Auburn, Ala.--A telephone survey of residents in the Auburn area conducted on Thursday night found no clear favorite to the question of who fans would prefer to see as Auburn University’s new head football coach.
Dr. David B. Hill of Hill Research Consultants said his company surveyed 500 people who identified themselves as Auburn fans and that the number one answer to the question of who they would like to see as the replacement for Gene Chizik was “unsure.”
Of respondents who picked a coach, the leader was Gus Malzahn, the former Auburn offensive coordinator who is in his first season as head coach at Arkansas State University. Malzahn polled 25 percent.
Another former Auburn offensive coordinator, Bobby Petrino, finished second with 18 percent of the vote. Petrino is a former head coach at Louisville and Arkansas. He coached at Auburn during the 2002 season.
Jimbo Fisher, the head coach at Florida State, was next with 15 percent. Fisher served as a quarterback coach for Auburn from 1993-1998.
Kirby Smart, a former University of Georgia football player who is defensive coordinator at Alabama, was the other name poll respondents were given as a coaching choice. He received a 12 percent response.
Dr. Hill noted that two percent of the respondents gave other names as their favorite while one percent refused to state a preference.
The survey also asked respondents to pick their number two choice to be head coach. Adding the second choices to the mix the order of preference remains the same with Malzahn at 39 percent, Petrino at 33 percent, Fisher at 30 percent and Smart at 27 percent.
Bobby Petrino is seen in action while head coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks.
Dr. Hill said he has been involved in polling since 1980. His firm specializes in research on public affairs, public policy and corporate issues, but has also conducted studies for the past 25 years for professional sports teams including the Miami Heat, Tennessee Titans, Detroit Lions, Dallas Mavericks and Denver Broncos. Dr. Hill writes a weekly column on polling and politics for The Hill, a newspaper in Washington, D.C.
An Auburn University graduate, Dr. Hill said that he decided to do the poll because of his interest in his alma mater’s football team and the intense passion of the fans. He noted the university had no involvement in the poll or his decision to conduct it.
Asked if anything surprised him about the results, he said, “I would have guessed there was more certainty about who people’s preferences were or who they just absolutely didn’t like.”
Auburn fans were asked whether there is a candidate to be head coach they could not support. Petrino was the name most mentioned at 21 percent, Hill said. “No other coaching candidate garnered more than three to four percent opposition,” he added
Jimbo Fisher is in his third full season as head coach of the FSU Seminoles.
Asked for his analysis on the results of the poll, he said, “If I were an adviser to the athletic department I would say all of these are manageable numbers whoever they select,” Dr. Hill said.
He added, “A lot of people were happy to have a second choice. The only downside to this from an institutional standpoint is just the fact there is no coalescence around any one or even two people. If they have four people who they think are equally good from a football perspective it would be nice to say there is a clear fan favorite. In this case there is not.”
Dr. Hill said the margin error with a sample of 500 fans is plus/minus 4.4 percent of Auburn fans in Lee County.
Gus Malzahn spent three seasons coaching at Auburn.
He noted the survey also showed that 47 percent of season ticket holders had Malzahn as a first or second choice with the number rising to 51 percent among Tigers Unlimited Foundation donors. Petrino was mentioned as a first or second choice of 35 percent of the season ticket holders and rose to 42 percent with fans who said in the survey they are Tigers Unlimited Foundation donors.
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