Under a new head coach and the help of some important veterans, Auburn football is about to have a very memorable season. Whether it’s memorable for the right reasons or the wrong reasons remains to be seen.
New head coach Bryan Harsin, hired away from Boise State in the offseason, faces the tough task of bringing together another coach’s recruits under a new regime and philosophy. If the team can learn and buy into Harsin’s vision quickly, the Tigers could put up a very respectable win total this season. They certainly have the athletes to compete. But without strong leadership, this team could easily self-destruct as well in an ultra-competitive SEC West.
Understanding the stakes, Harsin and his staff have wisely leaned into a common coaching trope, one that would bridge the gap between old players and new coaches, if it works: let the leaders of the team be leaders.
To their advantage, Harsin and his staff did inherit two veteran players and returning captains with leadership capabilities, and have been leaning on them to help develop chemistry in an unfamiliar locker room. Quarterback Bo Nix and running back Shaun Shivers are both stepping up to the plate, hoping to take control during this process of upheaval. The goal is for Shivers and Nix to feel empowered to put their stamp on the program from a leadership standpoint and keep the Tigers all pulling in one direction, especially on offense.
“Coach (Harsin) talked about this team has to be player-driven,” Shivers said. “They said they when they won championships it was player-driven, player-driven. So when we’re out there, we take it upon ourselves to lead the team. We know what the expectations are. We know what the standard is for the team. We want to implement that each and every day.”
Shivers also gave his thoughts on Nix, especially the way he has responded to the new coaches, who by all accounts have been tough on him.
“Bo has always been a great quarterback,” Shivers said. “I can tell that he’s more locked in, he’s more focused. And even the people around him, Coach Harsin and Coach Bobo have coached him hard. They’re on him every play, and you can just see that each and every day, he progresses. He’s making this throw, he’s making that throw. He’s making the right read. He’s just locked in to everything. He improved every year to me.”
Shivers is also looking forward to his own evolution in his final Auburn season.
“It’s just going to be really my best year of football I believe because I like the new offense that we have,” Shivers said. “It’s more downhill. That’s what style of runner I am: downhill.”
So Auburn clearly has the leaders and the talent to impress this year, but chemistry will likely make the difference between a magical season and a miserable one. The Tigers will have their work cut out for them, too: besides a full SEC slate, they also travel to Happy Valley this season to play Penn State in a very-hyped non-conference showdown in Week Three.