Philip Montgomery is out. What's next for Hugh Freeze and Auburn?
Auburn will have a new offensive coordinator yet again. But that might not matter as much as what the head coach does next year.
(Austin Perryman/Auburn Tigers)
SPRINGDALE, Ark. — It seems fitting that this post is being written in the city where Gus Malzahn had his final high school coaching job before joining the world of college football.
Malzahn was the last Auburn head coach to have consistent success on the offensive side of the ball. Likewise, Malzahn was the last Auburn head coach to have the same offensive coordinator in consecutive seasons.
That was all the way back in 2017 and 2018, when Chip Lindsey was Malzahn’s coordinator and Jarrett Stidham was his quarterback.
Since then, Auburn has struggled to both get back to SEC championship contention and strong play on that side of the football. The two things are likely coordinated.
But, no matter who held the coordinator role, Malzahn was at his best as Auburn’s head coach when he was hands-on with the offense. A similar realization could be coming for Hugh Freeze, who is one of Malzahn’s longtime friends in the industry.
On Friday afternoon, Auburn announced that offensive coordinator Philip Montgomery would not return for a second season on the Plains.
“I informed Philip today he would not be retained as our offensive coordinator,” Freeze said in a statement. “Philip is a good coach and a good man. Decisions like this are never easy, however, I decided this is best for our program moving forward. I’m appreciative of his efforts this past year and wish him nothing but the best.”
Montgomery, who joined Freeze’s staff after his firing as Tulsa’s head coach, will continue a streak of one-year offensive coordinators for the program.
In 2019, it was Kenny Dillingham. In 2020, it was Chad Morris. In 2021, it was Mike Bobo. In 2022, it was going to be Austin Davis before it became Eric Kiesau. (At the end of the 2022 season, Will Friend and Ike Hilliard shared the role.) In 2023 and 2023 alone, it was Montgomery.
Montgomery was hired for his past as an offensive coordinator, where he helped engineer record-smashing offenses at Houston and Baylor. That also carried into success as a head coach at Tulsa.
Freeze had famously been his own offensive play-caller during his time at both Ole Miss and Liberty, and his expertise on that side of the ball was one of his key selling points when Auburn decided to hire him ahead of the 2023 season.
Yet Freeze, seeing the shape of the roster left by his predecessor, decided to focus his attention more on recruiting in his first season as a head coach. Montgomery, another spread-offense guru, would mesh his ideas with Freeze’s scheme, call the plays and coach the quarterbacks.
The 2023 season did not have the desired effect, particularly through the air — where Freeze and Montgomery both had track records of success.
Auburn finished the campaign at No. 93 nationally in passing yards per attempt and No. 13 out of 14 SEC teams. Against FBS teams with winning records, Auburn ranked No. 118 nationally and last in the SEC. The Tigers also went 0-7 in those games, succumbing to a losing record for a third straight year.
The firing of Montgomery wasn’t a shock. More personnel changes could be on the horizon for Auburn, and not just the reported hiring of Charles Kelly to the defensive staff with the departure of Wesley McGriff to Texas A&M.