Skip to main content

Bryan Harsin: "I'm not planning on going anywhere."

Management issues, a longstanding power struggle, personal rumors, a 5-game losing streak are the ingredients in the toxic stew that is Auburn football.

We've got a full Auburning on our hands.

Depending on whom you read, Bryan Harsin could be on the brink of losing his job, more than five weeks after his most recent game.

On Thursday night, multiple pay sites that cover Auburn reported Harsin could be out of a job, and soon.

At issue is Harsin's alleged treatment of his players, his assistants and, well, everyone around him.

More than two dozen Tigers have entered the transfer portal. Defensive coordinator Derek Mason left without a new job lined up. Offensive coordinator hire Austin Davis lasted six weeks.

Here's former Tiger Lee Hunter on Instagram.

Harsin's supposed ability (or inability) to work with his players and his assistants is the issue, but it's also not the issue. Many in spheres of influence around the Auburn athletics department just plain don't like the guy, or don't like that he's the guy. Harsin's hiring was not popular among the Auburn donor class, and Thursday night is a battle in that ongoing civil war.  

We're talking about a place where a prominent booster met with Bobby Petrino, while he was the head coach at Louisville, to see if he'd like his former boss's job -- while that boss, Tommy Tuberville, was still Auburn's head coach. We're talking about a place that fired Gene Chizik two years after he won the school's first national title in 53 years. We're talking about a place that pulled the Bobby Petrino trick on Chizik, replacing Chizik with his former assistant Gus Malzahn. We're talking about a place that yo-yo'd between firing and extending Malzahn, the sentiment swinging on the results of every offensive possession. We're talking about Auburn.

(And, as is a common ingredient in this toxic stew, there are also rumors of Harsin having an extramarital affair with a female subordinate. Unless proven true, and they so rarely are, such rumors are unfair to both parties and extremely sexist.)

Feeling the heat, Harsin spoke to ESPN on Thursday night.

"I'm the Auburn coach, and that's how I'm operating every day," Harsin said. "I want this thing to work, and I've told our players and told everybody else there is no Plan B. I'm not planning on going anywhere. This was and is the job. That's why I left the one I was in, to come here and make this place a championship program and leave it better than I found it."

He continued:

"This is where I want to be. This is what I want to do," Harsin said. "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 for the affair rumors: "Any attack on my character is bulls---," Harsin said. "None of that is who I am."

Harsin's allies have also come out for battle.

Here's Auburn defensive coordinator Jeff Schmedding

And here's Harsin's wife, Kes.

And while this is a management story, and a power struggle story, it's also a football story.

No matter how many assistants had left, no matter how many players had portaled, it's still an open question as to whether Harsin is a football fit at Auburn. 

His 2021 team started 6-2 and finished 6-7. They closed with a loss at Texas A&M, in which the Tigers scored three points. That was followed by losses to Mississippi State and Texas A&M. That was followed by an Iron Bowl loss where defeat was snatched from the jaws of upset victory: a game where Auburn couldn't protect a 10-3 lead with a minute and a half to play and Alabama 98 yards from the goal line. In that game, Harsin had the opportunity to go for two and the win in the bottom of the first overtime, and declined.

The last time anyone saw a Bryan Harsin-coached football team, it was losing to Houston in the Birmingham Bowl, while Auburn's two rivals played each other for the national championship.

To top all this off, Auburn is in the midst of replacing longtime president Jay Gogue. We're told his replacement is expected to be named today. Joe Biden was inaugurated with less problems on his desk.

As for where things stand at this moment, there are no good options on the table. Do you bring back the coach who went 6-7 in Year 1, who is now looking for his fifth coordinator since taking the job, and whose grip on his constituency is looser than a gloved hand on a greased-up pig? 

Or do you pay Harsin's buyout -- more than $18 million, with 50 percent due within 30 days of termination* -- and then try to convince a better coach to leave his gig in February?

* There's a school of thought Auburn could fire Harsin with cause, which is where the affair rumors conveniently come into play.  

So, yeah. Harsin has all the reason the world to dig his heels in, while Auburn's donor class pulls with all its might to rip the earth right out from under him. And while Auburn quarrels, Alabama, Georgia and the rest of the SEC pull further and further away.

Stay tuned.