John Cohen pulled out a sheet of paper containing a list of 58 items and held it high, keeping its contents a secret.
That single sheet of paper represented a syllabus of sorts for Cohen, Auburn’s new athletics director, to help guide him through the process of what will be his top priority — hiring a new football coach on the Plains after the program parted ways with Bryan Harsin last Monday, just hours before Cohen was officially announced as AD.
“I’m not going to open it up, but this is a very, very long process,” Cohen said Tuesday morning during his introductory press conference.
Read more Auburn football: Everything Auburn AD John Cohen said at his introductory press conference
Cohen didn’t want to get too much into the weeds about the search, which began in earnest after the firing of Harsin and the promotion of Cadillac Williams as interim head coach, but he shared some insight into the process and a few of the criteria he is looking for in Auburn’s next coach. That list of 58 items was part to-do list, with questions to ask candidates, and part guideline, somewhat of a checklist for the characteristics Cohen wants to identify in the next coach.
Chief among those were culture, the X’s and O’s, and recruiting. Cohen believes those are three of the utmost important items to nail in this search. If a candidate can check those boxes, Cohen will feel confident in the decision.
“Those three things have to be up front, but there’s a whole lot of other things that have to be answered before you get really deep into it,” Cohen said.
The process will take time, which Cohen has on his side thanks to Auburn president Dr. Chris Roberts’ decision to part ways with Harsin in-season. There are still two-plus weeks before the regular season ends, nearly four weeks until the transfer portal window opens and six weeks until December’s early signing period. While Cohen didn’t put a timeline on making a hire, having someone in place before those key recruiting dates makes the most sense.
Cohen will have the assistance of a search firm—just as Roberts used TurnkeyZRG in the search that brought Cohen to the Plains from Mississippi State—which will help with logistics and background checks but won’t help identify candidates. That aspect, and every other phase of the coaching search will be handled internally by Cohen, who will have final say on the hire but wants to take advantage of all the input and information at his disposal within the department.
“(The search) obviously dominates my time, which it should,” Cohen said. “The football head coaching position at Auburn University is a critical decision, and we take it with the utmost seriousness. There will not be anything we don’t look at. Everything is on the table every day.”
For Cohen, this will not be his first time making a football coaching hire. He twice hired for the position while at Mississippi State, the first search bringing then-Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead to Starkville, the second—after pulling the plug on the Moorhead experiment two seasons in—plucked Mike Leach from Washington State. Your mileage may vary on the success of those hires, but Cohen understands the importance of the task ahead of him and the pressure that comes with making that hire.
“I’m gonna use the f-word again,” Cohen said. “It’s about fit. There’s not an exact science. There’s analytics. There’s a little bit of gut feel. There’s a lot of factors. I could read you off this list, a lot of this is commonsensical, a lot of this is really important to me as I’ve been through the hiring process several times.”
That familiarity with the process should work to Cohen’s advantage. At the very least, it makes the pressure of the decision less of a concern. After all, he’s a former baseball coach who has competed on college baseball’s grandest stage in Omaha, Neb., competing for a national championship.
“I’m not a big ‘pressure’ guy,” Cohen said, acknowledging the importance of making the right hire. “I just see opportunity, and Auburn is the land of opportunity. I think we have a great opportunity here and I think the future is really bright.”
Tom Green is an Auburn beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @Tomas_Verde.