Auburn Football Head Coaches
The last Auburn head coach to get hired away
War Eagle, everybody! This week, I thought about previewing Auburn’s week two and week three football opponents. The Tigers have a couple of evening tilts scheduled against nonconference foes Tulane and Kent State. I took a brief look at the history of the two series, and learned a few things. Auburn has an all-time losing record against Tulane, which surprised me. Against the Green Wave, Auburn has 28 wins, 34 losses, and 6 ties. As best I can tell, Auburn and Kent State have never played in football.
Last season, Tulane showed improvement, completed the regular season 6–6, and had a big bowl win over Louisiana in the Cure Bowl to finish 7–6. Now an American Athletic Conference member, the Green Wave team will come into Auburn looking to spring the big upset after a season opening tilt against Florida International in New Orleans.
Kent State finished last in the MAC East last season, and 2–10 overall. Frankly, I expect Auburn to work on issues the second and third weeks. The games will likely be boring as Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn likes to show as little as possible in these sort of contests. Auburn will line up and try to run over both of these teams. Might have to do a little bit more against Tulane, but the Tigers should dominate Kent State.
Rather than go through a mostly pointless position by position matchup, I decided to pull out the record book and look at Auburn SEC records by head coach. My main source on this is a book from 1991, called Where Tradition Began, put together by Wayne Hester of the Birmingham News.
The Southeastern Conference was put together in early December, of 1932. For this study, I’m considering only games between SEC opponents. Games earlier than 1933 don’t count nor do tilts against foes when one or the other is no longer, or has not yet become, an SEC member. Auburn has had 12 coaches since the conference was founded. I’m going to rank them from worst to first, based strictly upon winning percentages in the SEC.
The worst head coach in Auburn history was interim coach Bill Oliver, who won exactly zero percent of his SEC games in 1998, after the sudden resignation of Terry Bowden. Oliver’s SEC record was 0–3. Was Oliver the worst coach? Probably not. He inherited a pretty dismal situation, and the whole year was handled pretty messily. Oliver was basically told that he was going to be the next permanent head coach. Then a struggle against Central Florida ensued, a bad beating by Georgia, and Auburn blew a 17–0 lead in the Iron Bowl. Oliver was not retained, and a lawsuit followed.
Checking in at number 11 is Earl Brown. Brown took over a struggling postwar Auburn program in 1948 and lasted 3 seasons. His record in the SEC was 2–18–2, with his lone claim to fame being a stunning 14–13 upset of Alabama in Birmingham in 1949. That works out to an SEC winning percentage of just 13.6 percent. Brown was fired, and a man named Ralph “Shug” Jordan campaigned for, and won, the Auburn head coaching job.
Auburn coach number 10 is Carl Voyles. Due to World War Two, Auburn suspended football operations in 1943 and resumed having a team in 1944. Voyles was given the task of resurrecting the Auburn program and struggled badly. He lasted 4 seasons before being fired and replaced by Earl Brown. Voyles’ SEC record was 4–17, which works out to a winning percentage of 19.0.
Coach number 9 is Gene Chizik, the only Auburn head coach to win a consensus national championship. Chizik was hired in 2009, peaked in 2010 when he won the SEC championship and Auburn was the national champion, then suffered a number of embarrassing blowout losses the next couple of seasons, which led to his firing. Chizik’s SEC record finished at 16–17, a winning percentage of 48.5.
Number 8 in the countdown is Jack Meagher, who served 9 seasons on the Plains. He replaced Chet Wynne, who left for Kentucky in 1934. Meagher never won a championship but did take Auburn to its first 2 bowl bids, the Bacardi Bowl in Havana in 1936 and the Orange Bowl in 1937. Meagher’s SEC record was 26–25–7, a winning percentage of 50.9.
Number 7 on the list only had 1 SEC season at Auburn, its first, in 1933. Chet Wynne finished 2–2 in the SEC, or 50 percent. Wynne was hired away by Kentucky after the 1933 season.
Checking in at number 6 on the list is Doug Barfield, who replaced a legend in 1976 and lasted 5 seasons. Barfield was fired after going 0–6 in 1980 in the SEC. On the field, Barfield actually finished with a losing record, but Mississippi State was forced by the NCAA to forfeit a couple of wins over the Tigers. Officially, Barfield finished at 15–14–1, an SEC winning percentage of 51.7 percent.
Standing in at number 5 on the list is current Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn, who was hired in 2013 to replace Gene Chizik. Malzahn took Auburn from worst to first in the SEC in 2013, but has been pretty mediocre since that year. Malzahn did get Auburn to the SEC title game in 2017 but suffered a blow-out loss to Georgia. Malzahn’s current SEC record is 29–21, or 58 percent. That percentage will go up or down this season and possibly beyond.
The 4th best coach in Auburn history was also the longest-tenured. Ralph “Shug” Jordan started as head coach in Auburn in 1951 and retired at the end of the 1975 season. In his 25 seasons, Jordan had just 1 SEC title, and also the national title, in 1957. A long string of probation seasons hamstrung the squad in the early 1960’s, and the school transitioned to the color television and integration eras with Jordan at the helm. His SEC record was 98–66–4, 59.5 percent.
Number 3 on the list is Tommy Tuberville. Hired in 1999, Tuberville won the SEC title only once in his 10 seasons, but won or tied for the SEC Western Division crown 5 times. Tuberville resigned after a disappointing 2008 season and a blowout loss to Alabama. Tuberville finished with an Auburn SEC record of 52–30, 63.41 percent.
The 2nd best coach in Auburn history was Patrick Fain Dye, who was brought on in 1981. Dye served a dozen seasons and won or shared the SEC title 4 times. He resigned under pressure at the end of the 1992 as Auburn was suffering allegations of improper benefits to players and ended up on NCAA probation for a couple of seasons after Dye left. Dye was also important as an Auburn leader and administrator, taking a program drowning in red ink to a fiscally solvent operation. Dye also was able to force Alabama to play the Tigers every other season in Auburn. Dye’s SEC record was 48–27–3, 63.46 percent, just a photo-finish ahead of Tuberville.
The top coach on the Auburn all-time SEC list may surprise you. Terry Bowden inherited an Auburn program on probation and in turmoil when he took over in 1993. Bowden won his first 14 SEC games and took the program to the SEC title game in 1997. Midway through the 1998 season, convinced that he was going to be fired, Bowden resigned. Bowden’s SEC record finished at 30–15–1, 66.3 percent.