Auburn fires Bryan Harsin: Tigers end awkward, fruitless tenure as sophomore

Auburn fired coach Bryan Harsin Monday after a 41-27 loss to Arkansas, ending an uncomfortable and fruitless tenure at The Plains. Harsin was relieved of his duties as the Tigers fell two games under .500 to 3-5 in the season, with the program dropping 10 of their last 13 games and nine of their last 10 against Power Five opponents from last season.

“Auburn University has decided to change 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 programme. Auburn will immediately begin searching for a coach who will return the Auburn program to a place where it consistently competes at the highest level and represents the winning tradition of Auburn football.”

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

Harsin entered the 2022 season on one of the hottest courses in the country despite only spending a year at The Plains. After a 6-7 debut in 2021 that ended in five straight losses, school power brokers attempted a coup to oust Harsin from his position. Frustrations over roster and coaching staff turnover, as well as Harsin’s failure to sign a single player on the traditional National Signing Day in February, sparked a week-long saga in which powerful figures from Auburn’s athletic department reportedly attempted to fire Harsin because. The move would have allowed those in power to avoid a takeover of around $15 million.

The attempt finally failed. Auburn retained Harsin for a second season, though he was by no means on solid ground. In August, athletic director Allen Greene, who was instrumental in hiring Harsin, announced that he was retiring from the program. With the Tigers having to hire a new AD, Harsin’s survival became even more difficult.

Auburn is in Employed AD John Cohen of the State of Mississippi taking on the same role after several reports.

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

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

Product had declined to unsustainable levels

When Malzahn coached the Tigers, they were at least competitive. At best, they were national title contenders. At worst, they were a middle-class SEC team. This ground fell like a stone under Harsin the year after next. This is the worst Auburn team since the 2012 roster, which went 3-9 overall and 0-8 in the SEC. The defense is 11th in the SEC in defensive yards per game (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 run the ball back to 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 chances.

Meanwhile, the lack of effort in the recruiting game was startling. The Tigers ranked ninth in the SEC in the 247Sports team recruitment rankings last cycle, seventh in 2021 and currently sit 12th in the 2023 conference rankings. That’s in a place like Auburn with so much heritage, passion and availability Resources unacceptable.

Product of the new era

In earlier eras, it might seem crazy to fire a coach before he’s even finished his second season. However, this is a very different era. “Program building” is no longer about hitting hard on the high school recruiting path. It’s about managing the comings and goings of the transfer portal. It is about presence in the world of names, images and similarities. Harsin did none of that.

More than two dozen players have left the program via the transfer portal since the start of last season, including just last week when several players – including wide receiver Landen King – left the ship. At the same time, he did not bring many influential players into the program. The most notable signing of last offseason was quarterback Zach Calzada, but he hasn’t played this season after suffering a shoulder injury. Additionally, the lack of star power across the board, coupled with Auburn’s absence from the national spotlight, hasn’t helped matters. This is also on Harsin.

Timing is everything on the administrative side

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

That reports that have surfaced Mississippi athletic director John Cohen discussing taking on the same role at The Plains is an integral part of that process. It’s unclear if Cohen was in any way involved in the decision to fire Harsin, but it’s clear that Roberts – who has served as Auburn’s president since May – wants to rip the federation down and start over.

Other than that, there was no need to face this coaching quest. It was assumed across the country that the Auburn job would eventually become vacant, so it’s not as if coaches, agents and players were surprised by the news. Also, Auburn likely won’t have the same candidate list as schools with current job openings — namely, Nebraska and Wisconsin.



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