The writing is on the wall for Bryan Harsin at Auburn, to the point where Paul Finebaum is openly speculating about Hugh Freeze coming in from Liberty — after five years of SEC exile — to take the Tigers job.
There’s no use in disputing Finebaum, or his logic, that with the college coaching carousel done for this cycle and the question of getting “someone that the good ole boys are familiar with,” Freeze is the most likely replacement for Harsin if he’s fired.
What is disputable is the idea that Auburn needs to find a coach who fits a certain profile. Auburn has always stuck to that certain profile, and it’s gotten them Terry Bowden, Tommy Tuberville, Gene Chizik, Gus Malzahn, and Harsin — a series of mediocre men who each (except for Harsin) put together one brilliant season, but otherwise languished around three or four losses a year. Auburn hasn’t had a run of sustained success since Pat Dye coached there in the 1980s.
Do you really think that Freeze or Kevin Steele or whoever fits the mold is going to change that? Auburn plays not only in the SEC, but in the SEC West, where the other coaches are Nick Saban, Jimbo Fisher, Brian Kelly, Lane Kiffin, Sam Pittman, and Mike Leach. Getting a familiar chump is not going to cut it when the worst rival coach in your division got Mississippi State to the Liberty Bowl last year.
But a familiar chump is what it will be, because as broken as the NFL is when it comes to hiring coaches, college football is an even bigger cesspool of nepotism, cronyism, and, yes, racism.
There’s a coach available right now who had a better record coaching the Miami Dolphins than Saban did, who led that franchise to back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since before Saban’s time there, who won four Super Bowl rings as an assistant to Bill Belichick, and who probably isn’t expecting to work in the NFL anytime soon. You already know that this is Brian Flores, and you also already know that Auburn won’t even call to see if he’s interested in the job.
There are currently zero Black head coaches in the SEC, and only seven — Dino Babers (Syracuse), Karl Dorrell (Colorado), Herm Edwards (Arizona State), Tony Eliot (Virginia), James Franklin (Penn State), David Shaw (Stanford), Mel Tucker (Michigan State) — in the rest of the Power 5, plus Marcus Freeman at Notre Dame. What the SEC does have is four former Saban assistants: Fisher, Kiffin, Billy Napier, and Kirby Smart… in addition to the former Saban assistants who have come and gone from SEC head coaching jobs: Derek Dooley, Jim McElwain, Will Muschamp, and Jeremy Pruitt. Oh, and there’s already another former Saban assistant, Steve Sarkisian, on his way to being an SEC coach, once Texas joins the conference.
What good does it do Auburn to follow the same old track? None, but they don’t seem to care so long as they get that one good year here and there, and give Alabama a hard time in the Iron Bowl. The roster of all-time Black SEC coaches will stay at five, with only Sylvester Croom, Derek Mason, Joker Phillips, Kevin Sumlin, and Franklin.
Franklin took Vanderbilt to three bowl games in three seasons, then left for Penn State after having gotten the Commodores into the season-ending Top 25 twice, something they hadn’t done even once since 1948. Mason succeeded Franklin, took Vanderbilt to two more bowl games, got fired for a winless 2020, then went to Auburn and was Harsin’s defensive coordinator, a job that he left to take the same position, for less money, at Oklahoma State — a good sign of the atmosphere under Harsin. Phillips was something of a disaster at Kentucky, but Croom and Sumlin each won SEC Coach of the Year honors during their tenures.
How come none of those guys come up as familiar SEC faces when there’s a coaching search, and instead the default is Freeze?
You already know the answer, and you already know that whether Auburn keeps or dumps Harsin, the Tigers aren’t going anywhere so long as they continue to follow the same old formula. If that’s the way they want it, they can keep it.