Leave it to Auburn to pull the biggest stunner of the Silly Season to date. Wait, Auburn?
The school that always brings in people familiar with the Southeastern Conference, the state of Alabama or life-time members of the ‘Auburn Family.’
Yes, that Auburn, the institution that hadn’t hired a head football coach unless he had previously coached at Auburn, in the state of Alabama or at another SEC school since… the 1940s!
Boise St. head football coach Bryan Harsin is leaving the smurf turf for The Plains. On Tuesday night, one day after it was widely reported that head coaches in both the Sun Belt (Billy Napier, Louisiana HC and former Alabama assistant) and Conference USA (UAB HC Bill Clark) had withdrawn their names from consideration for the Auburn gig and just hours after reports that Auburn had finally reached out to Libery HC Hugh Freeze, it became official — Harsin would replace Gus Malzahn.
(It is believed — at least by this space — that Napier, not Clark, actually had a job offer from Auburn and turned it down. Clark had conversations with the Auburn brass, but I don’t believe he turned down an actual offer.)
Harsin is only 44 years old, but he has a 69-19 record in seven seasons with the Broncos. The old adage in coaching is that you never want to be the man that replaces The Man (think Ray Perkins replacing The Bear at ‘Bama or Ron Zook being next in line at Florida after Steve Spurrier), but Harsin thrived after Chris Petersen’s legendary run at Boise St.
He won the Mountain West Conference three times and lost in the MWC Championship Game twice, including last week’s loss to undefeated San Jose St. With the exception of this shortened 2020 campaign, Harsin has won at least nine games every year. He’s gone 12-2 twice.
Harsin came to BSU from Arkansas St. after winning the Sun Belt title and going 7-5 in one season in Jonesboro. He has coached in the South two other years, serving as co-offensive coordinator and QBs coach at Texas on Mack Brown’s staff in 2011 and 2012.
Harsin has a 3-2 record in five bowl games.
He arrived in Auburn on Christmas Eve, briefly speaking with a few fans and reporters as you can see below:
Harsin’s introductory press conference is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. ET., and my guess is that it’ll be carried live on The SEC Network.
We need to give Auburn AD Allen Greene a lot of credit on this one. You see, Auburn operates in a manner that could be dubbed, “A Good Ol’ Boy System.” Prominent boosters not only like to have their say, but they’re also accustomed to getting their way.
And before the eight-day search suddenly ended Tuesday night, this venture to replace Malzahn was starting to resemble the circus that engulfed Knoxville for two weeks after Tennessee canned Butch Jones in 2017.
Reports during the early days of the search indicated that at least one major donor was pushing hard to hire interim HC and fifth-year defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, who went 9-36 during his only HC stint, a four-year tenure at Baylor from 1999-2002.
Steele’s Big 12 record during his time at the helm was an abysmal 1-31.
The narrative around hiring Steele was that it would save the school a bunch of money. Auburn has to pay Malzahn half of his $21.4 million buyout in the next three weeks. The school reportedly is on the hook for around $30 million to buy out the entire staff.
Therefore, keeping Steele and then retaining most of the staff would save AU nearly $10M. It might’ve been what the players wanted, too, and prevented some from exploring the transfer portal.
But more than anything, hiring Steele was the preference of a few boosters so that they could continue to get their two cents in about anything and everything involving the Auburn football program. In short, it would’ve been a terrible hire.
As reports floated that Steele was a legit candidate, the fan base went into an uproar. If you think retaining Malzahn was going to make the fans irate, hiring Steele (or Clark) to replace him was going to take that anger to another level.
Greene wasn’t having it, though. He went out and got the young and accomplished coach and, in doing so, is getting rave reviews from the national media. Again, this was a surprise and not something you’d expect from Auburn, and that’s a good thing for the future of the football program.