Monday, December 15, 2008

Identity crisis

A thought occurred to me yesterday when I heard about the hiring of Brady Hoke at San Diego State: Why were Auburn and San Diego State essentially drawing from the same pool of candidates?

I realize that Auburn didn't expect to hire Gene Chizik in the beginning, of course. Athletic director Jay Jacobs went after a lot of bigger names, including Texas coach-in-waiting Will Muschamp, Florida State coach-in-waiting Jimbo Fisher and Mississippi coach Houston Nutt.

But once all those coaches quickly rebuffed Auburn's overtures, the serious pool of candidates essentially consisted of the following names:
  • Chizik
  • Hoke
  • Turner Gill (Buffalo)
  • Derek Dooley (Louisiana Tech)
  • Todd Graham (Tulsa)
  • Patrick Nix (Miami offensive coordinator)
  • Jim Grobe (Wake Forest)
  • Gary Patterson (TCU)

There are some solid names on that list. Jim Grobe and Gary Patterson, in particular, have been remarkably successful with the limited talent available to them at their current stops. Both are well-respected among their peers and would have provided a smooth transition from Tommy Tuberville. Todd Graham and Turner Gill, in contrast, would have provided the young, offense-focused mind many at Auburn were calling for. And why wasn't Mike Leach a serious candidate? If it's true that Auburn boosters were worried about a redux of the failed Tony Franklin experiment, that seems incredibly short-sighted. For a team deprived of offense for years, Leach would have been a breath of fresh air.

And I should point out that I don't think hiring Chizik will be the disaster many are claiming. His 5-19 record at Iowa State is relatively meaningless -- a friend of mine who used to lived near Ames told me recently, "Bear Bryant couldn't win at Iowa State." Chizik's reputation, obviously, is largely based (as it should be) on his time as a defensive coordinator at Auburn and then Texas, where his teams went 27-0 over the two seasons immediately preceding his time at Iowa State.

I guess what I'm having a hard time digesting is that these names were truly the best Auburn had to choose from. I don't live in SEC country, but on a national level, it seems that the Auburn opening was viewed at a level just a notch below the "elite" positions -- Notre Dame, Florida, Michigan, etc.

San Diego State, meanwhile, was choosing from the following finalists:

  • Hoke
  • DeWayne Walker (UCLA defensive coordinator)
  • Dennis Franchione (former Texas A&M head coach)

This list does not include San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Mike Martz or former Minnesota coach Glen Mason, who were under consideration early in the search process.

Maybe it's just me, but to see essentially the same quality of candidates for openings at Auburn and San Diego State is fairly jolting. I realize that San Diego is about as good as it gets in terms of quality of living. It also doesn't hurt that Southern California is probably behind only Texas and Florida in terms of available athletic talent, an obvious recruiting perk.

But let's be honest. We're talking about a consistently average or below-average Mountain West Conference school that's never been relevant on the national stage (unless you want to count Marshall Faulk's Heisman candidacy). I've also heard from someone with connections in the Aztecs athletic department that the administration there isn't exactly regarded as easy to work with.

I guess what I'm getting at here is that this should be a relatively frightening development for Auburn fans. Not only did they seemingly reach for the candidate they eventually chose, but the pool from which they were choosing was shockingly thin in terms of qualified candidates -- nearly everyone who would have been considered a "catch" shot them down before the AD could even catch his breath from the Tuberville departure (which is an entirely different issue).

Am I overstating the attractiveness of the Auburn job? Maybe I am. But that's probably the same thing the Auburn administration and fans are asking themselves.

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