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Special Bonus Q&A: Auburn Coaching Search Edition

As we've said before, we're big fans of Jerry Hinnen's Auburn blog, the Joe Cribbs Car Wash, so when the Tigers' coaching situation blew up last week we were naturally curious to hear his take on things. Given the various parallels to the Hogs's own bizarre coaching search last year, not to mention the Nutt/Petrino subplots, we thought you might be interested as well.

Big thanks to Jerry for taking the time out of his busy schedule to indulge us (incidentally, you can read our previous Q&A's with him here and here). Now, on to the Q&A:

1. Fired or resigned: What's the truth?

I delved into this in a post today, and I think the best answer is that the truth is neither. What you've got is a coach and administration meeting for three days and after initially sounding positive about an agreement, then declaring that Tuberville had resigned but that he was getting his $5.1 million firin' buyout anyway. Something really unusual and really complicated went down, something too complicated in my estimation to be simply either "Tubby got fired" or "Tubby resigned." My guess (and I'm hardly the only one thinking this way) is that the administration made some kind of demand of Tubby in order for him to return. The facts of that demand is what the missing link here is--if it's just that Tubby fire the offensive assistants that have failed so miserably to get the Auburn offense off the ground the last couple of seasons, well, I don't see that you could blame them for trying to run Tubby off with that. If it was something more constricting--clean house, and we're not going to trust you enough to give you the proper amount of money to hire replacements, as one popular rumor goes--then the "he got fired" camp have a little more ammo.

2. How long has this been building up? When was Tubby's fate sealed?

Well, again, it comes down to how much you believe the Auburn administration (specifically AD Jay Jacobs, I suppose) when they tell you they wanted Tubby to return. If they're telling something akin to the truth, his fate wasn't sealed until he decided his own self to walk away. In the other version, who knows when the Auburn powers-that-be decided they'd make Tubby walk the plank and formulated whatever demands that ran Tubby off? But I will say this: if those demands existed, they didn't get any Tubby-friendlier after the Iron Bowl. That was a hideous, hideous loss in which the Auburn offense appeared totally unprepared for the reality of how good the Alabama defense was, and pretty well crushed the notion Tubby had been trying to float that his team wasn't so much bad as just lacking on a few pivotal fourth-quarter plays. Watching the Iron Bowl, though, it was painfully obvious: they were that bad.

3. Prediction time: Who will be the new Auburn coach?

As I'm not entirely sold on Turner Gill, I'm hoping Auburn's successfully keeping the real frontrunner under wraps and away from the media, but that's just hope: all the smart money at this stage is on Gill. He was the first candidate whose interview with Auburn was media-confirmed, he has a huge groundswell of fan support behind him after the MAC title game, and by all accounts is the kind of charismatic leader who's going to interview really, really well. To boot, all Auburn's other alleged targets appear out of the picture: Muschamp was never going to leave Texas, Nutt has his raise, Paul Johnson seems to be negotiating his as we speak, and while Jimbo Fisher keeps leaving wiggle room in his statements to the press, this is 99 percent likely to be Jimmy Sexton yanking the puppet strings to get his client another unearned bump in salary. (A song and dance BOTH our programs can relate to all too well.) Fisher's buyout is so prohibitive--and his resume so unconvincing, frankly--it doesn't make financial sense for Auburn. And while Mike Leach has reportedly all but offered to pay his own way to Auburn, those same reports all suggest that Auburn doesn't want any part of him. (You would think an 11-1 record in the Big 12 South would be worth at least a polite conversation, but clearly your thinking is not welcome in the SEC.) So who's left? No one but Gill.

4. He's now out of the running, but how upsetting was the prospect of Houston Nutt being the new Auburn coach? Of the names being bandied about, whom would you most like to see get the job?

I want to be careful how I say this, but ... very upsetting. Very, very upsetting. Nutt's a good coach and it sounds ridiculously arrogant to say our program is better than a guy who beats us with as much regularity as Nutt does ... but I think Auburn's better than Nutt. He took you guys to back-to-back losing seasons and would have almost certainly made it three in five years if he'd stuck around for 2008. Auburn's gone through three different coaches, but still had only had four losing seasons in the last 26 years. And that's before we get into the off-the-field stuff--while a lot of it was blown out of proportion, he didn't do himself any favors by doing things like hiring a beloved, creative offensive coordinator and then ignoring his offensive input completely (a lesson I really, really wish Tubby would have learned). I'd like Auburn to avoid that kind of circus--and Jimmy Sexton clients--if at all possible.

So who do I want? For me, you could flip a coin between Brian Kelly and Paul Johnson--either one's got a long and impeccable record both of winning and of the kind of offensive ingenuity it's going to take to get Auburn's battered jalopy of an offense moving again. Failing that, I'd still be delighted to have Leach, whose defensive troubles give me pause (and who would be a tough, tough sell with the Franklin-poisoned, spread-phobic Auburn fanbase) but whose achievements at a much tougher job than Auburn are pretty much undeniable at this point. After those three, it gets dicey, though I'd like to see Charlie Strong get an interview and I'll admit that if Gill can put together a solid staff to help out with what I see as some suspect X's and O's, his charisma, recruiting potential, and attendant positive press for an administration that could definitely use it make him a choice with a lot of upside.