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If you’ve watched the Auburn saga play out over the last few weeks, you might’ve thought you were watching an episode of Sons of Anarchy. There was a big move on the table to vote Harsin out of Auburn. It all played out in the public eye, with multiple turns and different statements from the school. But none of this is surprising, especially at Auburn.
The way it all started is a little weird, to say the least. The timing is a bit too convenient. After Bryan Harsin fulfilled his duties as head coach for the week, he took off on a planned vacation with his family on February 3rd. Almost as soon as he landed in a different country, the news of an investigation into Harsin were made public, and the coach had to start defending himself. Now, this wasn’t a surprise to the folks around the football program. They had already been looking into Harsin.
The attacks on Harsin’s character were in full force, especially from a coaching standpoint. Who knows how they started or how they made the light of day, but some of the scenarios even involved former assistants. I’ve spoken to multiple sources over the last week who have not shined the brightest light on Harsin’s demeanor on and off the field.
Then, we started to see this play out publicly. The school released multiple statements on the matter, adding fuel to the fire. University president, Jay Gouge, came out with a statement on Friday, which partially blamed social media for the incidents of the past week.
“Unfortunately, social media fueled wild speculation, substantial misinformation and unfair attacks on good Auburn people. A feeding frenzy resulted that was beyond anyone’s control. We regret the concern, anger, frustration or hurt that this caused any member of the Auburn family.”
Sorry, Mr. President, you don’t get to come out with this type of statement when you were the one who threw a match into the fire a week ago, saying you were investigating all matters surrounding the football program to sort fact from fiction. You kept this up in the public space, when you could’ve gone about it a different way.
Now, not all the blame is on the president. There were plenty of people behind the scenes involved as well. I understand the need for an investigation when unsettling claims are brought forth, but the statements that were put out by the school gave merit to some of the claims, if not directly than at least passively.
Meanwhile, Harsin was steadfast. He never backed down to the higher powers inside the university, especially since he thought he hadn’t done anything wrong. He wasn’t going to admit guilt for something he didn’t feel responsible for, and accepting anything less than the $18 million unmitigated buyout would’ve meant doing just that.
In any case, he didn’t need to. He’s staying put.
“This has been one of the hardest weeks of my career, and it had nothing to do with my coaching ability,” Harsin stated. “The personal attacks on me and my family went too far and were without justification. Their resolve through this experience has been incredible but also completely expected. We saw and felt the worst of the worst in some people. Fortunately, we also saw the best of the best in others and we will always be grateful for the support of so many through a very difficult time – our players, staff, the Auburn family, and many others.”
It will take a while for both parties to ever feel completely comfortable with each other. In fact, that will most likely never happen. But for Auburn football to move forward, the parties have to come to some kind of agreement to lay their knives on the table and talk it out. This football program is already dealing with a public relations nightmare, and from the outside, it looks like Auburn didn’t want to pay his buyout and waste more money on a fired coach.
Harsin commented on the future and his relationships at home and in his professional life.
“I know who I am as a husband, father and football coach and cooperated fully throughout this process. I believe that every challenge in life is an opportunity to grow and learn. This is no different. Every day we’re not moving forward together is a step in the wrong direction. In order for us to take the Auburn program where we all want it to go we must, at all levels, commit to each other and this great university that we all love. I’m confident we can get there under the leadership of Dr. Gogue (sic), incoming President Roberts, Allen Greene, and our Board of Trustees.”
This will haunt Auburn for a while. Coaches from other schools are going to use this on the recruiting trail, every chance they get. The lives of his assistant coaches just got harder, especially now that they have to try to block out the noise from within. If you thought Auburn had a problem recruiting before, wait till coaches do to Auburn what they’ve been doing to Tennessee for the past year.
President Gouge slammed the gavel down at the table today between members of the club, but how this plan works out for the future of the program is yet to be determined.
All I know is the folks at Auburn better be prepared for more attacks on the road, this time coming from their colleagues in the SEC. Just ask Tennessee.