With Brett Hawke resigning after a decade as head coach, the Auburn Tigers have one of the most intriguing job openings in recent memory – and the buzz is that the frontrunners could be current head coaches at other programs.
Sure, every fan, alumnus, and swimmer in the country is certain that their coach would never leave their program; it’s the best place to be! But, for paychecks that are $200,000+ per year, with a rumored six-figure swim camp business on top of that, any coach who says they aren’t at least having a conversation with their family about taking a job like Auburn isn’t telling the whole story. We’ll run through some of the names we’ve heard whispered as potential candidates to take on the War Eagle battlecry.
Guys making big salaries elsewhere at the end of their careers with schools they’ve spent generations at, like Jack Bauerle at Georgia and Eddie Reese at Texas, are probably off the table. But almost nobody else should be automatically ruled-out just because they really like where they’re at.
Because salaries of employees at public universities are matters of public record, we’re also able to make compensation comparisons. Though it’s unlikely any of these coaches are solely motivated by money, it would be naive to assume money doesn’t play some role in career choices in any field. Auburn’s draw is massive – Hawke earned $226,640 for the 2016-2017 school year, per Auburn’s public records, and we understand that there’s another six figure swim camp check on top of that. That kind of salary makes this job a big step up for almost any coach in the country.
David Marsh, head coach at UC-San Diego
David Marsh is an obvious candidate. He’s an Auburn alum, having swum there in the late-1970s. He coached Auburn from 1990 to 2007, winning twelve NCAA titles between men and women, including a storied five-year run at the end of his tenure. He’s a multi-time Olympic coach and one of the most respected names in coaching. Marsh spent about a decade coaching at the club level (and building a pro hub out of SwimMAC in Charlotte, North Carolina) before jumping back into the college fray with the University of California – San Diego just last year.
It would be an awfully quick turnaround to bolt for Auburn less than a year after taking the UCSD job, but Marsh has familiarity with the Auburn athletic department, a track record of college success, experience with pro swimmers (helpful with Auburn’s sizable professional training contingent) and club experience (useful with Auburn’s swim camps).
It’s also worth noting that the Auburn salary would be a big step up for Marsh. This year’s salaries aren’t yet available on California’s public records, but Marsh’s predecessor at UCSD earned only $83,000 in his final season. It certainly took more than that to lure Marsh to San Diego, but it also seems unlikely the school is paying Marsh more than $300,000 a year, which would be in the ballpark of his earning potential at Auburn, in a state with much, much lower cost of living.
Dave Durden, head coach at University of California
Dave Durden is the type of coach we talked about in the preface to this list. On the surface, he should have no reason to leave Berkeley. He’s been highly-successful at Cal and is well-compensated – his salary of $254,554 as listed in California’s public records is more than Hawke’s base ($226,000), though it doesn’t include the additional swim camp money that puts Hawke’s earnings well above $300,000, from what we understand.
Durden is currently only the men’s head coach at Cal. It’s possible a co-ed combined program like Auburn is a draw for him, but it’s also possible it’s a deterrent. He doesn’t run swim camps at Cal, which could work the same way – it’s a nice financial bonus and a decent recruiting tool, but also a commitment of time and energy.
It’s worth noting Durden got his start coaching with Marsh at Auburn in the early 2000s before taking on the head coaching role at Maryland. It’s worth recalling that Maryland post, because the University cut its swimming program shortly after Durden left. It’s hard to say if that specter has any impact on Durden, whose current school is hiring a new athletic director and just announced it would be reducing roster spots for men’s sports by the year 2021. Durden says that shouldn’t affect the swim and dive program at Cal, but an athletic department suggesting it’s having trouble sustaining all of its sports is a somewhat-ominous sign even to the most secure swim coach.
Todd Desorbo, head coach at University of Virginia
Todd Desorbo just started with Virginia, and seems to have a whole head of steam built up after spirited postseasons by his men’s and women’s teams. But Auburn still has to be a big draw for Desorbo, considered one of the hottest sprint coaches in the country now rumored to be in the mix for one of the NCAA’s most storied sprint schools.
Virginia currently has some constraints on international recruiting centered around the TOEFL, or Test of English as a Foreign Language. Virginia requires a score of 90 on that test for international students – an extremely high mark compared to other universities. (For example, Auburn only requires a 79, same as Texas. Cal requires a 78, NC State an 80, UCLA an 87, etc.). While that certainly hasn’t hampered the recruiting Desorbo is already doing in the swimming-rich state of Virginia, it’s also not ideal for a coach to effectively cut off one entire recruiting segment. Desorbo saw firsthand the impact internationals can have during his time at NC State, and there’s no doubt Auburn already has a strong international pipeline, particularly to Brazil.
For what it’s worth, Desorbo’s salary is also likely in the ballpark of that listed for former coach Augie Busch: $122,004 in 2016-2017.
Update: Desorbo has apparently ruled himself out of the running, tweeting that he would prefer to stay at Virginia:
— Todd DeSorbo ⚔️ (@ToddDeSorbo) April 10, 2018
Sergio Lopez, associate head coach at Auburn University
Of course, Sergio Lopez‘s name has been brought up plenty in this discussion. An associate head coach at Auburn, Lopez has previous head coaching experience at West Virginia, though he’s perhaps best-known for his time at the Bolles School in Florida – one of the most famous high schools in swimming, and the home base for Ryan Murphy, Santo Condorelli, and Joseph Schooling, as well as the club base for Caeleb Dressel, (though Dressel himself swam for a different high school).
Lopez also has a strong international reach. He was a Spanish Olympian during his swimming days and served as Singapore’s head high performance coach during the years Schooling upset Michael Phelps for Olympic 100 fly gold. Lopez would also have the added bonus of not having to relocate his family for the job, and already has a working relationship with the team after two seasons on staff with Auburn.
Braden Holloway, head coach at NC State University
Like most of these head coaches, Braden Holloway is in a position which he likely isn’t actively looking to leave. He’s built NC State into a juggernaut that can realistically challenge for an NCAA title on the men’s side, and seemed to be heading in the right direction on the women’s side before injuries racked the team this season.
On the other hand, the incredible recruiting clip Holloway has set in his time in Raleigh could probably only be accelerated by a school with the athletic profile of Auburn, and Auburn’s international pipeline could set up Holloway to bring in more talents like Andreas Vazaios or Anton Ipsen.
The big draw might be salary. Holloway’s earnings are currently listed at $144,000 yearly, though he likely also gets a bonus for NC State’s swim camps. Still, he could be making at least $100,000 more at Auburn – that’s not pocket change.
Neal Studd, head coach at Florida State University
Neal Studd has had a rapid rise into the highest ranks of coaching without bouncing through a whole lot of programs. He spent 8 years as an assistant at Florida Atlantic – his alma mater – followed by 9 at Florida Gulf Coast University. Over that time, he built FGCU into one of the premier mid-major programs in the country, which got him on the radar for Florida State’s job opening in 2016.
That relatively longevity at previous jobs suggests Studd might not be likely to uproot his family and move to Auburn after just two seasons in Tallahassee. But the Auburn job would certainly seem like a long-term destination for Studd, and would be a massive increase in both pay (Studd is listed at about $135,000 a year at FSU currently) and in school profile and recruiting potential.