AUBURN

Auburn football's coaching search does not need to extend past two names | Toppmeyer

Blake Toppmeyer
USA TODAY NETWORK
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The first rule of a coaching search is to hire the opposite of the guy you fired. See LSU hiring Brian Kelly to replace Ed Orgeron. I cannot think of more polar opposites.

Auburn fired Bryan Harsin on Monday, ending its failed experiment with an outsider from Idaho who had never coached a day inside the SEC before he arrived on the Plains and had not the foggiest idea of how AU operates.

The less ink spilled on Harsin’s tenure the better. He didn’t recruit well, and he couldn't keep a staff or a roster intact. Auburn did Harsin no favors last winter by conducting a university investigation into its coach that spilled into the public eye. This union didn't work. Time to move on.

When brainstorming candidates to replace Harsin, think: Who is the opposite of this coach Auburn fired?

Lane Kiffin is the opposite of Harsin. So is Hugh Freeze.

Unlike Harsin, both have proven they know how to win in the SEC. Also unlike Harsin, both are forward-thinking offensive minds who can manage and develop SEC quarterbacks.

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Jackson State coach Deion Sanders warrants a mention, and perhaps an interview. Personality-wise, Sanders would be a 180-degree pivot from Harsin.

I can envision Harsin fitting in with a construction crew on the side of the highway, wearing a hard hat and holding a lunch pail. Neon Deion, aka Coach Prime, is Mr. Flashy and a recruiting dynamo who knows Florida and Georgia, important recruiting terrain for Auburn. However, Sanders' coaching track record is less-established than Harsin's was. In that way, he would not be the opposite of Harsin. Sanders would be an interesting choice for some Power Five jobs, but I’m unconvinced Auburn, in this moment, is the right fit.

From left to right: Jackson State's Deion Sanders, Liberty's Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss' Lane Kiffin

Is Lane Kiffin content at Ole Miss?

Predicting Kiffin’s moves are a fool’s errand, but his best move may be to stay put.

I wrote previously that Kiffin need not leave Ole Miss in favor of Auburn. His Rebels are rolling. After the College Football Playoff expands to 12 teams, Kiffin can make the playoff at Ole Miss, without having to deal with Auburn boosters.

Auburn historically has a higher ceiling than Ole Miss, but Kiffin elevated the Rebels' platform. His 10th-ranked Rebels (8-1) are contending for a second straight New Year’s Six bowl bid. Why take on a rebuild at a school that, before hiring Harsin, fired Gus Malzahn for posting eight consecutive winning seasons?

Of course, who better than the self-proclaimed "Portal King" to launch an Auburn rebuild? Kiffin could use transfers to transform Auburn’s talent level in a single offseason.

Kiffin tweeted the link to my September column in which I suggested he should rebuff Auburn. Was that a tacit endorsement of my idea that Kiffin doesn’t need to dump Ole Miss for Auburn? Perhaps. I more saw it as a master tweeter holding the spotlight.

Kiffin is a Southern transplant, but he’s a veteran of this league.

In between Kiffin's stints at Tennessee and Ole Miss, Nick Saban hired him to modernize Alabama’s offense.

Kiffin considers Saban his “buddy,” but Auburn fans shouldn’t get hung up on their relationship. The fact that Saban respects Kiffin’s coaching ability tells you he's a candidate to consider. A coach who experienced Tennessee and USC shouldn’t be caught off guard by Auburn’s pressures.

Kiffin has matured since bolting Tennessee in favor of USC in 2010. He told me last summer that the way he looks at jobs has evolved. But, his past maneuvering indicates a willingness to leave an SEC job for a higher-profile gig.

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Auburn and its new athletics director – the Tigers are hiring ADJohn Cohen from Mississippi State – should dangle a fat check in front of Kiffin.

Kiffin’s Twitter persona can cloud the reality that he’s among the nation’s best coaches.

Make him say no before moving on.

Hugh Freeze would jump at this job

I can’t imagine Freeze would say no. He salivates over the idea of rejoining the SEC.

You think Freeze, a Mississippi-born Southerner who once had Ole Miss ranked No. 3 nationally, is content coaching FBS independent Liberty? He’d probably feel at home talking with those Auburn boosters, too. Freeze is no stranger to cozying up to moneymen. He'd undoubtedly attract talented players to Auburn.

Freeze resigned at Ole Miss in 2017 after the NCAA uncovered a recruiting scandal, and Houston Nutt's attorney helped uncover that Freeze used his university-provided cell phone to call an escort service.

Name, image and likeness rule evolution casts prior NCAA rule-breaking in a new light. Recruiting inducements disguised as NIL deals create loopholes to funnel money, and NCAA enforcement hasn’t shown much attempt to police the NIL space.

As for the second half of Freeze’s scandalous end at Ole Miss, buy the man a burner phone and put a few moral turpitude clauses in his contract.

Freeze is 33-12 in four seasons at Liberty – a school you’d probably never heard of before it hired Freeze, unless you are a Jerry Falwell disciple.

Malzahn and Les Miles are the only coaches to beat Saban three times at Alabama.

Freeze beat Saban twice while taking Ole Miss on a comet ride that flamed out as quickly as it appeared, amid phone logs and NCAA suits.

X’s and O’s were never Freeze’s problem. His up-tempo offense that relied heavily on run-pass option plays became so effective that it caused Saban to reinvent his approach. Saban handed the keys to Alabama’s offense to Kiffin to counter Freeze.

Freeze and Kiffin proved they can win at Ole Miss. If a coach can win there, he should win at Auburn.

No need to overcomplicate this coaching search.

If Kiffin says no, Freeze would say yes.

Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC Columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at BToppmeyer@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer.

If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it. Also, check out his podcast, SEC Football Unfiltered, or access exclusive columns via the SEC Unfiltered newsletter.

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