Auburn and Texas A&M aren’t all that different. Both programs play in the ultra-competitive SEC West. Both have passionate fan bases supporting them every week. Both just opened up their checkbooks to hire two of the more respected defensive coordinators in the game. Both are located in small college towns.
Yet both have in-state rivals that happen to rank No. 1 and No. 2 in ESPN’s countdown of most desirable jobs in college football.
Now, let’s say both jobs came open today. Which is the more desirable?
That’s the question we asked for this week’s Take Two. Don’t worry, Gus Malzahn and Kevin Sumlin aren’t going anywhere. But if both jobs were indeed available right now, which would be the more attractive option to potential suitors, Auburn or Texas A&M?
Greg Ostendorf: Three years ago, I would have taken the Texas A&M job, no questions asked. The school was about to enter the SEC, and the opportunities were endless. Auburn, meanwhile, had just finished watching its in-state rival win another national championship.
But Malzahn changed the narrative. He wasn’t afraid of Nick Saban and Alabama. He helped beat Saban once in 2010 as the offensive coordinator, and he returned to do it again as head coach in 2013. In both years, Auburn went on to win the SEC and play in the BCS championship game, something Texas A&M never did during that era. In fact, the Aggies haven’t won a conference title since 1998. Are they really ready to win the SEC?
Some might say Auburn is at a disadvantage because they have to play Alabama every year, but I disagree. There’s not a better game in college football than the Iron Bowl. Win or lose, recruits want to be a part of that. Texas A&M had that when it played Texas annually, but the Aggies no longer have a game of that magnitude. Who is their big rival in the SEC?
I realize that Texas A&M is located in a prime spot for recruiting, but so is Auburn. The Tigers pull kids from Georgia every year, and if the addition of Will Muschamp proved anything, it’s that they can go down to Florida and have success. The state of Alabama isn’t too shabby, either. It’s produced 10 first-round draft picks in the last five years. And while it’s never easy to go toe-to-toe with the Crimson Tide for an in-state recruit, Texas A&M has to deal with the likes of Texas, TCU, Baylor and Texas Tech for in-state prospects.
One more note on recruiting: Auburn is about to install the largest video board in college football, topping the current largest at – you guessed it – Texas A&M. That, along with a state-of-the-art indoor practice facility, relatively new dorms for the players and a brand new wellness kitchen, makes it easier for coaches to entice potential recruits to Auburn.
But at the end of the day it starts with winning, and that’s something the Tigers have been able to do more of over the last decade than Texas A&M. Whether it was Malzahn, Gene Chizik or Tommy Tuberville, the coaches on the Plains have simply fared better on the field.
Sam Khan: Trying to choose between these two programs is largely an exercise in splitting hairs, in my opinion. They’re quite similar and both have a lot of positives working in their favor.
Auburn has proved it can compete at a championship level, no doubt. Texas A&M still needs to do that, but when it comes to resources, few can match what the Aggies have.
When Texas A&M was in the Big 12, it was a good job, but I’m not sure I would have called it a premier job. The SEC changed everything for the Aggies. The coffers are full and it shows in Texas A&M’s investment in improving football facilities.
Since 2012, the Aggies have completed a $9 million football weight room project, a $4 million renovation to the lobby of their football complex, added a $12 million nutrition center for athletes and they’re in the final phase of a $16 million project in which the locker rooms and training facilities were vastly upgraded last year with the coaches' offices, the final piece of the puzzle, currently being improved.
That doesn’t even factor in the $485 million redevelopment of Kyle Field, scheduled for completion this year. That’s $526 million in facilities upgrades in the last three years. They pay their coaches at an elite level (see: Sumlin and John Chavis). Whatever resources the Aggies need are there.
The recruiting base Texas A&M has to draw from is one of the best in the country. You don’t have to venture far from College Station to find elite talent. There’s plenty of it in Houston, Dallas and East Texas, and Texas high school football players are among the finest in the country. The Aggies have also shown the ability to go into Louisiana and pluck talent, and they’ve shown the ability to recruit on a national level as well. Being the only SEC school in the Lone Star State is a key selling point for the Texas A&M coaching staff.
Fan support is impressive. Kyle Field is routinely packed, and that’s not likely to change.
Auburn has Alabama to deal with in its state, and as long as Saban is there, the Crimson Tide aren’t going anywhere. The Texas-Texas A&M dynamic is certainly unique and the Longhorns were in control of the state for a long time. But based upon on-field and recruiting results since A&M joined the SEC, the Aggies have the upper hand over the Longhorns at the moment. If Texas A&M can make some significant strides forward this year and next and become a true SEC West title contender, they can remain in a position of power in their state and perhaps strengthen that stance.