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Win Iron Bowl, win job. Can it be that simple for Auburn's Carnell Williams? | Goodbread

Chase Goodbread
The Tuscaloosa News

Can a single game make or break a college football coach's future?

I've never been one to think so, even though it sure can seem that way. Generally, a fired coach is shown the door after a loss that helps validate a decision that's already been made. A season of excellence, rather than an afternoon of it, is what begets contract extensions.

But this year's Iron Bowl feels different where the Auburn vacancy is concerned.

This could be Carnell Williams' chance of a lifetime.

If the Auburn interim coach were to upset Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium, he'd find himself on a wave of momentum and good will with the Tigers fan base that he could ride all the way to permanency in the job. He's already energized the AU fan base like few could've expected after beating Texas A&M, even though the Aggies' season was already in full collapse.

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As a former star running back at AU, he's an easy fan favorite. He'd be instantly embraced in the locker room. He's young and fiery and would figure to be an excellent recruiter as a former first-round NFL draft pick. He'd also likely come with a relatively inexpensive price tag, given his lack of head coaching experience, which could be appealing for a school that's bought out Gus Malzahn and Bryan Harsin for a combined $36 million since 2020.

That's a lot of boxes checked for a guy who is as close as down the hall for new athletic director John Cohen. And the groundswell of support he's already gathered would grow exponentially if AU were to win a road game at Alabama for the first time in 12 years.

No single game in the sport can do more for a coach, or more to trigger one's undoing, than the Iron Bowl. Look no further than Tommy Tuberville, who was the toast of the Plains for winning six consecutive Iron Bowls, only to resign after that streak was halted 36-0 in 2008, for evidence of that.

Of course, the safer play for Cohen would be to offer the job to someone with head coaching experience and a track record of success in the Southeastern Conference, such as Liberty's Hugh Freeze or Ole Miss' Lane Kiffin. He's tasked with making a landmark hire within weeks of taking the job, and it’s a decision that will always be stapled to his reputation among Auburn fans, good or bad.

He can't mess this up.

With both the SEC and the College Football Playoff expanding in the coming years, Auburn's place in the landscape of the sport will be shaped by Cohen's choice.

And if Williams pulls off a stunner on Saturday, that decision will at least be harder to make.

Around the SEC

Mike Leach is 0-for-2 in the Egg Bowl, but with Ole Miss reeling after a loss to Arkansas, this could be his best shot yet. Between Ole Miss' run game and Will Rogers' passing exploits, they might put up 1,000 yards between them. ... If slot machines paid like the coaching rumor mill, casinos would pull them off the floor. In the wake of chatter that Kentucky coach Mark Stoops could be a candidate at Auburn or Nebraska, he got an extension that bumps his pay around 25% to $8.6 million annually. The timing? Just a skid of five losses over seven games. SEC Spread Pick of the Week: Auburn +21.5 vs. Alabama. Season: 10-2.

Reach Chase Goodbread at cgoodbread@gannett.com. Follow on Twitter @chasegoodbread.

Tuscaloosa News sport columnist Chase Goodbread.