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November 25, 2012

Auburn may struggle to hold class together

MORE: AuburnSports.com: Coaching candidates

Dallas Jackson is the National Columnist for Rivals.com. Email him your comments or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.

Greeted by jeers when he was hired, Gene Chizik was equally as unceremoniously removed from his position as the head coach at Auburn on Sunday following one of the worst seasons in the program's history.

What comes next is a search for a coach who will have to choose to take a job at a program that has fired a man two years removed from a BCS championship and has the NCAA investigating two of its current assistant coaches, Trooper Taylor and Curtis Luper, for recruiting violations.

An early candidate list according to AuburnSports.com includes former Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino, current St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher, Arkansas State head coach Gus Malzahn, Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart and Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin, among others.

Whichever man takes the job will have to immediately decide what to do in keeping the No. 10-ranked recruiting class in the nation from crumbling.

Rivals.com national analyst Mike Farrell said that the assistants at Auburn are more important than the head coach, at least for the current class.

"The biggest question isn't about who will replace Chizik but whether or not they keep Trooper Taylor around," Farrell said. "This is a good class top to bottom, but it is also heavily tied to the assistants and not the head coach."

Farrell said that among Taylor, Luper, Mike Pelton and Tommy Thigpen, at least one has to be a part of the new coaching staff for recruiting purposes.

Five-star prospects Reuben Foster, Carl Lawson and Dee Liner are the Nos. 2, 4 and 21 players in the country, and all have ties to one of those four coaches.

That trio of players is joined by Earnest Robinson and Trey Johnson inside the Rivals100 as well as with ties to Taylor and Thigpen.

Rivals.com Southeast recruiting analyst Woody Wommack said that it is not out of the question for all five to sign elsewhere on National Signing Day.

"This could be a disaster," Wommack said. "There is a real possibility to lose three five-star players and a handful of four-star guys. With so many guys being soft commitments and already looking around, this has the potential to be a totally barren class."

Foster is the top player in the class for Auburn. He transferred to Auburn (Ala.) High from Georgia and has an AU tattoo on his arm.

According to Rivals.com Southeast analyst Kynon Codrington, Foster's future is tied to that of Taylor.

"If the next coach wants Reuben Foster, he will have to keep Trooper Taylor," Codrington said. "In this case, it may well be that simple.

[AuburnSports.com: Recruits react to Chizik firing ]

"I don't know where he would go if it weren't Auburn, but most every school would find a spot for him."

Foster has visited Georgia and LSU but figures to stick with Auburn so long as Taylor remains with the program.

This past weekend Liner was a guest of Alabama for the Iron Bowl, a game that Alabama won 49-0.

Codrington suspects that if the Muscle Shoals (Ala.) defensive end were to rescind his commitment, it would be to sign with Alabama.

"There has been a lot of controversy around Liner this year," Codrington said. "Between injuries and some personal stuff that has kept him off his high school team, there are a lot of things going on there. He may already be Alabama's to lose if they want him and he can get into school."

Lawson has taken to Twitter to express his wavering from the program, saying that there will always be a spot in his heart for AU.

Wommack said there was writing on the wall that Lawson was not going to stick with the Auburn program through a Chizik firing.

"Lawson was looking around before this all went down," Wommack said. "He has too many options and too many people pulling at him. He was one of the guys that looked like he may not have made it to signing day even if Chizik didn't get let go."

Robinson, a Pinson Valley (Ala.) receiver, may be the fourth-highest-rated commit in the class, but his stock has been on the rise since his performance at the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge in Atlanta last summer.

A Taylor target -- and a player with offers to most every other SEC school -- Robinson could find a spot very easily, according to Codrington.

"Robinson came out of the summer events with many people believing he was the best receiver in the country," Codrington said. "He has offers from everyone and is clearly an SEC-caliber player. He would have his choice of schools."

Already listed as a soft commitment, Johnson may use this as a final straw for his pledge to Auburn.

"Trey was committed because of Ted Roof," Wommack said. "When Roof went to Penn State, that was a big hit to his loyalty. I don't see him sticking through this."

Williams was considered to be a Florida lean if Chizik was fired, but speculation is that following his trip to Ohio State this weekend, the Buckeyes may now be a leader for his signature.

[AuburnSports.com: Complete coverage of the Auburn coaching search ]

Farrell said that many players had been bracing for Chizik to be fired and the next few weeks will be very important for Auburn.

"There is no bowl, and so there is no interim," Farrell said. "Auburn cannot mess around with this hire, and it cannot afford to make a third-choice hire. The team will need a splashy hire.

"Chizik got lucky to get what he got. He was not an exciting hire and he lucked into Cam Newton, but beyond that he really has done nothing. This is a proud fan base, and it is passionate. There are a lot of selling points to a new coach, but Auburn needs to get a first-choice guy and not drag this out."


Dallas Jackson is the High School Football analyst for Rivals.com. Email him your question, comment or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.



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