The SEC continues to prove it's a win at no costs league as now three head coaches have been fired during a coronavirus pandemic – there could be four if Tennessee moves on from Jeremy Pruitt -- following Auburn's dismissal of Gus Malzahn on Sunday despite the fact he is owed a whopping $21.4 million buyout with half due within 30 days. SportsLine offers odds on whom will replace Malzahn on the The Plains.
South Carolina fired Will Muschamp in mid-November with the Gamecocks at 2-5 -- USC has since hired Shane Beamer to replace him. Vanderbilt dumped Derek Mason with the Commodores at 0-8 and that job is still open. Malzahn's Tigers closed the regular season with a 24-10 win at Mississippi State on Saturday to finish 6-4, yet that wasn't good enough when you live in the annual shadow of Alabama.
Malzahn was 68-35 in his eight seasons, including leading Auburn to an SEC championship victory and appearance in the BCS Championship Game during his first season in 2013. That was the final BCS title game and Auburn lost to Florida State. Malzahn was a very solid 3-5 against Nick Saban and the Tide, but the Tigers were routed this season 42-13 and the offense never progressed much under Malzahn's watch. Sophomore QB Bo Nix was an early-season Heisman candidate but has regressed in Year 2 as a starter.
"After evaluating the state of the Auburn football program, we've decided that it was time to make a change in leadership," said Auburn athletic director Allen Greene in a statement. "We appreciate everything that Gus did for the program over the last eight seasons. We will begin a search immediately for a coach that can help the Auburn program consistently compete at the highest level."
Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele will serve as the Tigers' interim head coach in whichever bowl game they play. CBS Sports' Jerry Palm projects Auburn to play in the New Year's Day Citrus Bowl in Orlando vs. Northwestern.
It's quite rare for a Power 5 opening to have such a clear-cut favorite as head coach but it almost seems as if the Auburn job is Hugh Freeze's to lose. He had huge success at Ole Miss but left in a dark cloud due to recruiting and academic violations at the school as well as an off-field scandal. However, Freeze has worked wonders this season at Liberty.
Freeze was also mentioned as a candidate at South Carolina. According to CBS Sports: "Freeze's viability as a coaching candidate to fill an SEC vacancy was vetted with the conference by South Carolina before the program ultimately hired Shane Beamer. It is believed that Freeze would pass scrutiny by SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, who must evaluate and approve of his hiring if he returns to the league."
Other candidates include Oregon's Mario Cristobal (a former Alabama assistant), Louisiana's Billy Napier (who reportedly interviewed for the South Carolina job), Coastal Carolina's Jamey Chadwell, UAB's Bill Clark, Iowa State's Matt Campbell (Tigers fans probably don't want to go the Iowa State route again after Gene Chizik), Clemson coordinators Brent Venables and Tony Elliott, former Houston Texans and Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien, Ole Miss' Lane Kiffin, Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy and Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. Steele is expected to get a cursory look.
Cristobal may be tough to get considering Oregon has incredible facilities and endless reserves of money thanks to mega-booster and alum Phil Knight of Nike. Cristobal, who has recruited extremely well at Oregon, also has an $8 million buyout. Guys like Freeze, Napier and Clark would be much cheaper to get. The recently-fired O'Brien would cost nothing in terms of a buyout.
Via SportsLine CFB oddsmakers: Who will be Auburn's next full-time football head coach?
- Hugh Freeze +150
- Billy Napier +300
- Bill Clark +500
- Mario Cristobal +700
- Brent Venables/Tony Elliott +900
- Bill O'Brien +1000
- Jamey Chadwell +1200
- Matt Campbell +1500
- Steve Sarkisian +1800
- Kevin Steele +2000
- Lane Kiffin +2500
- Mike Gundy +3000
Who wins every NFL game this week? And which teams cover more than 50 percent of the time? Get picks here from the SportsLine Projection Model, which simulates every NFL game 10,000 times and ranked in the Top 10 on NFLPickWatch three of the past four years on straight-up NFL picks.