NCAA Football

Auburn fires Bryan Harsin: Tigers end second-year coach’s awkward and unsuccessful tenure

Auburn fires Bryan Harsin: Tigers end second-year coach’s awkward and unsuccessful tenure

Auburn fired coach Bryan Harsin on Monday after a 41-27 loss to Arkansas, ending an awkward and unsuccessful tenure on The Plains. Harsin was relieved of his duties as the Tigers fell two games below .500 to 3-5 on the season, with the program dropping 10 of its last 13 games and nine of its last 10 against Power Five opponents that they date back to last season.

“Auburn University has decided to make a change in the leadership of the Auburn University football program,” the school said in a statement. “President Christopher Roberts made the decision after a thorough review and evaluation of all aspects of the football program. Auburn will begin an immediate search for a coach to return the Auburn program to a place where it was consistently competing at the higher and represent. the winning tradition that is Auburn football.”

Harsin finishes 9-12 (4-9 SEC) in less than two full seasons on the job after taking over for Gus Malzahn following the 2020 campaign. Malzahn was 67-35 (38-27 SEC) in eight seasons at Auburn.

Harsin entered the 2022 season in one of the hottest seats in the country despite spending just one year on The Plains. After a 6-7 debut in 2021 that ended with five straight losses, school officials attempted a coup to oust Harsin from his position. Frustrations over roster and coaching turnover, as well as Harsin’s failure to sign a single player on the traditional National Signing Day in February, set off a weeklong saga in which powerful people associated with Auburn’s athletic department tried to fire Harsin for cause. The move would have allowed those in power to avoid paying for a roughly $15 million buyout.

The effort ultimately failed. Auburn retained Harsin for a second season, even though he was by no means on solid ground. In August, athletic director Allen Greene, who was instrumental in Harsin’s hiring, announced he was leaving the program. With the Tigers needing to hire a new AD, Harsin’s survival became even more tenuous.

Auburn is in the process of hiring Mississippi State AD John Cohen in the same paper, according to various reports.

Harsin did little to ease the growing tension in Year 2. Auburn beat San Jose State by just eight points in Week 2, a win that preceded a home loss. Penn State and a wild overtime win over Missouri on a kickoff touchback. The Tigers followed with back-to-back losses to LSU, Georgia, Ole Miss and Arkansas to send Harsin packing.

A former quarterback a Boise State, Harsin, 45, came to Auburn after a successful career at his alma mater where he went 69-19 and won three Mountain West titles. His stint in Boise came after one season as a coach State of Arkansas where he went 7-5 in 2013 and won a share of the Sun Belt Championship.

The product had regressed to an unsustainable level

When Malzahn coached the Tigers, at least they were competitive. At best, they were national title contenders. At worst, they were a middling SEC team. This floor has dropped like a rock for another year under Harsin. This is Auburn’s worst team since the 2012 team that went 3-9 overall and 0-8 in the SEC. The defense is 11th in the SEC in defensive yards per play (5.74), total defense (407.1 YPG) and scoring defense (29.9 PPG).

The offense lacks explosiveness, hasn’t developed a go-to receiver, can’t seem to get the ball back from running back Tank Bigsby in key situations and struggles to consistently protect the quarterback. As a result, the Tigers are averaging just 22.9 points per game and have converted just 37.38% of their third down opportunities.

Meanwhile, the lack of effort in the recruiting game has been impressive. The Tigers finished ninth in the SEC in the 247Sports team recruiting rankings this past cycle, seventh in 2021 and are currently 12th in the conference rankings for 2023. That’s unacceptable at a place like Auburn with so much tradition, passion and available resources.

Product of the new era

In earlier eras, it might seem crazy to fire a coach before even finishing his second season. This is a very different era, though. “Program building” is no longer about hitting the high school recruiting trail. It is about managing the comings and goings of the transfer portal. It is about exposure to the world of name, image and likeness. Harsin did none of this.

More than two dozen players have left the program through the transfer portal since the start of last season, including last week when several players, including wide receiver Landen King, jumped ship. At the same time, he didn’t add many impact players to the program. The most notable incoming transfer in the offseason was quarterback Zach Calzada, but he hasn’t played a game this season after suffering a shoulder injury. Also, the lack of star power across the board, coupled with Auburn’s absence from the national spotlight, hasn’t helped matters. This is also in Harsin.

Time is everything in the administrative part

It was somewhat surprising that Harsin wasn’t fired after the 48-34 loss to Ole Miss on Oct. 15, considering the Tigers were heading into a bye week. It’s now clear, however, that Roberts was waiting to get all his ducks in a row before stamping his signature on the future of the athletic department.

The reports that emerged that Mississippi State athletic director John Cohen is in discussions to take on the same role on The Plains is an integral part of that process. It’s unclear whether Cohen had any part in the decision to fire Harsin, but it’s clear that Roberts, who began serving as Auburn’s president in May, wants to rip off the bandages and start over.

That said, going out in front of this coaching search was not necessary. It was assumed around the country that the Auburn job would come open at some point, so it’s not as if coaches, agents and players were surprised by this news. Also, Auburn likely won’t have the same list of candidates that the schools with current vacancies, namely Nebraska and Wisconsin, have.

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