After more than a week of speculation about his employment status, Bryan Harsin is expected to remain as Auburn’s football coach.
Multiple reports Friday said Auburn was expected to announce they are retaining Harsin after significant public speculation over his job security. According to a source within the program the deal isn’t done yet but appears to be trending toward Harsin remaining as the Tigers football coach.
Auburn had investigated Harsin and how he ran his program after concerns arose over staff turnover and 18 players entering the transfer portal since the end of the regular season. Harsin, who went 6-7 in his first season at Auburn, was out of the country on vacation when news of the investigation first became public last week. If Auburn fired Harsin without cause, he would have owed him more than $18 million after he signed a six-year deal worth an average of $5.25 million in Dec. 2020.
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Last Friday, Auburn president Jay Gogue said, “There have been a lot of rumors and speculation about our football program,” Gogue said toward the end of the board meeting on AUM’s campus. “I just want you to know we’re involved in trying to separate fact from fiction. We’ll keep you posted and make the appropriate decision at the right time.”
As speculation swirled around whether Harsin would remain Auburn’s coach, a mix of current and former Auburn players weighed in on the situation. Former defensive lineman Lee Hunter, who transferred to Central Florida, had the strongest opinion in saying Harsin treated his players “like dogs.” Other critics said while Harsin was a good coach, he struggled at cultivating relationships with his players. Conversely, John Samuel Shenker and Chandler Wooten were among players who publicly defended Harsin and his treatment of players.
Harsin, who was on vacation as this all unfolded, defended himself in an interview last Thursday night with ESPN, saying that any attack on his character was “bullshit.” He remained steadfast that Auburn was where he wanted to be and that he planned to be the Tigers’ coach for the long haul.
“This is where I want to be,” Harsin told ESPN. “This is what I want to do. That’s why I came here. I didn’t come here to fail. We’ve got to build something, and right now I feel like when you hear some of these things, that there’s a lot of things building against me. Certainly, I’m the right man for the job. There’s no doubt about it. No one is going to have a better plan than I do, but we’ve got to change some things.
“This place is not going to be a championship program until we change some things. You’ve got to let the head coach be the head coach and support him.”
As Harsin moves forward as Auburn’s head coach, he still needs to find a new offensive coordinator. Harsin fired veteran SEC coordinator Mike Bobo after one season, replacing him with Seattle Seahawks quarterbacks coach Austin Davis. Davis abruptly resigned just 43 days after he was hired from the Seattle Seahawks, citing personal reasons for his decision to step away from coaching. Davis’s departure left Harsin looking for his third offensive coordinator in 13 months, which added to a volatile staff situation during his tenure.
In just one season on the Plains, Harsin had had six assistant coaching changes. The first was when Tracy Rocker left for an NFL job just two weeks after Harsin hired him as defensive line coach on his inaugural staff. Rocker was replaced by Nick Eason, who left last month to return to his alma mater, Clemson, in a similar role. Wide receivers coach Cornelius Williams was fired just four games into the season — a move that Harsin acknowledged was unusual and not ideal, but one he felt was necessary at that time. He promoted Eric Kiesau, who previously served as Harsin’s offensive coordinator at Boise State, from offensive analyst to wide receivers coach.
Auburn also saw defensive coordinator Derek Mason step down from his position on Jan. 21 only to take the same role at Oklahoma State less than a week later. That prompted a shuffling of the defensive staff, with Jeff Schmedding promoted to defensive coordinator and Harsin bringing on Jimmy Brumbaugh as defensive line coach and Christian Robinson as linebackers coach.
Despite all the negative attention around the program, Harsin is expected to get a chance to prove his detractors wrong and coach Auburn for a second season.
Nubyjas Wilborn covers Auburn for Alabama Media Group.
Information by Tom Green assisted in reporting of this story.