Inside battle over Auburn’s coaching quest


The battle to decide who would choose the next Auburn head coach fired Gus Malzan before school began.

An influential group of Auburn boosters pushed Sailor hard after a $ 21.4 million purchase after eight seasons for the school. He believed Auburn should never award Malzahon a seven-year, $ 49 million contract in 2017 and was beyond preparing a freshman for the program. These powerful boosters quietly backed out with the support of board members of the trustees, finally finding the required number after losing to Texas A&M on December 10. With Malzahn on the way, they quickly wanted to promote defensive coordinator Kevin Eyal to a permanent position.

In his fifth year as Auburn’s defensive coordinator, Steele had years of backing from those impressive boosters and increased his stock in his eyes through his unit’s strong performance on the field. He “badly wanted the job”, according to one source, and would quickly accept an offer.

The plan was set: Fire Malazan on Sunday and announce Steele as the next head coach within 48 hours.

AL.com spoke to several sources familiar with the Auburn search process to reveal the behind-the-scenes of the school that hired Boise State head coach Brian Harsin on Tuesday. He told a story of a powerful group of boosters, committed to working differently against a new athletic director.

related: Stunning fare to Auburn shakes the grounds

Ellen Green, who was hired as Auburn’s AD in 2018, was not immediately on board with promoting Steele. The former Notre Dame baseball player clarified that he wanted a national search that evaluated candidates beyond just those in Lee County. The pro-steel camp was undefined, however, assuming that they had more influence than Green and would get the coach they wanted.

Steele’s plan created havoc when Auburn president J. Gog met with Green and formed a search committee to evaluate all viable candidates and not just Steele, who was named interim coach on Sunday. Greene chaired an eight-man search committee consisting of Heisman Trophy winner Bo Jackson, Auburn Trustee Quinton Riggins and NFL Executive Mitchell McKenna. Gog put together a committee with a diverse group of independent thinkers, which included those who were an actual find, and reduced the chances of Steele becoming head coach.

“Gog actually moved forward,” a source familiar with the search said. “He was in a place where he had to do a job, but he didn’t give them everything they wanted. He gave them what they wanted (along with Gus) but said that you guys will not go to the committee that makes the selection. “

According to sources, the members of the search committee were initially open to the idea of ​​becoming Steel’s head coach, but that openness would have curbed future hire. Fans launched a “Stop Steele” campaign and pelted members of the Auburn administration and search committee with emails, texts and tweets, expressing displeasure at Steele not finding work after the report was a serious candidate.

The expedition worked, making it fairly clear to key people, with much thought about Steele, that it was no longer viable to hire him. Sources told AL.com that the powerful Auburn boosters were not stopped from trying to bully Greene and members of the search committee. The booster made it clear to Green that if he fulfilled his wishes and his fare was not successful, they would make sure to drive him out of Auburn. However, the scare plan backfired, as it made Gog even more entangled behind the need for a proper search.

“They had no vote,” said a source. He said, “He didn’t say anything and that disappointed him.” He tried to intimidate, he tried everything, and it just didn’t work. “

Auburn hired Parker Executive Search to help facilitate the search process. Green and the search firm spoke between 20 and 25 coaches, eventually narrowing down the list and discussing specific candidates with an eight-man search committee. As the Auburn search group worked to develop the characteristics that they wanted and the coaches they saw fit, rumors of possible candidates spread everywhere.

The most terrifying rumor was that of UAB head coach Bill Clarke turning down the job offer. Auburn officials and Clark were contacted on the job, but they never formally interviewed the UAB coach, let alone offered him the job. A source said, “To say that he was fired or was offered a job is just wrong.” When asked about the Auburn situation on Wednesday, Clarke Told WBRC She was only interested when she had “full control of my staff and everything that went with it, and I think, maybe, that was a hindrance to them.” Several sources insisted that any future coach had to retain current Auburn assistants, including Steak.

The Auburn search evaluated several options, including head coaches and hot assistants like Alabama’s Steve Sarkissian before zeroing in on a selected group to interview. Auburn never took seriously despite reports of Liberty head coach Hugh Freeze joining the job. A subcommittee of Greene, Riggins and Auburn’s chief operating officer, Lt. Gen. Ron Burgess, conducted interviews that were primarily carried out on Zoom.

Louisiana coach Billy Napier was a serious choice for the job before considering his name on Monday. Whether he was offered the job or was already sidelined depends on the source, but he was one of Akbar’s top candidates. Napier has proved to be incredibly patient in recent years when jobs have been evaluated and also turned down opportunities in South Carolina, Mississippi State and the boiler.

Auburn spoke to Clemson’s defensive coordinator Brent Weinbels, but there was always hope that she would stay at Clemson. Despite being a hot name for many searches over the years, Webbels is happy to be an assistant and is earning $ 2.4 million as defensive coordinator for Dabo Swinney. He is not eager to leave a situation where he coaches his two sons, Tyler and Jake.

Boise State head coach Brian Harsin was interviewed on Monday and impressed those involved in the search. After years of developing the quarterback struggle after coming to Auburn, those involved in the search believe that Harsin has the skills and track record that will have to change. He had a minimum purchase of $ 250,000 to leave Boise State, making him a lot more financially vulnerable than coaches like Oregon’s Mario Cristobal, who comes with big buyers on top of $ 21.4 million, to Auburn. Maljah will have to pay.

Harsin was probably not a name on Auburn’s initial wish list, but those who were involved in the search were always included in the list of candidates. He liked what he did at Boise State – he had a 69–19 record with the Fiesta Bowl victory over seven festivals – and a source described him as “fit for what Auburn likes to do and can recruit players.” ” said. His outside position was a bonus for a school that has spent the last four decades hiring candidates with Auburn, the SEC, or the state of Alabama.

Sources said the search was portrayed as chaotic, but if there was any chaos, it came from a set of influential boosters who were pushing their way. Many told AL.com that Green, who made his first major hire, showed tremendous leadership in front of those boosters to hold his ground and hire a coach he wanted. He was on a national search for the next Auburn head coach, and with the help of the search committee and search firm, he was able to complete.

There is hope for those involved, this Auburn discovery represents a new era for a school notorious for a much booster culture. For once, he said, it was just Auburn, not Auburn.

John Talley is the sports editor and SEC Insider for the Alabama Media Group. You can follow her on Twitter @JTalty.

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