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Bryan Harsin can't talk his way off the Auburn football hot seat | Opinion

Blake Toppmeyer

Bryan Harsin can’t talk his way off the hot seat.

No coach can, although the best talkers with the most dynamic personalities can buy a little extra time. Harsin does not rank among the SEC’s top talkers or dazzle with his personality.

Auburn’s second-year coach did, however, present a commanding, composed and driven image Thursday at SEC Media Days.

Harsin quickly addressed what he called an “uncomfortable” and “unfounded” university investigation last winter that left Harsin publicly twisting in the wind for more than a week. Harsin's tenure survived the inquiry, and his team emerged more united, he said.

Auburn coach Bryan Harsin at SEC Media Days.

Chalk up Thursday as a talking season triumph for Harsin, but no amount of talking will solve what only being a better coach can fix.

Nothing Harsin said changes Auburn’s sluggish recruiting. The Tigers’ recruiting class features four commitments, fewest in the SEC, after a lackluster 2022 signing haul, by AU’s standards. The transfer portal took from Auburn more than it provided.

Talk doesn’t change that Auburn lost five straight games to conclude its first losing season since 2012. It doesn’t change the mass exodus that occurred within Auburn’s roster and its coaching staff. AU will feature new faces in three key spots: starting quarterback, offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator.

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Nothing Harsin said changes how I see this ending – with Harsin not being here for talking season next year.

Of course, as Harsin quipped, some within the press assembled in Atlanta didn’t expect he’d be here this year, either.

But a typically brutal schedule packs a punch that Auburn’s kangaroo court didn’t land. It doesn’t help that the Tigers have no obvious upgrade at quarterback – former Texas A&M backup turned starter Zach Calzada is its best bet – and must regroup from the departures of several linchpin defensive players.

Recruiting momentum can be a salve for a struggling coach – if the on-field product is a turd, a bevy of ballyhooed prospects is a shiny object that provides fresh hope. But unless something changes these next few months, recruiting will become an anchor to Harsin’s tenure rather than a buoy.

“I think the message is: Watch,” Harsin said of Auburn’s recruiting rallying cry. “We got to go out there and play. That's the beauty of what we get a chance to do every Saturday, all right? When you get into the arena, you have the opportunity to go out there and settle the score.”

Harsin put on a brave face and attempted to rework the narrative this offseason. He launched a podcast that he said provided a platform to connect with his staff through extended conversations.

To try to spur recruiting, Auburn’s coaching staff barnstormed Alabama high schools. Harsin appeared at events with popular basketball coach Bruce Pearl and maybe even absorbed a few ounces of charisma from the radiant Pearl. He earned the backing of Auburn front man Charles Barkley.

"He's only been there a year. Just leave the man alone and let him do his job,” Barkley said during an appearance on “The Next Round.”

Sir Charles should know, though, that patience is in short supply throughout the SEC and especially at Auburn, which fired its last coach after eight consecutive winning seasons.

If Mississippi State and Arkansas can fire coaches after two seasons, then no one should be surprised that Auburn’s firing posse assembled so quickly. 

Harsin dismissed the merits of the university’s investigation, but the criticisms of former players were noteworthy.

Multiple players exiting the program described shortcomings in Harsin’s leadership style and an inability to connect with players from a variety of backgrounds. Wide receiver Kobe Hudson labeled Harsin “a dictator,” while defensive lineman Lee Hunter wrote that Harsin treated players “like dogs,” without detailing specifics. Hudson and Hunter are now at Central Florida, among the 19 players to transfer since the regular-season finale. Players who remained backed their embattled coach.

Harsin spoke authoritatively Thursday while he addressed “the gorilla in the room,” the offseason of turmoil that he says galvanized those who stayed at Auburn.

No amount of talking, though, will make the gorilla slink away.

Only player development, roster retention, recruiting and winning can do that.