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Auburn baseball: The search for John Pawlowski's replacement begins

With John Pawlowski being fired Monday, Auburn is in the market for a new head coach. Here are 16 names to keep an ear out for during the search.

Todd Van Emst photo

The axe finally fell for Auburn head baseball coach John Pawlowski. Hours after missing out on the 2013 NCAA Baseball Tournament (the fourth time in Pawlowski's five years that Auburn is staying home), athletic director Jay Jacobs issued a statement confirming that Pawlowski was gone.

"Coach Pawlowski worked extremely hard throughout his time here, and he has been a great representative for Auburn University."

Pawlowski followed up with a short statement of his own:

"I appreciate the opportunity I had here at Auburn and I wish nothing but the best for this program and Auburn University," Pawlowski said. "I'm grateful for the student-athletes that have played in this program, and I wish them all the success in the future."

Most Auburn fans could see the writing on the wall. With the Tigers missing out on the postseason, there was nothing left to keep Pawlowski on the Plains, and now the search begins for the right guy who can return Auburn to levels of success it hasn't seen since the late 1990s.

Auburn needs to decide what exactly it wants in a head baseball coach. I'm not going to mince words: Auburn is a tough job, but it's a rewarding job. Coaches can win here, but it will take the right guy to do so. The unique challenges Auburn faces (scholarships, facilities, conference) shouldn't be a detriment, they should be an exciting proving ground for the next coach.

Over the next few weeks, many people will come to Pawlowski's defense and chalk his tenure up to a guy who just "couldn't get over the hump." Others will probably lambaste some of his decisions, some of his dealings with players and some of his recruiting strategies. At this point? That's in the past. There is no reason to revisit what one coach did. Instead, the focus should be on what the next coach can do.

I'm not on the search committee. I don't know anyone who will be. All I know is a mindset and mentality from watching Auburn baseball over the years, seeing what's worked and not worked, and developing a criteria of what could win at Auburn.

That criteria is simple. I think Auburn needs a guy with an offensive background. Brian Matthews at Auburn Undercover disagrees.

There are a couple of reasons I think Auburn should go after an offensive guy: We tried a "pitching developer" in Pawlowski and it didn't work. Also, it's easier to find arms than it is to find bats on the recruiting trail. Good hitters need to be developed. Good Pitchers just need to be managed.

I also think Auburn needs to go after a proven coach who has established himself at a high level. If the Tigers go after a mid-major guy again, then we run the risk of having Slater/Pawlowski Part 2 (3?). I would also prefer a young guy and a coach with some SEC experience, as well.

When people have asked who I think Auburn should go after, I originally broke it down into three tiers of coaches: established high major head coaches, mid-major head coaches, high major assistants. That tier system still works, but it has evolved slightly. However, instead of pigeonholing guys into those levels, I expanded it a bit.

I would still rank the coaches in tiers but instead, the tiers would be labeled as great, good, wildcards and a few other names you may hear.

Tier 1

Brian O'Connor (Virginia)

Currently in his 10th season at Virginia. Spent nine years as an assistant at Notre Dame. Made the College World Series as a coach (Virginia) and a player (Creighton). Pitching background and developed 17 Major League pitchers, including Brad Lidge and Aaron Heilman. (Both of whom were barely first-40 guys before he turned them into first-round picks).

Why? Just take a look at Virginia and how good it's been under his tenure. He's led the Wahoos to 10 straight NCAA appearances, was national coach of the year in 2009, and has UVA consistently near the top of the Top 25. O'Connor would be a home run (excuse the pun) hire, and stealing him from Virginia would show a commitment to win at Auburn.

Why not? Basically, why would O'Connor leave UVA. He has established himself and his job is in no jeopardy. The ACC and the SEC are on similar levels nationally, and some could say he's already at the top at his current position.

Pat Murphy (Former Arizona State head coach)

The former skipper at both Notre Dame and Arizona State. Murphy has been out of college coaching since 2009 but has been the head coach of the Eugene Emeralds in the interim.

Why? Another splash hire. Murphy would be a premiere name and, honestly, a coup for Auburn. Winning here would cement his reputation of being a Hall of Fame coach. He took the Sun Devils to the CWS four times and was national coach of the year in 1998. He only missed a regional ONCE in his time at Tempe.

Why not? There is a reason Murphy isn't at Arizona State anymore. He was forced to resign due to an NCAA investigation. Even though he was eventually cleared of all violations, there is still a stain on him and Auburn hasn't exactly shown the red carpet for any coach with NCAA black marks in their past. Hiring Murphy would be big, but somewhat risky from a PR standpoint.

Dan Heefner (Dallas Baptist)

Go ahead and Google his name. I'll be waiting right here. Back? Good. So there's Heefner, a young guy who's taken Dallas Baptist to places Auburn hasn't been recently (regionals/super regionals), and he did that as an independent. Yes, the Patriots, under Heefner, made the NCAAs and didn't have a conference to call home.

Why? Besides the accomplishment that he achieved as an independent, Heefner has a solid pedigree as one of the best offensive coaches in baseball.

Why not? He doesn't have the name recognition, and most Auburn fans probably think Dallas Baptist is a fictional school from Necessary Roughness.

Dan McDonnell (Louisville)

McDonnell has developed a reputation as one of the top young minds in college coaching. He's taken a forgotten program and made it nationally relevant.

Why? Aside from taking Louisville to its best seasons in school history, McDonnell has an SEC background, as well, and was an assistant on Ole Miss squads who went to regionals in five of his six seasons in Oxford.

Why not? He'll be tough to get out of Louisville for two reasons: The Cardinals are joining the ACC soon and McDonnell can elevate his name/pedigree without leaving. Plus, the current AD at Louisville has shown to be fiercely loyal to coaches who win (see Charlie Strong).

Tier 2

Casey Dunn (Samford)

Dunn will be the presumptive favorite for the job. He brings name recognition and pedigree.

Why? Dunn is a former Auburn player. His dad is a Alabama high school legend. Most casual Auburn fans won't remember who Auburn has lost to over the past five seasons, but can remember that Samford is in that mix. He's passionate, fiery and will convert a number of casual baseball fans into season ticket holders.

Why not? This hire would be safe, but somewhat divisive among Auburn University fans and Auburn University baseball fans. When you break down the resume, some will knock that outside of last season, Dunn has hasn't really reached his potential at Samford.

Gary Gilmore (Coastal Carolina)

Gilmore has developed CCU into one of the strongest mid-majors in the nation. He's entering his 18th season with the Chanticleers and regularly coaches on the top teams in America.

Why? 12 NCAA Berths, 12 40-win seasons. Super regional host in 2010. 50 wins away from 1,000 Career wins.

Why not? He's been at CCU forever (and graduated from there) and the school has recently invested $10.2 million to renovate its facilities and take its baseball program to the next level.

Terry Rooney (Central Florida)

One of the hotter names in coaching. Rooney is a young guy with a reputation for developing pitching at LSU and Notre Dame.

Why? Rooney took UCF to back-to-back regionals in 2011 and '12 and has been known as one of the best recruiters in the nation.

Why not? Rooney might have a bit of a Tom Slater vibe (great recruiter/minor NCAA experience) and he's only been at UCF for four years. He's under contract until 2014.

Erik Bakich (Michigan)

Bakich is the youngest coach among BCS baseball schools. His reputation is that of an incredible recruiter who can develop some of the best hitters in the nation.

Why? When Bakich was at Maryland he developed a "build a wall" strategy that kept local talent home. If he can do that in Alabama, he'll win easily. He was also key in developing Vanderbilt's talent level to what the Commodores are used to now.

Why not? For all of his praises, Bakich has never been to the NCAA postseason, and he just finished his first year at Michigan.

Tier III

Mervyl Melendez (Alabama State)

One of the best young coaches in the game, Melendez has a reputation for infusing programs with Latin American, mainly Puerto Rican, talent.

Why? He's young, but Melendez has won, taking Bethune-Cookman to 11 NCAA appearances in his 12 seasons with the Wildcats. His teams rely on speed and aggressiveness.

Why not? It's a big jump to think that Melendez's style could translate well to the SEC. Some would argue that his style works where he's been because of the talent level he faces on a consistent basis.

Butch Thompson (Mississippi State assistant)

A familiar name for Auburn fans, Thompson has lead the Bulldogs to some of their strongest performances on the mound.

Why? If you want a coach who knows the SEC and can develop arms, then Thompson is your guy. While at Auburn, he brought in the heralded 2007 class which was ranked No. 5 at the time and paved the way for the 2010 regional run.

Why not? Thompson hasn't been a head coach since 1997 (Jeff State), and Auburn may want to distance itself from any of the old guard from Pawlowski's and Slater's tenures.

Ron Polk (UAB volunteer assistant)

Yes, the "Father of SEC Baseball" is available. The longtime Mississippi State head coach, who took the Maroons to six CWS appearances, and former Georgia coach has been biding his time at UAB.

Why? Polk is a big name and dominated when he was at the top of his game.

Why not? There's a little tread on the tires. Let's be honest, there is a reason that Polk's current job is as a volunteer at UAB and not the head coach somewhere else. It could very simply be that he's in the twilight when Auburn should be looking for someone with more of an open road ahead of them.

Dave Perno (Former Georgia head coach)

One of UGA's best coaches, Perno won two SEC championships and made it to three College World Series.

Why? Through all his faults, Perno won at Georgia and can still coach.

Why not? He was fired from UGA, a school with more history, resources and talent than Auburn has had historically.

Tier IV (Other names you may hear)

Bobby Pierce (Troy)

Pierce has been a proven winner, but his background (Crimson Tide All-American) and future plans (rumors are that he's the favorite to replace Mitch Gaspard if/when that job opens up) mean that Auburn may not even give him a solid look.

Mark Calvi (South Alabama)

Rumblings have been growing that Auburn should take a shot at Calvi. However, he's only been at South for two seasons, and at this point, keeping the Jags at their current level of success may be more intriguing than rebuilding Auburn.

Tim Corbin (Vanderbilt)

With a rumored "blank check" mentality for this search, some Auburn fans (and former players) have wanted to call the AD's bluff and make a run at Corbin. Honestly though, why would he leave?

Kevin McMullan (Virginia assistant)

Another hot name on the coaching circuit, McMullan can pretty much pick his next job after his success at UVA. The Cavs' hitting coach and recruiting coordinator has been named one of the top assistants in the nation by Baseball America.

So there you have it: 16 names, 16 choices with pros and cons. This is a tough decision for the administration. Personally, my choice would be Murphy or Heefner, but those are the longest of longshots. Dunn is going to be a favorite and Auburn may want to go that way and make the "win the press conference" type hire that was met with many positive feelings, hugs and otterpops, after the Gus Malzahn football hire. The coaching search should last for a while and when we hear anything, we'll let you know. Be sure to follow @AUPPL, @CollegeAndMag and @WarmBeagle for any updates.

But maybe Auburn doesn't even go any of these routes. Maybe the Tigers go completely off the reservation and aim for a total wildcard, like say ... Chipper Jones? I'm ready if they are: