Auburn Fires Sunny Golloway
Kendall Rogers and Aaron Fitt contributed to this story
The winds of coaching changes in college baseball had stopped blowing over the past few weeks, but the calm is now over. Auburn shocked the college baseball world Sunday by firing third-year head coach Sunny Golloway “with cause,” as athletics director Jay Jacobs put it in a release. Auburn has appointed assistant coach Greg Norton in charge of the baseball program until a new head coach is hired. Meanwhile, the Tigers have placed pitching coach Tom Holliday, who was just hired before last season, on administrative leave, indefinitely.
Golloway’s removal comes on the heels of a successful season for the Tigers. Golloway, who experienced an immense amount of success at Oklahoma, led the Tigers to a .500 record in his first season. However, they took a huge step forward in Year Two despite some injury setbacks with a 36-26 overall record and an NCAA tournament appearance. Before last season, the Tigers hadn’t reached the NCAA postseason since 2010.
The Tigers are returning an impressive amount of talent in 2016, and Golloway had a team he felt could take yet another step toward rejoining the nation’s elite, as he told D1Baseball earlier this week. Auburn might indeed accomplish that goal, but it will be without Golloway, who went 64-54 in his two seasons with the program.
“I regret to announce that earlier today I dismissed Auburn head baseball coach Sunny Golloway with cause,” Jacobs said. “My commitment will always be to provide the best student-athlete experience in the nation, and we will not accept anything less.”
D1Baseball.com learned from Auburn sources that Golloway met with athletic director Jay Jacobs on Saturday before being fired Sunday morning. We’ve also learned that several members of the Auburn team were waiting for Golloway at his home on Sunday following the news that he was fired. The exact circumstances that led to Golloway’s ouster have yet to be revealed, but sources have confirmed that at least some reasons stem from alleged NCAA violations.
When reached by phone on Sunday, Golloway could not comment on the specifics of his dismissal at the request of his lawyer, perhaps because of the potential buyout that might be coming, despite Auburn firing him “with cause”. Though the “cause” in this situation could recuse Auburn from paying the buyout, Golloway certainly would object. If Auburn was forced to pay the buyout, it would owe Golloway $650,000 over the next four years under his present contract.
Golloway’s lawyer, John Saxon, released a statement Monday morning suggesting that this situation is far from resolved.
“For Coach Sunny Golloway to be fired by Auburn is outrageous. The allegations against him are pre textual. Coach Golloway made no mistakes. If some, who want him gone, say mistakes were made, they are the mistakes of others, who have conspired to make him the victim,” Saxon said. “If it is necessary in the coming days to air these matters, folks from Jay Jacobs on down — but not Sunny Golloway — will be the ones wishing Auburn had handled this differently. As for President Gogue, he does not know the facts. If he did, he would not have acquiesced in the decision. This is a program that hired a disgraced Bruce Pearl, yet now seeks to make a good man and coach, who is nothing but a winner, the fall guy.
“Sunny Golloway is not only a winner, he is a fighter. He has four years left on his contract. There are good arguments, which we are prepared to test in court, that he actually has a lifetime contract,” he continued. “If serious offers of severance are not soon forthcoming, we will be fighting this matter in some forum, quite visibly, as long as it takes to redeem Coach Golloway’s good name and to provide just compensation for him and his family.”
D1Baseball.com reached out to Saxon, and he delivered some additional comments, while not being able to confirm or deny any of the rumored NCAA violations against Golloway, or members of his coaching staff.
“We’re not going to play this game, where they get off cheap and not pay a penny [for his buyout],” Saxson told D1Baseball.com. “My goal is to always do what’s in my client’s best interest, and we stand by our statement, and want to negotiate a decent severance for him.”
Auburn will immediately begin its search for a new head coach.
Kendall Rogers’ Take
Though there had been rumors late this week that something was in the works in regards to Golloway, it seemed way too far-fetched to be the truth. Obviously, we now know that it was, indeed, the truth. The news from Auburn is a bit surprising. The Tigers put together a solid 2015 campaign and this team was prepared to go through the fall and into the spring with even higher aspirations with Golloway leading the charge. Though I’m sure Auburn had its reasons for parting ways with Golloway, sparking instability at this time is definitely a risky proposition. Now, it’s time for the Tigers to go back to the drawing board and find someone who can create stability, and if I’m the Tigers, I’m looking directly at Mississippi State pitching coach Butch Thompson, and perhaps Samford head coach Casey Dunn or South Alabama’s Mark Calvi. Other names that should warrant interest include Florida State pitching coach and recruiting coordinator Mike Bell, Vanderbilt assistant Travis Jewett, and, perhaps even Alabama State head coach Mervyl Melendez, who certainly has a sterling amount of success to his credit.
Aaron Fitt’s Take
Last week, Golloway was in high spirits as he chatted with D1Baseball about his club. He was excited about his strong group of newcomers and optimistic that his Tigers were ready to take another big step next spring, in the wake of their unexpected run to the NCAA tournament this past spring. So it was a surprise when rumors surfaced this weekend that Golloway could be on the hot seat. Golloway has his share of critics, but he has a long track record of winning that stretches back to his days at Oral Roberts and Oklahoma. He turned Auburn around more quickly than anyone anticipated last spring, and his sudden departure leaves the program in a strange spot. As Kendall mentioned, Butch Thompson, Casey Dunn and Mark Calvi are natural names for the Tigers to target, along with potentially UAB head coach Brian Shoop or Alabama State head coach Mervyl Melendez.
But the timing of this coaching change creates some issues, and prying a coach free from his school during the middle of fall ball could be a bit tricky. Still, this is a very attractive job, and the returning talent base on the Auburn roster is strong — whoever winds up as the new head coach will be in position to hit the ground running. My money is on Thompson, who has coached as an assistant at Auburn in the past and is one of the best pitching coaches in the country. He has the right temperament to be a fantastic head coach, and he’s more than ready to take over his own SEC program after years as a highly regarded assistant in the conference.
Mark Etheridge’s Take
Golloway was always an interesting hire at Auburn as he didn’t seem to fit the AU mold. The Tigers had just left the John Pawlowski era where they hired a successful mid-major coach. This time, Auburn wanted a splash hire and Golloway had been successful at Oklahoma and taken that program to the College World Series. But he just didn’t fit. Sometimes, shaking things up to go away the norm is just what a program needs. In hindsight though, they would like another crack at this hire.
Golloway did surprise many last season with an NCAA trip and had the Tigers’ program trending upward. They played a good non-conference schedule and rode a strong RPI to the postseason. However, there was an ugly incident during a late SEC series that rubbed many Auburn faithful the wrong way. While it’s always a surprise when a coach is let go this time of year, he would have been at the top of the guess list.
So where does Auburn go from here? Finding a coach willing to walk away from his program during Fall practice can be tricky. Still, this is an SEC job and there are only 14 of them. Someone good will bite.
Ideally, they would find someone who understands the attitude around the campus. Auburn is a place where personal conduct has more relevance than some other places. And, after this situation with Golloway, that will likely take on even greater significance during the search.