Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NCF Nation [Print without images]

Thursday, July 28, 2011
SEC names on North Carolina's wish list

By Chris Low

Now that North Carolina is looking for a head coach, two of the hottest names in the SEC over the past year or so are sure to surface as possibilities.

My colleague at ESPN, Bruce Feldman, has Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn and Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart among his top six possibile options to replace Butch Davis, who was fired Wednesday by North Carolina. The Tar Heels will go through this season with an interim coach.

It's a given that Malzahn and Smart are both going to get head jobs, and they're in a position to be choosy. They're both making some pretty good coin, too. Malzahn is set to earn $1.3 million this season and Smart $850,000.

Malzahn has already demonstrated that it's going to have to be the right job for him to leave Auburn. Vanderbilt came after him hard this past offseason with a deal that would have paid him in the $3 million range annually, but Malzahn chose to stay at Auburn.

Smart has worked under Nick Saban since the 2006 season when Smart was on the Miami Dolphins' staff. Smart's name has already come up in some job searches the last couple of years, but he figures to be an even hotter commodity following this season, especially if Alabama has a big year.

Malzahn and Smart aren't the only two SEC assistants who will be on head-coaching short lists in the next year or two. Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain and Arkansas offensive coordinator Garrick McGee are two others to watch.