On Monday, the Bryan Harsin era at Auburn came to a merciful end with a press release abruptly sent out just before noon that didn't even mention the second-year head coach by name.
Harsin's firing probably should have come about two weeks sooner, ideally after the Ole Miss loss heading into a bye week. But better late than never and more sensible and less damaging than keeping him until the end of the season.
The Auburn leadership made a smart call with the optics of the situation, though, by firing Harsin on the same day it announced John Cohen as the new athletic director. Auburn also seemed to have a plan in place for the remainder of the season, almost immediately naming Carnell Williams as the interim head coach, smartly giving Tigers fans something to cheer about other than another head coach's demise on the Plains.
There's no point in recounting how terrible Harsin's tenure was at Auburn other than to say that his name and tenure will likely replace Doug Barfield's in conversations about the modern nadir of the football program.
Now, where does Auburn go from here?
Williams faces the unenviable task of trying to steer the Tigers to a positive finish to the season, but he surely has the unconditional support of the entire Auburn administration and fan base, regardless of results.
And from all accounts, Cohen seems to be a solid hire who has plenty of SEC experience and embraces the new reality of recruiting around NIL. He'll get thrown into the fire immediately and will likely make what will be his most consequential coaching hire while serving as Auburn's athletic director, all before he even finds a home to live in on the Plains.
And he has to get the decision right on the football program's next head coach for the sake of Auburn, which can't afford, both financially and emotionally, another ill-fated hire.
The coaching candidates should, at the least, have extensive recruiting experience in the South, a proven track record of winning at a Power 5 program and have embraced the new landscape of college football in the NIL era. Anyone who doesn't meet those three prerequisites likely shouldn't even be on the list, including top-shelf or intriguing coaching candidates like Matt Rhule, Jeff Grimes and Deion Sanders. Auburn simply can't afford to take a chance on an assistant coach, an up-and-comer with potential or a big name for big name's sake unless it wants to increase the risk of running another coaching search in the near future.
The safest bet is probably Lane Kiffin, who has extensive experience in the SEC and has done an admirable job of lifting the performance and expectations of the Ole Miss football program. Hiring Kiffin would be pricey — there would be a buyout involved and he's already paid more than $7 million annually. But Auburn would more than likely get a positive return on any investment made in Kiffin, who seems destined to return to a bigger stage than Oxford can provide.
Another option would be Hugh Freeze, who also seems destined for a return to a bigger stage after pursuing his "penance" at Liberty, where he's worked wonders, amassing a 33-12 record so far and coaching former Auburn quarterback Malik Willis into a third-round NFL Draft pick.
But Freeze would come pulling a wagon of alleged impropriety behind him, from personal indiscretions to his share of blame for recruiting and academic violations that led to a two-year postseason ban and the vacation of wins at Ole Miss, among other punishments doled out by the NCAA. And there would likely always be a contingent of the Auburn fan base that would never forgive Freeze's alleged moral transgressions, although winning is a balm that heals most, if not all, wounds.
An unlikely option would be to throw the bank at Urban Meyer, who would command Nick Saban-level compensation but wouldn't come with a buyout. Auburn officials could at least try to make Meyer tell them no at least a dozen times before moving on.
It seems clear, in any case, that Auburn can't afford to pull a surprise hire out of the hat. That was the case in 1992 when Terry Bowden was hired away from Samford, in 2008 when Gene Chizik was hired away from Iowa State and in the latest hire of Harsin. All of those tenures were short-lived and ended disastrously, despite a pair of undefeated seasons and a national championship during the tenures of Bowden and Chizik.
Auburn can't afford a repeat of those mistakes if it wants to take the step toward its goal of becoming a perennial contender for SEC and national championships. Most importantly, though, Auburn has to get everyone on the same page and pulling in the same direction, from the administration to the trustees, from the boosters to the fan base.
"Just Auburn Being Auburn," or JABA, is often used by fans to describe the head-scratching decisions made by Auburn power-brokers. Roberts, Cohen and the university braintrust need to make that saying a relic of the past.