Joseph Goodman: Bryan Harsin never had a chance
He never shot.
Finally, Bryan Harsin left. He lasted less than two seasons at Auburn, but seemed to create enough infamy to last a decade.
Hired during the pandemic, Harsin will go down as one of the worst football coaches in Southeastern Conference history. Officially, Auburn University fired Harsin on Monday, October 31, 2022, but know that the job of rebuilding Auburn football without Harsin has been building behind the scenes for months. Better days are ahead for Auburn football, and the future begins with the hiring of a new athletic director.
It’s been a busy few days on the Plains.
On Saturday, during Auburn’s 41-27 loss to Arkansas at Jordan-Hare Stadium, news broke of Auburn’s interest in John Cohen, a Tuscaloosa native and longtime SEC baseball coach who had been Mississippi State’s director of athletics since 2016. Cohen Resigns to his position at Mississippi State on Monday morning, and Auburn fired Harsin hours later.
The timing of these moves cannot be ignored. Auburn plays Mississippi State in six days, and the Tigers’ loss to Mississippi State in 2021 was the beginning of the end for Harsin. During that loss, former Auburn quarterback Bo Nix broke his leg, but remained in the game after the injury.
Nix never played at Auburn again, transferring to the University of Oregon after the 2021 season. With Nix at quarterback, Oregon is currently ranked No. 8 nationally in the AP Top 25 poll at 7-1 overall and 5-0 in the Pac -12. Without Nix at quarterback, Harsin’s Auburn teams have never won another game against a Power 5 opponent other than that giveaway victory at Missouri earlier this season.
Entering Mississippi State’s week, Auburn had lost seven of its last eight games against SEC teams, and that lone repeat came with Missouri running back Nathaniel Peat making an untouched goal-line fumble just feet from winning the match in overtime. But there’s only so much you can expect from Auburn Jesus. With Harsin, the Tigers were cursed from the start.
Fortunately, Harsin’s hex is now broken. By trick-or-treating, Auburn ended its zombie football coach’s misery on Halloween. In my column after Saturday’s game, I wrote these words: “Let Auburn erase its memory of these last two years. Harsin held his introductory press conference on Christmas Eve. Release this shadow chariot on All Saints Day.”
Done and done.
Let the healing begin, please. It will take money, but Auburn appears willing to spend it. It’s always like that. The school paid Gus Malzahn $21.45 million to leave in 2020 and Harsin’s buyout is reportedly $15.5 million. A new coach won’t come cheap, and that’s a short list of candidates who can compete with Alabama’s Nick Saban and Georgia’s Kirby Smart in recruiting. At the top of Auburn’s list should be Lane Kiffin, and if the former Mississippi State athletic director can hire Kiffin away from Ole Miss, then Auburn will instantly become the sexiest town in the SEC.
With Kiffin at the helm of football and Bruce Pearl at the helm of basketball, there would be no bigger spotlight in the country than the one shining on Auburn.
Cohen, Auburn’s new athletic director, is an SEC lifer and understands what it means to coach in this league. For Auburn football, that means having the players needed to compete against Alabama and Georgia, and doing whatever it takes to get them to Auburn. Auburn is building its war chest for the next recruiting class through significant donations to its NIL teams.
Thanks to NIL and the transfer portal, failing teams with wealth and prestige can be quickly rebuilt. Look at USC. Coach Lincoln Riley left Oklahoma for USC and immediately began attracting elite talent such as former Oklahoma quarterback Caleb Williams and former Pitt wide receiver Jordan Addison. It can be Auburn’s model for success with the right engagement.
In other words, someone like Kiffin.
Auburn regained its status as an elite coaching shopping destination by firing Harsin. Harsin never got the respect Auburn deserved. In this column, Harsin was held responsible for the lack of transparency during the pandemic, and then for the lack of talent as a coach. The two things were not unrelated.
Harsin refused to support vaccination against COVID-19 and then refused to address his vaccination status even when Auburn employees were required to be vaccinated or face being fired. The state of Alabama then changed its laws before Auburn’s vaccination deadline.
Harsin has shown a disgusting lack of respect for Auburn, the people of Alabama and responsibility for a position of power during a crisis. Harsin failed to lead Auburn in all things, so it was no surprise that Auburn didn’t even show respect to Harsin’s name in its short note announcing his dismissal. However, she mentioned the word leadership.
“Auburn University has decided to make a change in the leadership of the Auburn University football program,” the statement read.
Harsin didn’t know how to get hired in the SEC, but he couldn’t even keep the talent he had. His two best assets were Nix and defensive coordinator Derek Mason, both of whom left after the 2021 season. Nix was a legacy player and a three-year starter. Mason took a pay cut to leave Auburn for Oklahoma State.
They understood before everyone else. Auburn remains a complicated piece of art, difficult to unlock but rare. Harsin painted by numbers and wanted people to believe he was Picasso.
Joseph Goodman is a columnist for Alabama Media Group and author “We Want Bama: A Season of Hope and the Making of Nick Saban’s ‘Ultimate Team'”. You can find him on Twitter @JoeGoodmanJr.
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