After Firing Golloway, Where Does Auburn Baseball Go From Here?

gollowayOn Sunday, news came down that Auburn Athletic Director Jay Jacobs had fired head baseball coach Sunny Golloway with cause.

Those around the program and several tuned-in members of the college baseball media have noted that there were rumblings leading up to the firing that Golloway might be in hot water, but even still, it was somewhat shocking news. The timing, with the firing falling right smack in the middle of fall practice, couldn’t have been much worse, and head coaches just aren’t fired with cause all that often.

What’s not all that shocking, frankly, is that the relationship between Golloway and Auburn is ending somewhat poorly. For all the strides that the Tigers have made on the field under Golloway, and his team’s performance last season is a great testament to those improvements, he’s had a rough go down on the Plains ever since taking the job.

First, there was the backlash from his former players at Oklahoma as he left Norman and headed to Auburn. Then, there was the mysterious house cleaning he conducted during his first season with the Tigers, when he abruptly booted three players from the program two weeks into the campaign. After that 2014 season, in which his team finished 28-28, it already seemed that Golloway was on the hot seat.

The 2015 season was markedly better on both fronts. There weren’t as many off-field headlines surrounding Golloway’s program and the team finished 36-26 and made it, as an at-large team, into the NCAA Tournament. There was some real momentum heading into the 2016 season, as the Tigers looked poised to take another step forward.

And that’s part of what will make this such a difficult situation for the program. Golloway might not have been the most popular guy in college baseball or even the most popular guy in the Auburn locker room, but he certainly seemed to have the program headed in the right direction, and this move creates a hurdle for the team to overcome.

So, what now?

Well, for starters, Auburn is going to have to deal with the fallout from this decision. Golloway has hired a lawyer in an attempt to claim severance pay that he feels he is owed, and he has stood firm in saying that he has done nothing wrong.

Even if Auburn and Golloway meet somewhere in the middle and settle this with relatively little additional drama, this is going to linger for a while. And if this ends up playing out in a court room somewhere, it stands to become an even bigger distraction.

When it comes to on-field matters, Jacobs and the Auburn athletic department have a few choices.

The path of least resistance is to move forward with Greg Norton as the team’s interim coach all the way through the end of the 2016 season. Norton has managed in the minor leagues, which gives him some quality experience, and by all accounts, he is popular among the players. Even if Tom Holliday, who was placed on leave at the time Golloway was fired, is let go at some point in the future as part of this fallout, the staff could quickly be rounded out by moving up the likes of Hunter Vick and Trent Mummey into full-time roles.

This approach would mitigate the short-term effects of Golloway’s firing for the 2016 team. The players would be dealing with coaches they already know well, and perhaps just as importantly, it would allow Auburn to play the long game with hiring the next head coach. It might be tough to pry away a top assistant or established head coach from another program at this time of year.

Coaches across the country have already invested lots of time and effort into their current rosters and it’s tough to blame them for wanting to see that out. Waiting until next offseason could potentially open up a larger pool of candidates, plus Auburn would more or less have first dibs, given that they would go into the offseason already knowing that they have an opening.

Of course, there are also downsides. For one, you risk hurting recruiting efforts. Even the best recruiters would have trouble getting kids to give their commitment to a coaching staff with interim tags attached to their names. The 2016 team might be in a better place with the current staff, but it might come at the cost of the next couple of recruiting classes.

The other approach, which at this stage appears to be the choice Auburn has made, is to hire a new head coach immediately.

If the athletic department is looking to turn the page quickly and just move on, as it seems is the case, this approach should accomplish that. With a completely new voice in the dugout, with a completely different way of doing things, it will truly feel that Auburn has moved onto a different era.

But, as discussed earlier, hiring a coach now could limit the number of possible candidates available to Jacobs, and putting together a full staff at this time of year also creates some challenges.

If Auburn hires a new head man, is Norton and the rest of the staff cut loose right away? Coaching is a tough business, plain and simple, but that does seem a bit cold, particularly if they had nothing to do with the violation for which Golloway was fired.

If the new coach is an established head coach at another program, such as Samford’s Casey Dunn or UAB’s Brian Shoop (two coaches who have been listed as potential candidates), it is expected that they would bring over at least a portion of their current staff, which makes building a staff significantly easier. But let’s say Auburn chooses to hire a current assistant like Mississippi State’s Butch Thompson or Vanderbilt’s Travis Jewett (two others names that have been discussed). Would they have trouble finding assistants from other programs to bring aboard? Would they feel pressure to keep on Norton or other members of the current Auburn staff? Neither of those scenarios constitute an ideal way to start a head coaching career.

What was looking like a big 2016 season for the program has quickly turned into a season that appears to have significant boom or bust potential. Talent may win out, allowing the Tigers to reach their potential, or the distractions and upheaval may end up being too much to overcome, leading to a disappointing campaign.

Just about the only guarantee is that, given the lack of significant precedent for this type of move at this time of year among big programs, the 2016 Auburn Tigers will be one interesting test case in dealing with coaching turmoil.

About the Author

Joseph Healy
Growing up in Houston, Joe Healy was introduced to college baseball at a young age, and it was love at first sight. Like most good love stories, that love has only grown throughout the years. When he's not at the ballpark, he enjoys tacos, college football during the fall, and the spectacle that is American politics. He holds a B.A. in political science from Sam Houston State University and a Master's in Public Administration from Southern Illinois University- Edwardsville.