AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn’s search for its next football coach added a new name and reached a new level of secrecy Thursday.
Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs traveled to Fort Worth, Texas, to interview Texas Christian University coach Gary Patterson, according to reports by ESPN and the Birmingham News.
The 48-year-old Patterson, who has had one of the most successful recent runs at a non-Bowl Championship Series school, going 72-27 the last eight years, is the seventh coach who has reportedly interviewed for the vacancy created when Tommy Tuberville resigned last week.
TCU officials did not immediately respond to inquiries about whether Auburn asked for permission to speak to the coach.
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Jacobs and three advisers — executive associate AD Tim Jackson, senior associate AD Mark Richard and radio sideline reporter Quentin Riggins, a former all-SEC linebacker at Auburn — left for Fort Worth early Thursday morning, according to flight tracking software. TCU is located in Fort Worth.
The crew traveled on a plane registered to Warren Manufacturing Inc., a company based in Birmingham, Ala.
Upon arriving back in Auburn, the delegation went to great — seemingly unnecessary — lengths to avoid any contact with the media contingent that had camped out at the Auburn-Opelika airport.
The plane carrying Jacobs and his entourage landed in Auburn just before 6 p.m., at which point a brown SUV pulled up next to it on the tarmac. The group was seen entering the vehicle before it drove off the premises.
They left through a secondary airport exit, only to return 15 minutes later to drop the members of the party off at their respective vehicles.
Only Riggins offered a no comment.
Patterson joined Buffalo’s Turner Gill, Ball State’s Brady Hoke, Tulsa’s Todd Graham, Louisiana Tech’s Derek Dooley, Georgia assistant Rodney Garner and Miami offensive coordinator Patrick Nix on the list of coaches who have reportedly interviewed with Auburn.
Another rumored candidate, East Carolina’s Skip Holtz, withdrew his name from consideration at Syracuse, where Buffalo’s Turner Gill is the other primary finalist.
As of Thursday afternoon, Auburn had not contacted East Carolina for permission to speak with Holtz.
Patterson has won 10 or more games in five of the last seven seasons at TCU, where he began as Dennis Franchione’s defensive coordinator, taking the reigns as head coach prior to the 2000 GMAC Bowl when Franchione left for Alabama.
TCU is 10-2 this year and ranked No. 11 in the country. The Horned Frogs play unbeaten Boise State in the Poinsettia Bowl on Dec. 23 in San Diego.
A hot coaching name, Patterson interviewed with Clemson and Tennessee about their openings earlier this year.
Note: Punter Clinton Durst, linebacker Spencer Pybus and cornerback Neiko Thorpe were named to the Freshman All-SEC team Thursday.
Durst ranked third in the SEC and 26th nationally in punting, averaging 42.1 yards a kick. Pybus, a reserve, made 14 tackles.
And Thorpe had two interceptions, getting most his playing time in Auburn’s nickel package.