The Auburn football search has gotten a lot more interesting in recent days. Amid fan backlash against the reported favorite Kevin Steele, the team’s current defensive coordinator and, after Gus Malzahn’s termination, interim head coach, a number of other names have popped up. The latest: West Virginia’s Neal Brown.
A number of college football insiders have alleged that Steele might’ve played a role in Malzahn being ousted, as he is a favorite of many prominent Tiger boosters. “That’s how they do things down there,” Paul Finebaum said on a radio spot Friday. “There’s a small band of brothers who run the athletic department, and none of them go by the name of Allen Greene, who is the de facto AD. They like Kevin Steele. He’s one of them. He knows how to relate to them, and I’m sure some will suspect if he ends up being introduced in a couple days that maybe he did or did not help lead to Gus Malzahn’s overthrow.”
We’ve seen a reaction to the idea of Steele that may not be as sharp as Tennessee fans against Greg Schiano a few years back, but still pretty aggressive. Steele has been a solid defensive coordinator for Auburn, but not overwhelmingly so. His first head coaching stint at Baylor, then one of the worst power conference programs in the country, was very poor. He finished with a 9-36 record in four years.
Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian is expected to interview for the job. Clemson OC Tony Elliott is reportedly involved but has denied that he has been contacted or that he is scheduled to interview. Louisiana’s Billy Napier, a finalist at South Carolina, is also involved, and Lane Kiffin’s name has popped up as well. The latest major name is Neal Brown, as reported by Steven Godfrey of Banner Society.
News: Auburn’s “search” is now more of a search, albeit with a powerful group still backing usurper Kevin Steele. Candidates – Sarkisian, Napier, Elliott, and I’d now add Neal Brown. Brown might be the best positioned to bridge the chasms between various factions on The Plains.
— Steven Godfrey (@38Godfrey) December 19, 2020
The 40-year old Brown is in his second year at West Virginia. The Mountaineers were plucky in their first year under the former Troy head coach in 2019, going 5-7 including an upset win at No. 24 Kansas State. This year’s team is 5-4 with a ranked win against KSU for a second year in a row, this time 37-10 at home against the No. 16 team in the country.
Brown has Alabama roots, as head coach at Troy for four years. There, he became one of the most exciting Group of Five head coaches in the country. After a 4-8 first season, the Trojans went 10-3, 11-2, and 10-3 over the next three seasons, with a Sun Belt Conference Championship and second Sun Belt East title. He won all three bowl games before taking the WVU job. During that time, Troy won at No. 25 LSU and at Nebraska in consecutive years, and lost at Clemson 30-24 in 2016.
At the very least, Auburn has expanded the scope quite a bit, based on recent reports. That should get Tiger fans a bit more excited than the Kevin Steele idea.