Those of you with “10 weeks” in the “How long before Auburn staff members’ names get floated for a specific job opening?” pool, congratulations, you have emerged victorious:
Johnson said the search for West’s successor will start immediately. Sources told ESPN.com that Memphis is expected to attempt to hire a high-profile coach. Possible candidates include former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville; Division II North Alabama coach Terry Bowden, another former Auburn coach; Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn; and LSU assistant Larry Porter, the former Memphis running back.
Dammit, Memphis, you really couldn’t have waited until after the season to fire West? This really had to be done right this second? You Type-A personalities make us lifelong procrastinators sick, especially when it starts becoming a distraction to our football teams, you know.
OK, so that’s one extremely Auburn-centric ESPN has put together there, isn’t it? Two former Auburn coaches and a current Auburn coordinator. At least that’s surely as many Auburn-related names as are going to pop up in this search …
FootballScoop has learned that Tommy West has been dismissed as the head coach at Memphis. Our sources tell us that FedEx CEO Fred Smith and CFO Dave Bronczek will strongly consider Gunter Brewer and Trooper Taylor for the head coaching position. Smith and Bronczek will likely work closely with Memphis athletic director RC Johnson in making the next hire. Brewer serves as the OC / wide receivers coach at Oklahoma State. Taylor coaches the wide receivers at Auburn. There will be numerous coaches trying to get involved with the job including Lambuth University head coach Hugh Freeze.
I have no idea how much credulence to give any report from “FootballScoop”–my default setting for obvious rumor mills like this one is “none whatsoever”–but you know it’s going to repeated all over the place so we might as well acknowledge it here.
So, three inevitable questions …
Would Memphis want to hire Malzahn or Taylor?
The knee-jerk response is that neither one has enough experience: Malzahn is still only four years removed from Springdale, and Taylor hasn’t yet risen above the rank of “co-coordinator” (or called plays) at any of his three most recent stops. Among the names floated above, Bowden would be the safer choice from the “experienced head coach” angle, Brewer the safer choice from the “up-and-coming coordinator” angle.
But man, I wouldn’t blame Memphis at all if they wanted to talk to either Dr. Gustav or Taylor. Malzahn’s system has already proven itself beyond all doubts at the C-USA level and would be catnip to any skill-position recruit looking to enroll at a C-USA school. There’s no telling how much success Malzahn would have filling out a staff, finding someone to run the defense, managing administrative duties, etc. But we’re talking about Memphis: whatever candidate they settle is going to come with negatives, and very few are going to come with such an overwhelming, lab-tested positive like Gus Malzahn’s offense.
So I’d expect them to look longer at Malzahn than Taylor … but I don’t think Taylor would be a bad choice for Memphis, either. Without the coordinating experience it’s debatable how much he’d bring to the table from a schematic perspective, but plenty of head coaches don’t bring a lot, and the other things Taylor would bring to the head coaching position would be a huge boon for a downtrodden program like Memphis: his energy, his recruiting ability, his Tennessee connections, his unassailable raw charisma. I think Taylor is perfectly capable of handling a coordinator’s job, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t maybe seem somewhat better suited to be the face of a program than the cerebral play-calling glasses-wearing dude poring over a clipboard. You ask me, taking a “risk” on promoting an obvious up-and-comer like Taylor straight to the head coach’s chair would be a much more promising decision for Memphis than recycling someone like Bowden.
So while I think Malzahn would be more likely to receive the bulk of Memphis’s attentions, it won’t surprise me if both men get a phone call in the next several weeks, or even if one or the other was ultimately Memphis’s preferred choice. Which leads to the next question …
Would Malzahn or Taylor want to become Memphis’s head coach?
The lure of the job to both would be obvious: it’s a college head coaching gig. Neither one’s really made a secret of the fact that they see themselves as a future head coach at this level, and as easy as it is for those of us in the peanut gallery to say “Something better will come along,” we’re not the ones whose coaching careers slide through the hourglass while waiting for that something better. If this particular iron does turn out to be hot, I won’t blame either man for striking now.
But my guess is that neither actually will. It’s easier to explain why for Malzahn, who seems destined for bigger things than Memphis can offer. As West bitterly explained on his way out, the football program there doesn’t just take a backseat to the hoops team, it’s not even riding in the same car. At this point it’s probably not even in the upper half of jobs in C-USA, and when you share a conference with Rice, UAB, Tulane, etc., that’s saying something. If Malzahn’s Spread Eagle blows up in 2010 the way I bet he feels like it’s going to blow up, he should be able to find a situation where his team won’t be the hoops team’s opening act. There already aren’t a whole lot bigger names in the offensive coordinator’s position in the SEC than Malzahn, and those names typically go on to bigger opportunities than rebuilding a bottom-rung C-USA team, I would say.
Taylor, however, I think would think long and hard if Memphis came after him. He’s seemingly been primed for a coordinator’s job for years and hasn’t landed one yet; he might decide that the best route for him to a high-level head coaching gig is the Urban Meyer-style mid-major climb. And again, I wouldn’t blame him if that’s what he chose.
But he’s also made noise about being tired of moving his kids around, he seems to genuinely enjoy Auburn and working with Chizik, Luper, and Malzahn, and perhaps most significantly, I have to think that for reasons of continuity (among other things) he’s first in line for the offensive coordinator’s position should Malzahn move on. The guess here is that even in the fairly unlikely event Memphis offers him a major promotion, Taylor might be happy enough waiting in Auburn for his shot at becoming an OC that he’ll stick around. Might be; Auburn should hope Memphis simply looks elsewhere.
So all together, things look OK for Auburn: the guy Memphis is more likely to pursue is less likely to accept, and vice versa. If forced to put money on the eventual outcome, I’d wager on Auburn entering 2010 with the same staff they have now (or at least the Memphis vacancy not being the source of those staff changes). But I also don’t think the threat is so remote that it doesn’t deserve watching.
And if either one bolts?
Losing either would be a stiff blow, but the program also seems stable enough to me to absorb either’s departure without it becoming a catastrophe. Certainly, there’d be no way to find a wide receivers coach/assistant head coach as experienced or as high-profile as Taylor … but Auburn would still be hiring a wide receivers coach (as Luper probably took over Taylor’s other title, I’m thinking).
As for the potential loss of Malzahn, well, that would suck and suck hard. But hearing him speak and looking over his lengthy track record at every position imaginable, I’m not one to think that Taylor doesn’t have plenty of wheels turning behind the backwards cap, towel, and chest bumps. (You think he doesn’t have reasons for acting the awesome way he does?) He’s been totally up front about taking notes on Malzahn’s, Gundy’s, and even Cutcliffe’s offenses for the day he finally got to call plays and game-plan an offense; to simply assume (as I’ve seen certain embittered Internet Vol fans do) that Taylor isn’t smart enough to take all he’s learned and do just that smacks of lazy thinking and dumb prejudices against, well, guys who wear their hats backward. Not only would Taylor deserve his shot, he’d help keep Auburn’s recruiting plans intact and continue lighting up the sideline … seems like an easy solution to me.
Fortunately, as I said: I think the odds are in favor of Auburn not having to worry about either of those scenarios until at least this time next year. Still, it would have been nice to go through Amen Corner without this kind of distraction. Memphis and all those involved: you’re on notice.