Missouri did the sensible thing by extending Eli Drinkwitz’s contract in the midst of a hard-luck season. Coach Drink has accomplished plenty outside of game days at Mizzou and athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois is betting that more victories will follow.
New Auburn athletic director John Cohen is not expected to take the sensible course while replacing coach Bryan Harsin. No, boosters on The Plains expect him to make a spectacular hire – and they are only too happy to assist in the process.
Cohen met with the media for the first time Tuesday to discuss the search.
“It obviously dominates my time, which it should,” Cohen said. “The football head coaching position at Auburn University is a critical decision and we take it with the utmost seriousness.
“There will not be anything we don't look at. Everything is on the table every day. I'm not going into dates and times and the process and when the finish line is going to be. We'll get there when we get there and we're going to make the right decision for this great institution.”
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Many donors favor colorful Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin for the job. In response to mounting speculation, the ever-clever Kiffin nominated Jackson State coach Deion Sanders for the gig instead.
Meanwhile nobody is campaigning for the job harder than Liberty coach Hugh Freeze, who wants back into the SEC. He got bounced from Ole Miss after violating a bunch of NCAA rules and using his university cellphone to dial up escorts, but, hey, that’s water under the bridge.
Buying players is legal now and Freeze has produced mind-blowing offensive success at multiple competitive levels.
“I don't know that Auburn wants me. I have no clue,” Freeze told 247Sports after his Flames won 21-19 at Arkansas Saturday. “I know this: I have won everywhere I've been and my staff and kids have turned programs fast. It's our culture that we instill. I know we do that and the proof is in the pudding.”
Liberty athletic director Ian McCaw figures he will lose Freeze to a power conference school at some point, despite giving Freeze an eight-year, $40 million contract.
“I think we have a great situation for him but obviously there are some other really big jobs out there as well and we're going to do everything we can to keep him at Liberty,” McCaw told 247 Sports. “We certainly understand there are others that are going to pursue him.”
Some schools will pass on Freeze due to his past indiscretions, but sooner or later he’ll get his chance.
“I don't think I have anything else to prove," Freeze said. “I used to say stupid things three or four years ago like, 'Well, maybe one day I can have a redemption story.' And finally, man, a mentor and friend said, 'Dude, stop it. Your story is done. You don't need to prove anything to anybody.' And they're right.”
Here is what folks have been writing about the Auburn search:
Brandon Marcello, 247 Sports.com: “The Flames signed Freeze last week to an eight-year contract worth $40 million through the 2030 season. His average yearly salary is the largest among Group of Five coaches. Other details of the contract have remained private but the buyout is said to not be exceptionally large, which opens the door for other schools to pursue Freeze if they choose . . . Auburn is expected to pursue Ole Miss' Lane Kiffin under newly-hired athletic director John Cohen, sources told 247Sports, but Freeze is also a hot name and he has support among some boosters. Freeze said he and his agent, Jimmy Sexton, have not been contacted by Auburn as of Saturday.”
Adam Rittenberg, ESPN.com: “New athletic director John Cohen and the program aren't wasting time ahead of a huge decision. The name generating the most buzz is Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin, followed somewhat closely by Liberty coach Hugh Freeze, whose team just beat Arkansas on the road. Some industry sources express doubt that Cohen would hire Freeze, given their time on the opposite sides of the Egg Bowl rivalry during Cohen's time at Mississippi State and Freeze's at Ole Miss. The other two buzziest candidates are Jackson State coach Deion Sanders and [Matt] Rhule. Sanders would be a fascinating and bold choice, but he also would instantly become Auburn's face, voice and brand. ‘If you hire Deion, he's the program, he's the show,’ a Power 5 administrator said. Oregon coach Dan Lanning's name has surfaced, and there could be some interest on Auburn's side especially. The Ducks simply can't afford to lose another coach after Mario Cristobal (Miami) and Willie Taggart (Florida State). Lanning on Monday said the ‘last thing I ever want to do is leave,’ and that ‘Oregon checks every box for me.’ At this point, it's hard to see Auburn not hiring one of those top four, but Baylor offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes and others remain options. Grimes helped Auburn win a national title as the team's offensive line coach in 2010 and is well-liked around the program.”
Matt Hayes, Saturday Down South: “Take this chance, Auburn. Take it and run with it, knowing everything else hasn’t worked — with the exception of 1-off seasons with a mercenary quarterback and a couple of fluke plays. There’s no luck with this move, no hoping for the best. This is the long haul. Before you make the easy hire, the expected hire of Hugh Freeze, take a long, hard look toward Jackson, Miss. You want the equalizer to the 5,000-pound elephant in the room? You need the most charismatic, dynamic personality in sports with the fattest NIL war chest in his back pocket. You need Primetime. You need Deion Sanders strolling onto The Plains, planting a statement flag and doing the only thing that can possibly slow the Alabama/Georgia train: reach and recruit young people like no previous coach at Auburn has. Want to know why Kirby Smart is the new king of the SEC and college football? Players. Or why Nick Saban has won 6 national titles in 16 seasons at Alabama and 7 overall? Players. Players win games. Players win big games. Don’t believe it? Check out Saturday’s Tennessee-Georgia game, where the Vols’ magical season came to an ugly halt because — I know this is going to shock everyone — Georgia had better players. Tennessee couldn’t block Georgia’s better players. Tennessee’s prolific receivers couldn’t separate from Georgia’s better defensive backs. Auburn had the better player (singular) once, and the greatest college player of the modern era (Cam Newton) led the Tigers to a rare national title run we may never witness again. Auburn had a handful of elite players in 2013 — and got a couple of huge breaks along the way (see: Kick-6, The Prayer at Jordan-Hare) — before Florida State’s better players (all 22 starters eventually on NFL rosters) won out on the last drive of the national title game. Players win games. Auburn will only get better — only becomes championship-caliber — if the coach at Auburn can convince elite, 4- and 5-star players to join a suddenly stale program that has fallen behind not only bitter rival Alabama in the SEC but everyone else in the upper half of the 14-team league. When Texas and Oklahoma arrive, it’s only getting worse. Now more than ever, the college game is about recruiting and developing players.”
Zach Barnett, Football Scoop: “A baseball coach by trade, Cohen hired two football coaches in his six years in Starkville. Both shared numerous traits. Joe Moorhead and Mike Leach both had previous head coaching experience, both were relative outsiders to the SEC (Moorhead had never worked in the league, Leach spent 1998-99 at Kentucky), and both were offensive-minded. Cohen fired Moorhead after going 14-12 in two seasons; Leach is 17-16 in nearly three full seasons. But just because Cohen sought a certain trait at Mississippi State doesn't mean he will at Auburn. (Come to think of it, Bryan Harsin checked all three of those boxes before he got to Auburn, too.) One question moving forward is how much autonomy Cohen will have to make this decision. Auburn was aware of its too-many-cooks-in-the-kitchen problem, and communicated to the media that he'll have more authority than his predecessors. At the same time, Auburn just met the guy. They're not going to hand him the key to his office and say, ‘Here you go, let us know when you've made a decision.’ Cohen tried to walk that line on Tuesday. It'll be his hire, but it'll also be a consensus hire.”
“The 35-year-old version of myself would have stuck my chest out and said, 'This is how it's going to be.’ The 56-year old version of John Cohen says, 'I want all the information that is available to me from anyone I can possibly get it from at Auburn and beyond.'”
Cohen, on putting up with booster input.