boosters pushed out Terry Bowden in an attempt to get defensive coordinator Bill “Brother” Oliver the job. Oliver was the interim after Bowden resigned during the 1998 season, but he only went 2-3 after taking over and the school hired Tommy Tuberville instead.

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Tuberville had the prescience to hire Bobby Petrino as his offensive coordinator in 2002, and after a strong season there Petrino got the head-coaching job at Louisville. Once again, boosters took a shine to someone other than their current coach—power broker Bobby Lowder flew the school president and athletic director to greater Louisville to interview Petrino behind Tuberville’s back before the ’03 Iron Bowl. When the plot was publicized, Auburn had to backtrack and keep Tubs.

In Steele, Auburn would theoretically be hoping for Ed Orgeron (35) lightning to strike twice. Orgeron got the head-coaching job at LSU after the school fired Les Miles and whiffed on Jimbo Fisher, despite misgivings after his failed head-coaching tenure at Mississippi. Orgeron, of course, wound up winning the 2019 national title in an all-time Second Act redemption story.

There could be another attraction to Steele—he’d come cheap, and there is no buyout to pay at another school. There was a flurry of speculation about Oregon coach Mario Cristobal (36), but his buyout was in the $8 million range. And, darn the luck, one problem with paying $21 million to get rid of a coach is that there may not be a stockpile of cash to buy out the next guy you want.

(Of course, Cristobal might simply have been playing the market to put some urgency into talks on an extension at Oregon. All the talk about the pandemic slowing down the spending in college football? Yeah, no.)

All of which is to say: who knows? Auburn is a good job and can land a good coach, as it has many times in the past. But this thing is off to a classic Auburn start, with everyone and no one in charge. One industry source summed it up this way Monday night: “The search firm doesn’t even know exactly where it stands.”

STAT OF THE WEEK

Wyoming (37) played six games this season. Wyoming threw 134 passes. Wyoming threw one touchdown pass.

The blessed moment came in the season opener, at the 13:13 mark of the fourth quarter against Nevada. That’s when Levi Williams connected with Gunner Gentry for a 22-yard score in a game the Cowboys would go on to lose in overtime, 37-34.

From that point on, Wyoming threw 116 more passes without one of them every ending in a completion that reached the end zone. In 2021, when passing offenses are omnipotent. Josh Allen is not walking through that door, Pokes fans.

COACH WHO EARNED HIS COMP CAR THIS WEEK

Greg Schiano (38), Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights’ overtime victory over Maryland Saturday left Schiano ecstatically chopping wood in the postgame locker room, surrounded by celebrating players, as Rutgers completed the best three-win season in recent memory. Taking over a tire fire, Schiano extinguished the flames and waved away the stench, rekindling the hope and fight of his previous tenure at the school. For the first time in a long time, the “R” on the helmet stands for Respectable.

COACH WHO SHOULD TAKE THE BUS TO WORK

Scott Frost (39), Nebraska. The Big Ten’s anti-Schiano is Frost, who in year three shows zero signs of being the savior he was supposed to be. The Cornhuskers fell to 2-5 by being trucked at home by a Minnesota team that was missing 33 players, perhaps a new long in a tenure that has really been one continuous walk in a ditch. Frost is now 11-20, and the program is worse than it’s been in 60 years.

POINT AFTER

The Dash kept it local this past week, which meant a new local beer to try. When thirsty in Louisville, grab any of the creative selections from Monnik Beer Co. (40), Try a Still Not Dead IPA Rye and thank The Dash later. 

MORE DASH: Texas, Auburn Diverge | Everything Florida Lost | Championship Week