December 7, 2022
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Auburn fires Bryan Harsin: Tigers end awkward, unsuccessful tenure of second-year coach

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Auburn fired coach Bryan Harsin on Monday following a 41-27 loss to Arkansas, putting an end to 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 dating 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 that will return the Auburn program to a place where it is consistently competing at the highest levels and representing 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 on one of the hottest seats in the country despite spending only one year on The Plains. Following a 6-7 debut in 2021 that ended with 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, kicked off a week-long saga during which powerful people associated with the Auburn athletic department reportedly sought to fire Harsin for cause. The move would have allowed those in power to avoid paying a roughly $15 million buyout. 

The effort ultimately 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 he was stepping down from 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 to the same role, according to multiple reports.

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

A former quarterback at Boise State, the 45-year-old Harsin arrived 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 one season as the coach at Arkansas State where he went 7-5 in 2013 and won a share of the Sun Belt championship.

The product had regressed to unsustainable level

When Malzahn coached the Tigers, they were at least competitive. At best, they were national title contenders. At worst, they were a middle-of-the-pack SEC team. That floor has dropped like a rock in the year-plus under Harsin. This is the worst Auburn team since the 2012 squad 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 running back Tank Bigsby the ball 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 only converted 37.38% of their third-down opportunities. 

Meanwhile, the lack of effort in the recruiting game has been stunning. 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 previous eras, it might seem crazy to dismiss a coach before he even finishes his second season. This is a much different era, however. “Program building” isn’t about hitting the high school recruiting trail hard anymore. It’s about managing the comings and goings of the transfer portal. It’s about exposure in the name, image and likeness world. Harsin didn’t do any of that. 

More than two dozen players have departed the program via the transfer portal since the beginning of last season, including just last week when several players — including wide receiver Landen King — jumped ship. At the same time, he didn’t add many impactful players into the program. The most noteworthy incoming transfer last offseason was quarterback Zach Calzada, but he hasn’t played a snap this season after suffering a shoulder injury. What’s more, the lack of star power across the board, coupled with the absence of Auburn from the national spotlight, hasn’t helped matters. That is on Harsin as well.

Timing is everything on 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 were headed into the bye week. It’s clear now, though, that Roberts was waiting to get all of his ducks in a row before stamping his signature on the future of the athletic department. 

The reports that surfaced that Mississippi State athletic director John Cohen is in discussion to take over in the same role on The Plains are an integral part of this process. It’s unclear whether Cohen was involved in any part of the decision to fire Harsin, but it is clear that Roberts — who began serving as Auburn’s president in May — wants to rip the bandage off and start fresh.

With that said, getting out in front of this coaching search wasn’t necessary. It was assumed around the country that the Auburn job would open up at some point, so it’s not like coaches, agents and players were surprised by this news. Plus, Auburn isn’t likely to have the same candidate list that schools with current vacancies have — namely Nebraska and Wisconsin.





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