With the announcement Sunday that Kentucky will not retain Joker Phillips at the end of the season, the "ON" switch for the annual coaching carousel has officially been flipped. While the carousel is just starting to turn, the rumor mill is already spinning at a rapid rate. If the teacups at Opryland make you nauseous, this ride isn't for you.
Auburn has a couple of attractions sure to make you wish you hadn't had that second chili cheese dog from the concession stand. That's what happens when you're in the middle of arguably the worst football season in generations. This isn't just about football though. This season may be the catalyst, but it's not the sole reason Auburn fans are clamoring for change. Auburn athletics is down across the board. Some sports have been either in decline or in constant flux ever since then-interim university president Ed Richardson made sweeping changes in 2004. Even the olympic sports that Auburn has dominated over the past decade or two have shown signs of slipping below the standards that Auburn men and women have come to expect. Message boards and social media outlets are full of "insiders" who know when a change is going to be made and all the big names that are involved.
Auburn athletics needs a new direction and fresh vision to get back to where it should be in all sports. The only way to achieve that is to change the leadership at the top. I guess that is why there are rumors of the imminent dismissal of athletics director Jay Jacobs. Jacobs has had his critics ever since being promoted into the position in December of 2004. His promotion was made in large part due to his fundraising experience with Tigers Unlimited. Over the course of his tenure, he has made several unpopular hires. There is a feeling among Auburn University alums and fans alike that before the next coaching change is made, a new athletics director is necessary. Enter the rumors of Jay Jacobs' ouster. Late last week, the buzz grew very loud. The terms "imminent" and "done deal" were tossed around. There was word of a possible announcement on Thursday evening or Friday. However, those plans were allegedly put on hold due to an unexpected name expressing interest. This new name was apparently enough to make university president Jay Gogue press the pause button.
If a change is to be made in the AD's office, there are a couple of candidates that would seem to make sense. One is a guy many basketball fans should be well acquainted with. Joe Dean Jr. (click for full bio) is the current AD at Birmingham-Southern College. As the AD at BSC, he has been instrumental in the growth and development of new sports in order to transition the entire athletic department to Division III. Dean has also served as a color analyst for SEC basketball games for the past 14 years.
However, the name that seems to be the presumed favorite for the job, should it come open, is Scott Etheridge. Kevin Scarbinsky was one of the first to publicly mention Etheridge's name in recent weeks, fueling the rumors that he is the leading candidate. The former Auburn kicker was a finalist for the job in 2004, and he is currently the senior vice president and chief financial officer for Arise Virtual Solutions, Inc, a private company rumored to be going public in the near future. Prior to his role at Arise, Etheridge served as the VP and CFO of the Partnered Brands division of Liz Claiborne, and as the Senior VP and CFO at NBC Universal International. He has an impressive resume as a leader managing multi-billion dollar businesses. However, the one glaring omission in his resume is experience within a collegiate athletics department (his playing career notwithstanding).
To feed your curiosity, the other finalists for the AD job in 2004 were Greg McGarity and Dan Radakovich. At the time, McGarity was an associate AD at Florida. He is currently the AD at Georgia. Radakovich was a senior associate AD at LSU in 2004. He has since held the AD position at Georgia Tech and just took the same job at Clemson. Would either still be interested in the Auburn job? I'm guessing they are pretty happy with where they are.
Other rumors surrounding the AD position involve the idea that Gogue was ready to pull the trigger Friday before a big-time candidate expressed interest. This has fueled rampant speculation as to who this individual might be. Would it be a package deal with a coaching candidate? We aren't in the business of starting rumors, but there's nothing wrong with talking about some that are already out there running wild like a wildfire in a Santa Ana wind, right?
One wild rumor would have you believe that Gogue has received interest from a pair of individuals from the NFL ranks that would come to Auburn to fill the AD and head coach positions. Actually, there have been two rumors that would fit that description. One at a time, please.
The first is Les Snead and Jeff Fisher from the St. Louis Rams. OK ... there are legitimate Auburn connections here. Snead, a native of Eufaula, Ala., played tight end at Auburn from 1992 to '93. He was a graduate assistant following his playing career and served as an administrative assistant to football operations in '95. Since then, he has worked his way up through various NFL organizations and was named general manager for the Rams in February 2012. Fisher also has a connection with Auburn, as his son, Trent, is currently on the football team. Jeff has attended a number of games over the past couple of years and is a member of the Auburn University Club, where he plays golf. However, why would a coach with 26 years experience at the NFL level and zero at the collegiate level leave a job with the Rams after just his second year to do something he has never done, coach at the college level? Even with the Auburn ties, this seems extremely far fetched.
The next package deal we've heard goes from far fetched straight to pipe dream. Someone even went to the trouble of digging deep enough to find an Auburn connection. If your couch has seat belts, you should buckle up for this one. How would you like Bernard Muir as your AD and Jim Harbaugh as head coach? First off, no, these two did not work directly together at Stanford. Muir was only named AD at Stanford in July. Nevertheless, someone dug deep enough to find that Muir briefly held a job early in his career in the athletic department at Auburn. Harbaugh may be one of the best football coaches at any level in the country. He has also been the coach of the 49ers for less than two full years. It's not like he hasn't had success in his short time with San Fran. You bet Auburn would love to employee him, but unless you're talking insane amounts of cash, like the type of cash only a tech company in Cupertino could come up with, then probably shouldn't count on this coming true.
If the fruit company is going to fund this, why not think big? Sticking with the NFL, prepare yourselves for the Sean Payton to Auburn rumors. Conspiracy theorists will eventually find a six degrees of Kevin Bacon type connection between Auburn and Roger Goodell and claim that this influence is what caused the NFL to void Payton's contract extension with the Saints, opening things up for him to come to Auburn. While we're talking fairy tales, I hear the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, and Bill Belichick have expressed interest in the head coaching job. However, the Easter Bunny was scratched from the list after news leaked of his alleged affair with Little Bunny Foo Foo. It is widely assumed that Auburn will make a change at head coach after the season is over. Expectations just won't allow a coach to keep his job after what is shaping up to be the worst season in 60+ years.
Staying away from the characters of The Avengers and any Disney movie, there are still plenty of slightly less unbelievable names being mentioned on message boards. As some anonymous insiders would have you believe, Chip Kelly is bored with running up the score on his Pac-12 counterparts and looking for a new challenge. Bob Stoops is ready for a change of scenery after 14 seasons in Norman Okla. Even Nick Saban could be bought for enough money.
Turning towards something a little more realistic. the talk surrounding Bobby Petrino isn't going away. He's a very good football coach, and a very bad human being. What does Auburn want more? It would be a very divisive hire, should Auburn go that route. There isn't much middle ground. You either want him and are willing to look beyond his past transgressions or you don't want him anywhere near the program. He has been popular among a certain faction of powers that be since the whole Jetgate debacle in 2003, and there is also a group of donors and boosters that can't stand the thought of the eyebrow-less wonder pacing the sidelines in Jordan-Hare. Best guess is that the idea ultimately proves to be too divisive and Auburn looks elsewhere for a head coach.
AuburnUndercover.com's Philip Marshall has mentioned Jimbo Fisher as someone who would have mutual interest in the job. As with any hire, you're going to have a few fans that find something to gripe about, but for the majority, you have to believe Fisher would be a home run hire for the Tigers. He knows what the Auburn culture is like and it is believed that he holds Auburn in high regard. Fisher has done a very good job in rebuilding FSU's program after it slipping considerably in Bobby Bowden's final years. For everything Florida State is, Auburn can match or exceed its facilities and resources.
Another name that has popped up in message board rumors is one very familiar to Auburn fans. Gus Malzahn could have some support among boosters. Many fans are pointing out that maybe it was Gus' influence that won games the past few years. The current offensive players were recruited for his system. Would bringing him back be an instant fix for the offense? Others will point out that he only has one year of head coaching experience under his belt. Is he ready to be a head coach at a major program?
Amid all of the rumors and innuendo being bounced around there will be some that sound plausible and many that don't pass the smell test. One thing is for sure the next few weeks and months will be full of twists and turns and wild speculations. But for now, there is little else to go on since, technically, there are no openings to fill -- yet.