Bryan Harsin fired as Auburn football coach as new AD steps in
AUBURN — Auburn has fired football coach Bryan Harsin after a troubled term that didn't last two full seasons, making him the program's shortest-tenured head coach in the last 93 years.
The school announced a "change in football leadership" Monday. John Cohen resigned as Mississippi State athletics director Monday and is expected to be named as Auburn's new AD. The school's release cited AU President Christopher B. Roberts with making the call to dismiss Harsin.
"President Roberts made the decision after a thorough review and evaluation of all aspects of the football program," the release said. "Auburn will begin an immediate search for a coach that will return the Auburn program to a place where it is consistently competing at the highest levels and representing the winning tradition that is Auburn football,"
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The school canceled Monday's scheduled weekly football news conference.
AU will begin a national search for the 27th coach in school history, on the heels of a 41-27 home loss to Arkansas. It is unclear who will be the interim coach.
Harsin is owed a buyout of approximately $15.97 million, which is 70% of his remaining contract. Half of that is owed within 30 days. The buyout cannot be offset by taking a job at another school, meaning Harsin will get every penny Auburn owes him.
Harsin finished his time on the Plains with a record of 9-12, the fewest wins by an Auburn coach since Earl Brown's 3-22-4 tenure from 1948-50. Before Harsin, five consecutive coaches and six of the previous seven either led Auburn to an undefeated season or won a national or conference championship − consistent success spanning 70 years. The only other coach during that time who did not accomplish either of those feats was Doug Barfield (1976-80).
The Harsin era will be remembered as one of Auburn football's most disappointing chapters on the field and one of its most turbulent off the field. He arrived for his introductory press conference on Christmas Eve in 2020 after seven years leading his alma mater, Boise State, during which the Broncos went 69-19. Auburn was his third head coaching job and his first in a major conference.
He started 6-2 in 2021 before a five-game skid resulted in the Tigers' first losing season since 2012. Auburn held a double-digit lead in three of those games and a fourth-quarter lead in four of them.
The ensuing offseason was even more calamitous, highlighted by a weeklong university investigation regarding his treatment of players and staff.
Harsin had already fired one assistant coach four games into his first season: receivers coach Cornelius Williams. Then, after a four-overtime Iron Bowl loss to end the regular season, Harsin fired offensive coordinator Mike Bobo and eventually hired Austin Davis, a 32-year-old ex-NFL journeyman with no college coaching experience. Davis resigned after 43 days, during which he was barely on campus.
Finally, Harsin settled on Eric Kiesau, another former Boise State colleague who had started as an off-field analyst at Auburn.
In the meantime, defensive coordinator Derek Mason had departed for a pay cut at Oklahoma State. Defensive line coach Nick Eason left for Clemson. Special teams coordinator Bert Watts bolted for the NFL. And two days after Harsin failed to land a commitment on February national signing day, then-AU President Jay Gogue announced that the university was looking into allegations made against Harsin. A report in the Montgomery Advertiser detailed Harsin's actions that led to the staff turnover and player defections.
One week later, Gogue wrote an open letter declaring the case closed. Harsin had been retained.
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His coaching and recruiting woes remained, though. As a historic 2023 talent pool in Alabama came to the forefront, in-state high school coaches expressed surprise and disappointment at their lack of contact with Harsin during his first 14 months on the job. He finished his tenure without landing a top-100 commit. He only signed one offensive lineman, leaving Auburn staring down an uncertain future in the trenches after eight current seniors depart.
After losing three-year starting quarterback Bo Nix to Oregon, Harsin plucked two quarterbacks out of the transfer portal to compete against T.J. Finley. Finley ultimately won the preseason competition over Oregon transfer Robby Ashford and Texas A&M transfer Zach Calzada, who entered as the favorite but surprisingly ended up as the third-string.
Quarterback controversy followed Harsin into the season as Finley and Ashford alternated. Harsin benched Finley during an ugly 41-12 loss to Penn State, Auburn's worst margin of defeat at home since 2012.
While the Tigers moved forward with Ashford behind center, it made little difference behind a depleted offensive line. Auburn escaped Missouri, 17-14 in overtime, after Mizzou's Nathaniel Peat fumbled the ball inches from the end zone on what would have been the game-winning touchdown. The Tigers weren't so lucky the next week against LSU, falling 21-17 despite gaining 168 more yards of offense. Offensive inconsistency continued after that game.
Losses on the road against unbeaten Georgia and Ole Miss all but sealed Harsin's fate, with a home loss to Arkansas following. Every time Auburn seemed to move forward, it was dragged back twice as far.