Terry Bowden once said, when talking about what it’s like to be the head football coach at Auburn University, “you could be 10-0 at Auburn and save your career, but you haven’t saved your job yet.”
Auburn is a different place to coach than any other college in the country. Win, and you will be rewarded and lose, you’ll be run off the Plains before you’ve had a chance to move the furniture into your house. And sometimes, as Bowden mentioned, winning is not enough. You have to get along with the powerful alumni on the board of trustees or they will never accept you and will scheme to get rid of you.
It is often said that coaches at Auburn are hired to be fired.
Bryan Harsin, an outsider from Idaho, found out the hard way. The power group at Auburn never wanted him in the first place but the outsider AD made the hire against their wishes. So the powerful people responded by having Harsin investigated in the offseason for improper behavior toward his players. That did not work but six months later – poof! – the school “negotiated terms” for the AD to resign. In other words, get out or be shoved out the door. Now Harsin is quickly following in his footsteps.
He’s only won half his games and lost his last five to the “big boy” schools. His offense is terrible, he has no quarterback, he won’t give the ball to his best player and Auburn is last in the SEC in recruiting. That’s hardly a recipe for long-term employment at any school, let alone at this one.
In his place, Auburn needs someone who is the right fit, and that person is not easy to find. Who might fit in there? Lane Kiffin? He’s snarky enough to make them happy. Hugh Freeze? Hey, the school that hired Bruce Pearl – called “college basketball’s biggest fraud” by columnist Ben Frederickson in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch – would fit right in on the Plains. Kevin Steele, whom the boosters wanted in the first place instead of Harsin, is available and ready. Anyone else? Good luck.
Gene Chizik was fired two years after winning a national championship. Gus Malzahn beat Bama enough times to stay on the job for seven years but never really got along with the boosters and was sent packing, just a year or so after the then-AD gave him a contract extension with a $21.5 million buyout. Oh well, it’s only money, right? Malzahn did not help his cause by being Auburn’s version of Jimbo Fisher, a four-loss-a-year coach with a ridiculously high salary.
Auburn is a strange place to be a coach. On the one hand, you have the loudest, most loyal fans in the world. They make Jordan-Hare Stadium the toughest place in the country to play for visiting teams. They wave those shakers constantly and create an atmosphere that is both intimidating and awesome at the same time. It can be said they are the best fans in college sports.
At the same time, it’s hard to feel comfortable if you are not an “Auburn man.” And that is someone who does what the power people want – ADs included – by being a yes man. You don’t have to start out as an Auburn man but you had better become one if you want peace on the Plains.
And even then, it may still not be enough.
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