Recruiting should be AU’s priority for choosing coach

Published 4:26 pm Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The names being mentioned as possibilities for Auburn’s next football coach are wide-ranging. There are the guys that have succeeded where no one thought they could (Buffalo’s Turner Gill and Ball State’s Brady Hoke), there are the guys with Auburn ties but that have already been named head-coaches-in-waiting by their current employer (Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher and Texas’ Will Muschamp), and their are the former Tigers that appear as long shots to land their first head jobs at the school they once played for (Georgia’s Rodney Garner and Miami’s Patrick Nix).

One thing this list does not include is a coach that has proven he can succeed in the top position at a program the caliber of Auburn. Either the people behind the coaching search are doing a good job of throwing us off their trail or Auburn will be taking somewhat of a chance when it hires its next coach.

The risk with the highest potential return is Garner. For starters, Garner would command a lower base salary than the other five. Of course, every program wants its coach to be among the highest paid in the conference and Auburn backers made it seem like the $5.1 million severance package for Tommy Tuberville was found under the cushions of Bobby Lowder’s sofa, but something should be said for making a sound financial decision.

Garner has a chance to become only the second black head coach in the history of the Southeastern Conference and the first for Auburn University. The positive PR that would create would go a long way toward improving the Auburn administration’s bad reputation.

But Garner’s race shouldn’t be the first consideration, and it wouldn’t have to be for him to still be hired. Auburn fans right now see their program’s challenge clearly: find a way to compete in the SEC’s Western Division against the giant Nick Saban is waking up in the western part of the state. Saban’s success is built on recruiting, and Garner is the only candidate qualified to stand toe-to-toe.

Auburn has long filled its roster with players from Georgia and Florida, and Garner’s prowess as recruiting coordinator has helped the Bulldogs win two SEC championships. As Auburn’s coach, Garner would work many of the same high schools he already knows well unlike more popular candidates Gill and Hoke.

If Auburn is going to hire a coach that’s not a household name, Garner is the best bet to make a splash in the living rooms of potential recruits across the Southeast.