MOBILE, Alabama – Bryan Harsin’s appearance in a Senior Bowl Summit at the Saenger Theatre with three other coaches Tuesday night may have been his last public appearance as Auburn’s football coach.
“Let’s get his autograph before Auburn fires him,” a young man said low as he approached Harsin with some friends, but he sounded like he was kidding, or was talking about next year or the year after.
Careful what you say or wish for.
Various Auburn power brokers and Auburn Board of Trustees members have been in contact and/or meeting over recent days and nights to attempt to possibly come to a settlement with Harsin, who was just hired on Dec. 22, 2020, to a six-year contract at an average of $5.25 million a year.
“We’re involved in trying to separate fact from fiction,” Auburn president Jay Gogue said at a Board of Trustees meeting in Montgomery on Friday morning, then confirmed something was clearly in the works.
“We’ll keep you posted, and make the appropriate decision at the right time,” he said.
Harsin, 45, went 6-7 in his first season at Auburn in 2021 after a 6-2 start, mainly because his offense struggled to score. It was Auburn’s first losing season since 2012 and first 0-5 finish since 1950.
Soon, starting quarterback Bo Nix, whose father was an Auburn quarterback, transferred far away, to Oregon. In all, 18 players have left the program since the end of the season, as has defensive coordinator Derek Mason, who had differences with Harsin on and off the field. He is now Oklahoma State’s defensive coordinator.
Harsin fired offensive coordinator Mike Bobo after a struggling season and hired Seattle Seahawks quarterbacks coach Austin Davis in December. After Davis’ NFL season ended, he spent two weeks on the job at Auburn and decided to leave for “personal reasons,” according to an Auburn sports information department release. There may have been more to it than that.
Harsin’s buyout would be expensive — 70 percent of what is owed to him. If fired without cause, he would have $26.25 million left to be paid on his contract. Seventy percent of that is $18.3 million. But Auburn has been paying off fired coaches’ contracts since the 1990s. If Auburn could fire Harsin with cause, it would owe him nothing or very little.
Auburn’s power people are trying to finesse the price tag down due to some off-the-field issues that have surfaced recently concerning Harsin’s personal conduct and work habits.
“The reason I chose to leave Auburn (is) because we got treated like dogs,” former Auburn defensive tackle Lee Hunter of the Mobile area posted on Instagram Friday morning as discussion swirled of Harsin’s possible ouster.
“Coach Harsin has the true mindset for a winner, but has a terrible mindset as a person,” Hunter said.
Hunter was the No. 11 defensive tackle in the nation and No. 121 overall prospect when he signed with Auburn in its 2021 class out of Blount High. But he played sparingly last season and transferred to Central Florida, where former Auburn coach Gus Malzahn is the coach.
“Auburn is a special place and always will be,” Hunter said.
“Any attack on my character is bullshit,” Harsin said in an ESPN interview Thursday night. “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’s hire by athletic director Allen Greene was never embraced by approximately half of the Auburn power family members. A native of Boise, Idaho, who played and/or coached at Boise State for much of his adult life, he is seen as an outsider. Harsin was 69-19 with three Mountain West Conference titles in seven seasons at Boise State.
“We’ve got to build something, and right now I feel like when you hear some of these things, that there’s a lot of things building against me,” Harsin said. “Certainly, I’m the right man for the job. There’s no doubt about it. No one is going to have a better plan than I do, but we’ve got to change some things. 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.”
Harsin was unable to sign any prospects on the second national signing day on Wednesday and finished with 18 signees and a No. 18 national ranking by Rivals.com and No. 9 in the SEC.
“I’m the Auburn coach, and that’s how I’m operating every day,” Harsin told ESPN. “I want this thing to work, and I’ve told our players and told everybody else there is no Plan B. I’m not planning on going anywhere. This was and is the job. That’s why I left the one I was in, to come here and make this place a championship program and leave it better than I found it.”
Harsin was very interested in becoming Washington’s new coach closer to home, however, after the 2021 season, but the Huskies hired Fresno State coach Kalen DeBoer.
Harsin has not gotten along with the major power brokers at Auburn and has not tried very hard to do so, which has not gone over well.
(Outkick’s Trey Wallace contributed to this report.)