The first step toward Auburn ironing out its football future came Saturday when reports surfaced from multiple outlets that the school was targeting Mississippi State’s John Cohen to be its new athletics director.

The deal isn’t official, but it seems to be heading in that direction. And it’s a curious choice, given that he’s a Mississippi State alum and former baseball coach who only moved to the administrative side in 2016. That’s not to suggest Cohen is a good or bad hire for Auburn, but it is somewhat surprising. At a school where competing with Alabama and contending for national titles in football matters far more than anything else, Cohen’s credentials as a fixer of football programs are not exactly ironclad.

And trust us when we tell you there’s going to be a lot to fix.

Auburn’s 41-27 loss to Arkansas on Saturday was a perfect representation of just how sad things have gotten on the Plains. Not only did Arkansas pretty much do as it pleased, racking up 520 offensive yards and methodically dominating the game, but it barely even registered as a big deal.

It’s a game Auburn was supposed to lose. And if Auburn is supposed to lose at home to Arkansas, that’s when you know it’s time to pull the plug on whatever is going on and start all over again. Even Bryan Harsin, the second-year coach whose eventual firing is among the surest things in sports, isn’t trying to spin it.

“We’re just not good enough,” he said. “That’s what it comes down to.”

If Auburn winning a national title in 2010 and coming within a couple of plays of doing it again in 2013 is the upper limit of what the program can be, the last couple of seasons has shown what the floor looks like when the wrong coach is in place. Harsin means well and was a good coach at Boise State, but he took the job without understanding or embracing the talent acquisition component that makes all the difference in the SEC.

You can’t win in that league at the level Auburn aspires to without going head-to-head in recruiting against Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and Tennessee and winning some of those battles. As things currently stand, Auburn is ranked 49th in the country in recruiting for next year according to 247 Sports. And given how much talent has bled out of the program already – including quarterback Bo Nix, who is having a phenomenal season after transferring to Oregon – it could be really bad for the next couple of years before it gets better.

 

Even Harsin probably knows by now that his lack of recruiting success is going to do him in, and justifiably so. A baseline-level recruiter at Auburn has no business falling outside the top 25 in that department.

A coach with some recruiting chops will offer some hope to Auburn fans. But goodness what a fall it has been from the days of worrying about Gus Malzahn beating Alabama (which he did three times, by the way) to now being 3-5 and not a factor at all in the SEC.

If Cohen is indeed the next athletics director, he will have one job and one job only: Finding a football coach who gets Auburn, understands the SEC, and can acquire enough talent to get back into the top 10.

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But for now, there’s only uncertainty and anger about how Auburn let the program fall this far. That’s why the Tigers are No. 1 in this week’s Misery Index, a weekly measurement of which fan bases are feeling the most angst about the state of their program.

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