His program rocked by upheaval, Auburn football coach Bryan Harsin faces an uncertain future as his players publicly debate his leadership and the school president offers a noncommittal comment in response to rampant speculation.
“There have been a lot of rumors and speculation about our football program,” outgoing president Jay Gogue said during an Auburn Board of Trustees meeting Friday, according to AL.com. “I just want you to know we’re involved in trying to separate fact from fiction. We’ll keep you posted and make the appropriate decision at the right time.”
Harsin has been at Auburn for only one season, going 6–7, the Tigers’ first losing season since 2012. Auburn started the year 6–2 before flailing in the final month of the regular season and losing its bowl game against Houston. The Tigers were on the verge of a signature upset victory over Alabama in the Iron Bowl but surrendered a 98-yard drive for the tying touchdown in the final seconds, then lost in quadruple overtime.
Since then, Harsin’s program has been beset by constant upheaval. Eighteen players have transferred, according to AL.com, including second-generation Auburn quarterback Bo Nix. Defensive coordinator Derek Mason also left for Oklahoma State, and offensive coordinator Austin Davis resigned this week, citing “personal reasons,” just six weeks after taking the job.
Auburn didn’t sign a single player on the late National Signing Day Wednesday, which only added fuel to the fire. By Thursday night, rumors were circulating widely that Harsin’s job was in jeopardy.
With that as a backdrop, current and former Auburn players were offering spirited criticisms and defenses of Harsin on social media Friday.
Defensive tackle Lee Hunter, who signed with the Tigers in December 2020 but entered the portal last month and transferred to UCF, said on Instagram that Harsin treats players “like dogs” and derided Harsin’s “terrible mindset as a person.” Former defensive back Smoke Monday said Harsin “don’t understand kids that come from nothing.” Meanwhile, other Auburn players fired back in defense of Harsin, including tight end John Samuel Shenker, who tweeted, “He is the leader I want to have in my corner. If you have a problem with his Discipline, Toughness, and Conviction that he instills in his players than (sic) get your entitled, selfish, and soft tail out away this program.”
Harsin himself spoke with ESPN.com Friday, saying, “any attack on my character is bullsh---.” He added, “This is where I want to be. This is what I want to do. That’s why I came here. I didn’t come here to fail.”
Harsin is battling more than just a losing record in his first year. Auburn has a long history of booster influence in the football program, some of which has been exerted to undermine the head coach.
Booster Bobby Lowder provided the private jet for school officials to make a secret trip to interview then Louisville coach Bobby Petrino in 2003 while Tommy Tuberville was still the Tigers' coach; when the plot was publicized, both the school president and athletic director resigned and Tuberville kept his job. When Gus Malzahn was ousted as Auburn head coach in 2019, some boosters agitated to have defensive coordinator Kevin Steele replace him. Ultimately, athletic director Allen Greene took control of the coaching search that landed Harsin—a Southeastern Conference neophyte whose lack of connections displeased some Auburn fans from the outset.
Harsin tacitly noted program interference in his interview with ESPN.com: “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.”
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