NFL

Auburn’s 7 best coaching candidates to replace Gus Malzahn, starting with Hugh Freeze

Auburn parted ways with Gus Malzahn on Sunday, abruptly ending the coach’s eight-year tenure with the program.

The Tigers slipped to 6-4 season, which continued a trend of year-to-year ups and downs under Malzhan. He finishes with a 68-35 record, and he led Auburn to the BCS championship game and a SEC championship in 2013.

The Tigers were just 39-26 in SEC play. Malzahn did win three Iron Bowls in eight tries, but the program is moving in a different direction.

Who are the best candidates to replace Malzahn? Let’s break down where Auburn could turn in its head coaching search.

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Auburn coaching candidates

Hugh Freeze, Liberty head coach

Freeze is the most interesting candidate on the board. He had a 39-25 record at Ole Miss from 2012-16, and that included back-to-back victories against Alabama from 2015-16. The Rebels, however, vacated 25 of those victories and were handed heavy sanctions from the NCAA. Would the SEC approve of this hire? Freeze can coach — and a 17-6 record at Liberty the last two seasons is proof the offensive scheme still works. The Flames averaged 38.3 points per game in just their third season in the FBS.

Bill Clark, UAB head coach

Clark checks a lot of boxes: He resurrected the UAB football program in remarkable fashion and has ties all over Alabama from his days as a high school coach. Clark was SN’s choice for Coach of the Year in 2018. The Blazers are 25-13 the past three seasons, but that includes a 16-4 record in Conference USA play. Clark would be a big splash hire, but he is one of the better candidates for the job.

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Matt Campbell, Iowa State head coach

Campbell is the hottest name on this year’s wish list, and his value has peaked after leading Iowa State to the Big 12 championship game. Campbell is a young, energetic coach who has led the Cyclones to a 3-2 record against Oklahoma and Texas the last two seasons. He has done more with less, but this job comes with much higher expectations. It also might remind Auburn fans of Gene Chizik, a former Iowa State coach who led the Tigers to their last national championship in 2010 before bottoming out two seasons later.

Billy Napier, Louisiana head coach

Napier, 41, will also be a popular name on this job search. He had stints as an assistant at Clemson and Alabama before taking over at Louisiana, and the Ragin’ Cajuns have emerged as a Sun Belt power the last two seasons. Napier is 27-11 the last three seasons, and is one of three former Nick Saban assistants the Tigers should look at. He is also the easiest one to get.


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Steve Sarkisian, Alabama offensive coordinator

Sarkisian has a 47-35 record as a head coach, and he picked up a win against Auburn in the Iron Bowl this season after Saban tested positive for COVID-19. Sarkisian has recovered from personal issues that led to his dismissal at USC, and he has shown he is ready for a big-time job again. Is Auburn the right fit for Sark?

Mario Cristobal, Oregon head coach

Cristobal is yet another former Saban assistant who has recruited well throughout his stint at Oregon. The Ducks are 24-9 since he took over, including a Pac-12 championship and Rose Bowl victory in 2019. But 2020 was a missed opportunity with two losses in a shortened season. Cristobal is a good value pick, but is that a long-term solution for the program?

Tony Elliott, Clemson offensive coordinator

Elliott’s name turns up this time of year all the time; perhaps the longtime Clemson assistant will finally leave one of the nation’s best programs. Elliott has worked with elite quarterbacks for the past decade such as Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence — the same quarterbacks who beat Alabama in the College Football Playoff championship game. Elliott is a former Clemson player, and would not be easy to get. Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables would be a popular name too, but Elliott might be the better choice for this job.

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