Not that Bryan Harsin is counting but, well, he is marking time as Auburn’s new coach. 

“I’ve been here 55 days,” Harsin said this week. “I absolutely love this place. We haven’t played a game. I know we haven’t done anything. We’re all undefeated. But I’m very excited about being here.”

Of course he is. Auburn will do that to you and this is the part of the job known as the honeymoon. Harsin is just a few weeks into the most unique aspect of guiding the Tigers — going up against Alabama 24/7/365. That’s not for everybody. For now, there are no losses to explain whether they be games or whatever conflict social media can dream up just for its entertainment.

“You’ve got a team up north that’s doing a great job,” Harsin said of Bama. “Well, someone has to come here and figure out a way to compete with them. I know Gus [Malzahn] did a good job here, but things change and that’s just the nature of it. We’ve got to compete in all areas.”

It can be argued Malzahn did a great job against Alabama, beating Nick Saban three times. But there is also a reason he isn’t still Auburn’s coach. Decoding Auburn can be complicated. Harsin has yet to experience Toomer’s Corner being rolled. He knows Harvey Updyke poisoned those trees, but to a lot of us outsiders it’s hard to comprehend the, well, passion. 

In his eight years as a college head coach, Harsin hasn’t revealed much about himself. Helluva coach, offensive guy, quarterback guru, but who is this Idaho native taking over the Auburn franchise? Some of that anonymity may have to do with the remote outposts where he worked – Arkansas State and Boise State

But the “Team up north” label for Alabama? In a league whose followers don’t let anything go unnoticed, that’s juicy. Harsin’s Auburn could get interesting real fast. 

Getting used to the SEC 

Harsin isn’t the first SEC coach to come from outside the conference’s geographic footprint but he is one of the latest. The 44-year old looked like a lifer at Boise State. Since his freshman year in college, Harsin has spent 17 of the subsequent 27 years as either a Boise State player (he was a Broncos quarterback from 1995-1999) or coach.

If that was the picture of a lifer, it wasn’t a bad one. Harsin comes to The Plains as the ninth-winningest active FBS coach, (with more than one year experience) having won 76% of his games. The issue with that stat is Harsin will now play three coaches annually with better career winning percentages (Texas A&M‘s Jimbo Fisher at 76.8%, Georgia‘s Kirby Smart at 78.8% and Saban at 80%). 

Welcome to the SEC, Bry. 

When asked if he always fancied a shot in the Strength Everywhere Conference, Harsin hedged. 

“No and yes,” he said. Sure, every coach would love to be in the SEC one day. But as Chris Petersen’s offensive coordinator at Boise from 2006-2010, Harsin would watch his boss routinely get job offers elsewhere. The grass wasn’t always greener. 

“[An assistant] would walk in and say so and so [like] Iowa State wants to talk to you. It was so casual we were so open and transparent. We’d be in there literally [drawing up] plays and ‘Pete’ would say, “No,’ ” Harsin said.

“When I got the coordinator job and had success at Boise there were conversations [with schools] every year. Texas came up and it was the right thing.”

Mack Brown persuaded Harsin to come to Texas as co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach from 2011-2012. The Longhorns finished seventh and sixth in Big 12 total offense in those two seasons. After his first head coaching job for one season at Arkansas State, Harsin was tapped to replace Petersen at Boise State in 2014. 

He succeeded a legend – and succeeded. Harsin was the native son who had been the OC when the Broncos beat Oklahoma in that legendary Statue of Liberty Fiesta Bowl. As coach, Harsin went 69-19 in seven seasons winning three Mountain West titles. 

Who is this guy? Harsin has the same stoicism as Petersen. That belied the entertaining offenses they produced. Harsin is famous otherwise for his love of drag racing. We’re talking funny cars, one step below the 8,000-horsepower top fuel giants. As an 8-year old at his father’s side, he stopped a race after noticing a parachute wasn’t hooked up right.

“If you get to the end of the track pull the chute and it’s not connected you’re done,” Harsin said. 

Life intervened in 2006 when he got the promotion to Boise State OC. His football career was improving and wife Kes was pregnant. No more drags. 

“It’s an adrenaline rush,” Harsin added. “It’s something, now, when you get to the end of the track in six seconds. It’s … wooosh

Then he makes the comparison to football: “Four-to-six seconds for a play, right?”

Right guy at the right time

The Auburn opportunity came 10 days after Gus Malzahn had been fired on Dec. 13. In that time frame there was speculation then-defensive coordinator Kevin Steele seemingly had the job, until he didn’t. There were various reports candidates had interviewed with Steve Sarkisian reportedly turning down an interview while he was still Alabama’s offensive coordinator.

Like Gus, Harsin is an offensive guy. Like Gus, he is a quarterback specialist. That label for Malzahn had frayed at the edges in recent years. Rising Auburn junior Bo Nix hasn’t progressed rapidly enough for some. 

And the SEC has proven lately if you’ve got a quarterback you’ve got a chance. There are six quarterbacks on the roster. After Malzahn was fired, Auburn was able to hold onto four-star dual threat signee Dematrius Davis from Houston.

“We’ve got a lot of guys we have to develop,” Harsin said diplomatically. “At the end of the day we’ve got a lot of work to do. Bo’s been a guy, if you watch him, he’s a hard worker. He pushes himself. It’s important to him.”

Bryan Harsin spent 17 seasons at Boise State as either a player or coach. 
USATSI

Harsin has left six spots open in the recruiting class on purpose. There are still high school players out there who will play in the spring due to COVID-19. There is the transfer portal to consider. It is widely assumed that any underclassman from that portal will be eligible immediately for the 2021 season when NCAA legislation delayed by the NCAA is approved as expected later this year. 

The biggest difference between the Group of Five, where he came from, and the Power Five he is revisiting is not the football, Harsin says. 

“Josh Allen came out of Wyoming,” he said. “There is good football all over the country. But your budgets, your resources [are different] … As far as the coaches’ ability it’s not different.”

Harsin is well aware it just means more in his new job. Recruiting is an industry unto itself in the SEC. At Boise there were a handful of Division I prospects in the state of Idaho. Harsin concentrated on California and Texas. At Auburn, a recruiting class can be gathered in a five-hour car ride in any direction. Harsin and the four Boise coaches he brought with him will have to learn a new culture.

“It’s more like Texas to me,” Harsin said. “Because of that it’s very competitive. A lot of the same guys are being recruited by everybody. How do you separate yourself? They’ve got to get to know who we are.”

Now, about that team up north …

“No doubt coach Saban is at the very top of college football,” Harsin said. “Really, the focus is on us. I’ve heard about these other coaches. I’ve heard about all these other teams.

“What about us?”





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