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Jun 23, 2017
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  Search For Defensive Coordinator

The Will Muschamp Era at Auburn seemed to end as quickly as it began. Rumors that swirled for a week took a turn the weekend after Auburn’s regular season ended as Muschamp accepted the position of head coach at South Carolina.

While Muschamp has enough work for the Gamecocks to keep him busy, the same could be said for the Tigers. Hiring Muschamp was seen as a homerun back in December 2014.

However, a year later, with Muschamp departing after making $1.6 million and Auburn ranking 85th in yards allowed, Tiger fans are left with a “What now?” feeling.

The answer isn’t a good one, but it’s simple: go get a new defensive coordinator.

Auburn has options, and athletic director Jay Jacobs’ ability to throw money around certainly hasn’t hurt in the past – until coaches later years, at least. Either way, the Tigers have their options at homerun hires or upcoming coaches.

The “Homerun” hires:

Names that pertain to this list are being thrown around in buckets, but some stick out more than others.

Despite not being the most popular candidate, former Iowa State head coach and Auburn defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads is on the market. He didn’t do well for the Cyclones, but he led Auburn’s defense to 27th nationally under Tommy Tuberville in 2008. Before then, Rhoads, who is currently unemployed, spent eight years with Pitt, who was ranked fifth nationally in total defense in 2007.

Ole Miss defensive coordinator Dave Wommack would be an interesting-but-big hire for the Tigers. Wommack has been a large part of the Rebels’ resurgence to relevancy. However, Wommack’s loyalty to head coach Hugh Freeze is a concern for anyone hoping he’d leave. Not to mention Ole Miss is established enough already that its playing in its second consecutive New Year’s Six bowl.

But there are guys that Malzahn has a tight relationship with one being Keith Patterson. The current Arizona State defensive coordinator worked under Malzahn at Arkansas State, however stayed only six weeks before joining the staff at West Virginia. Patterson is now at Arizona State with Todd Graham. The three all coached together at Tulsa.

Patterson runs the Sun Devils’ defense with Grantham, so Auburn could use the offer of Patterson owning the defense. However, Arizona State’s defense doesn’t rank with the best, so it could be a shot in the dark.

Patterson’s connections with Malzahn are there, but not like those between Florida State defensive coordinator Charles Kelly and Auburn.

Kelly was on this list a year ago, and nothing has changed. This fall was another great season for the second-year DC, who ranked sixth in scoring defense and 16th in total defense. He was also the special teams’ coordinator in 2013.

Kelly’s connections are one that Auburn fans will either love or hate. He played defensive back for Pat Dye in the late 1980s. He later coached at Henderson State in Arkansas, Malzahn’s alma mater, in 1999.

Upcoming coaches:

Auburn secondary coach Travaris Robinson should lead this list of potential candidates; however, it appears his ties with Muschamp will land him in his third new home in as many years. Robinson, a well-known recruiter, is worth a push, but he seems to be on his way out, as well.

Being Auburn, there’s no question Ruffin McNeill, a Dye protégé, isn’t at least in the conversation. McNeill was fired unexpectedly as East Carolina’s head coach following a 5-7 season – his first in four years. McNeill, who played for Dye at ECU in the late 1970s, is a defensive-minded coach that before being hired by ECU helped Texas Tech play well.

Georgia Southern defensive coordinator Jack Curtis has had his name thrown around in talks. Curtis, a Birmingham native, has his defense ranked 21th nationally. Georgia Southern also won the Sun Belt championship in its first year in the conference.

Promoting from within is never out of the question, and if Robinson departs, Malzahn may take a look at defensive assistant Lance Thompson. Thompson has only a year under his belt at Auburn, but he joined the Tigers after several years with Nick Saban at Alabama. He was also defensive coordinator at UCF from 2004-06, where the Knights saw much more success than they are these days. Word that Thompson may follow Muschamp are there, but Malzahn could keep him with a promotional opportunity.

Auburn currently sits in limbo. Coaches come and go, but a one-and-done coordinator is an anomaly that’s never easy to handle. The departure of Muschamp, and possibly more, will be difficult on the field, where Auburn will soon have its fifth DC in six years, but it’ll also likely affect recruiting as well.

Names for a potential replacement are being thrown around quicker than logic will allow –from former Georgia defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt to UAB head coach Bill Clark to Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda to even former Auburn head coach Gene Chizik. Malzahn said he plans to make a quick hire, but the process will go only as quickly as the process allows. Auburn would love to have a new defensive coordinator sooner than later, but timing depends on who it’ll be.

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