Allowing more than 30 points in the last six SEC games this season was enough for Gus Malzahn to go in a different direction heading into 2015. On Sunday the Auburn head coach announced that Johnson is being replaced.
Whoever the new coordinator is may have a chance to get an early start on next season with the possibility of a quick hire getting the coach in place early enough to be part of Auburn's bowl game. If Malzahn can replace Johnson soon it would give the coordinator an opportunity to work with the defense after the Tigers find out this coming weekend what their postseason destination will be.
There are going to be some big names and some obvious ones as well associated with Auburn’s search. Getting someone in as quickly as possible would not only assist in a smoother transition on the field, but also help in recruiting with official visits expected to pick back up in two weeks.
Malzahn is likely to be secretive in his search, but here are some interesting names to keep in mind as possibilities to join the staff.
Known by Auburn fans mostly as the guy who slowed Cam Newton and the Tigers in 2010, Diaz had his share of struggles following a successful run at Mississippi State, but has resurrected his career the last two seasons at Louisiana Tech.
Someone who understands how to play and coach defense for a team that employs a hurry-up offense, Diaz has the Bulldogs 29th in the country in total defense, allowing 349.6 yards per game. Currently 53rd in scoring defense, Louisiana Tech gave up 48 points to Oklahoma in the opener and 45 to Auburn in game five. The only other time the Bulldogs have allowed more than 30 points was this past weekend’s 76-31 win over Rice.
Currently in his first season as Florida State’s defensive coordinator with his unit 27th in the nation allowing 22 points per game, Kelly coached the linebackers last season for the Seminoles and had three All-ACC selections in his ranks. Prior to that Kelly spent seven seasons coaching special teams and defensive backs at Georgia Tech.
A 1990 Auburn graduate who played defensive back for the Tigers, Kelly was a graduate assistant on the 1993 undefeated team. He also has strong ties in the state with stops at Central High in Phenix City and Eufaula High along the way in his coaching career as well as Jacksonville State.
Following his firing at Florida, former Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp is the hottest name on the wish list right now for many Auburn fans. One of the top defensive minds in the country, Muschamp’s Gators ranked 24th in the country in scoring defense this season despite playing with a less than impressive offensive attack. Even better in total defense at ninth in the nation, Florida showed this season why Muschamp will be highly sought.
In his two years at Auburn, Muschamp led the Tigers to a pair of impressive defensive seasons. For the 2007 season Auburn led the SEC in total defense, was second in scoring defense, third in pass efficiency defense and fifth in rushing defense. His 2006 unit was third in the SEC and seventh in the country in scoring defense.
If you had to guess which schools are in the top seven in the nation in scoring defense, someone would be hard pressed to guess Memphis would be among the group, but that’s exactly where Barry Odom has the Tigers this season. A graduate of Missouri who coached with the Tigers before moving to Memphis, Odom took over a defense that was one of the worst in the country and has them playing winning football.
In 2011, the year before Odom arrived, Memphis finished 105thnationally in scoring defense, 97th in rushing defense, 109th in pass efficiency defense and 117th in total defense. Those numbers, three years later, are seventh in scoring defense, 24th in total defense, 24th in rushing defense and 10th in pass efficiency defense.
Despite winning nine or more games in seven consecutive seasons with Nebraska, Pellini was fired as the head coach on Sunday and could be looking to get back to his roots as a defensive coordinator in the SEC. A former assistant at LSU, where he was defensive coordinator from 2005-2007, Pellini was very successful with all three of his units ranking third nationally in total defense.
Before his time in Baton Rouge, Pellini coached one season each at Oklahoma and Nebraska and before that he spent nine seasons coaching defense in the NFL. Six times in his 12 seasons as a college coach Pellini's defenses have finished in the Top 10 in scoring defense.
Joe Whitt Jr.
A wildcard name would be Joe Whitt, Jr. The son of Auburn coaching legend Joe Whitt, he’s currently in his eighth season with the Green Bay Packers and sixth as cornerbacks coach. With nine years of NFL experience after starting his career with the Atlanta Falcons, Whitt has learned under some of the best minds in the game including Emmitt Thomas and Dom Capers.
Before going to the NFL, Whitt Jr. coached four seasons with the Louisville Cardinals as cornerbacks coach and recruiting coordinator. A tireless recruiter, he was one of the best in the country until moving on to the league. With a history of playing at Auburn before an injury forced him to be a student coach his final two seasons, Whitt would be a big name for the Tigers if he wanted to get back into the college game.