For nine days, Auburn was a joke. For nine days, Auburn was disorganized. For nine days, Auburn was a mess. For nine days, Auburn’s search to replace coach Gus Malzahn looked comparable to Tennessee’s week-long whirlwind of dysfunction after fans revolted against the potential hire of Greg Schiano on «Schiano Sunday» in late November 2017.
The dust settled Tuesday when Auburn hired Boise State’s Bryan Harsin , but the school itself didn’t settle at all. It won. Auburn won by hiring a solid coach who has known nothing but success in his professional coaching career.
Harsin was 69-19 in seven seasons at Boise State and won three conference championships. He has never finished worse than second in his division in eight years as a college head coach. I don’t care what level you coach on. If you have that kind of success and, more importantly, sustain that success, you are qualified to coach with the best of the best.
«JABA» became the running joke during Auburn’s nine-day search — «Just Auburn Being Auburn.» It’s a four-word jab aimed directly at the power structure on The Plains that consists of big-money power brokers and an advisory committee full of «Auburn men and women» from different roles across campus. To put it simply, it’s a shot at a power structure has always been a small kitchen with way too many cooks. Those cooks pull the decision makers — athletic director Allen Greene and president Jay Gogue — in so many directions that it becomes impossible for them not to twist in the wind.
The search had several names attached to it including Louisiana’s Billy Napier, UAB’s Bill Clark, Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables and current defensive coordinator/interim head coach Kevin Steele. It was reported that the big power brokers eyed Steele from the jump, but pulled back with they received more backlash than anticipated. Call it a diet version of «Schiano Sunday» if you wish. All of those names are expected, predictable and, in reality, not particularly sexy.
Harsin isn’t any of those, and that’s a good thing. The long and winding road to land on Harsin was the exact opposite of «JABA.» It was the anti-Auburn. The program stepped out of its comfort zone because it knows that in order to become a championship-level program, it has to. What it was doing wasn’t working (unless, of course, Cam Newton has a clone roaming around). Instead of banging its head into the wall in attempt to break through that glass ceiling, it hired a west coast coach with a southeastern mindset.
Those Boise State teams under Harsin were known for owning the line of scrimmage on both sides and running a balanced offense out of the spread. That offense produced four, 3,000-yard passers during Harsin’s first six years. It probably would have produced a fifth had then-freshman Hank Bachmeier not gotten banged up during the 2019 season. What’s more, Harsin is known for his no-nonsense approach and attention to detail in all aspects of the program.
Isn’t that what Auburn needs? A coach who can get the most out of the big uglies in the trenches, develop quarterbacks and instill discipline? The answer is «yes.»
Sure, Harsin has limited knowledge of the SEC recruiting landscape. There’s no denyingthat. That’s why hiring a staff with deep recruiting ties is imperative for him to break through that glass ceiling that Malzahn couldn’t crack. That will come later.
What Auburn did on Tuesday was hire a very good, established and highly-regarded coach. It didn’t do what the rest of college football world expected. It stepped out of its comfort zone. This wasn’t «Auburn being Auburn.» The path to get here might have looked like it at times, but this turned out to be a different trail altogether. This is Auburn being bold. This is Auburn starting fresh. This is the a new Auburn that nobody expected to see when Malzahn was fired on Dec. 13.
That’s a good thing.