Auburn football: Crimson Tide offensive coordinator floated as HC option

Alabama Crimson Tide offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien was floated by ESPN's Pete Thamel for the Auburn football head coaching vacancy (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Alabama Crimson Tide offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien was floated by ESPN's Pete Thamel for the Auburn football head coaching vacancy (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

Alabama Crimson Tide offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien could be an option for the recently vacated Auburn football head coaching position by ESPN’s Pete Thamel in a piece asking if the program could get back on track with the new regime.

In hiring Mississippi State athletic director John Cohen to assume the same role on the Plains over the weekend, the Auburn University brain trust made the final move necessary before letting Bryan Harsin go on October 31. Now, with Carnell “Cadillac” Williams being named the interim head coach and the push for a permanent Harsin replacement kicking off in earnest, high-profile college football personalities will be linked to the Plains.

Enter O’Brien. The Crimson Tide OC has vowed to finish his two-year agreement as Nick Saban’s top play-caller signed before the 2021 season, so with the 2022 season coming to a close, it’s natural for his name to surface for the Tigers job.

Thamel’s explanation for O’Brien being present in the Auburn football head coaching discussion was that he is the best blend of collegiate and NFL success available on the market.

Pete Thamel believes Auburn football can’t be good without total alignment

The old trope of Auburn football being dysfunctional due to meddling boosters was at play in Pete Thamel’s piece, and after Bryan Harsin’s statement clarifying that success can only happen on the Plains with complete alignment, it’s squarely on the minds of the college football world.

While other programs like Texas and Texas A&M also feature the same sort of power-brokering issues with those who fund operations, Auburn is the one team who gets branded that way perhaps due to being in the shadow of six Nick Saban championships since the start of the last decade.

Still, during that time, no team has beaten Saban more, and no program continues to capture the national spotlight even during down-years. Auburn football didn’t have total alignment under Gus Malzahn and still represented the SEC West in Atlanta more times than anyone in the division besides the Tide. Total alignment would have meant hiring Kevin Steele in December 2020, and while that could have resulted in a better record than with Bryan Harsin, it would have rubbed the fanbase the wrong way given the #StopSteele movement.

What could total alignment mean under John Cohen? Well, it could mean a coaching hire fans aren’t enthused with, and that could still result in losing to juggernauts like Alabama and Georgia year in and year out.

What AU needs is someone able to sell the story of being the underdog in a conference rife with contending teams everywhere you look to the right program-changing talent. Josh Heupel did it with Tennessee by grabbing Hendon Hooker out of the transfer portal, Mark Stoops did the same with Will Levis at Kentucky, and Lane Kiffin kept Ole Miss competitive after Matt Corral’s departure with Jaxson Dart’s arrival. Total alignment isn’t necessarily needed if that can be accomplished by the next Auburn football head coach.