So much for SEC and local ties, says new Auburn football coach Bryan Harsin, a Boise, Idaho, native who played at Boise State and coached at Eastern Oregon and Boise State.
Harsin tried to populate his new staff in the Deep South of Auburn, Alabama, with coaches with SEC or state of Alabama ties. But after a near disastrous loss to 1-2 Georgia State of the Sun Belt on Saturday that could have gotten him fired, Harsin fired wide receivers coach Cornelius Williams on Sunday.
Williams is from Hoover, Alabama and previously coached receivers at four smaller colleges in Alabama – Troy, Alabama-Birmingham, Jacksonville State and North Alabama. Harsin hired him largely for his recruiting ties statewide.
Auburn, a 28-point favorite to beat Georgia State, trailed 24-12 late in the third quarter before Barton Lester fell on a blocked punt in the end zone to get Auburn within 24-19 with 4:44 left in the period.
All of Auburn’s previous points came from four field goals by Anders Carlson. Junior starting quarterback Bo Nix was 13-of-27 passing for 156 yards and zero touchdowns before being benched in the third quarter. Sophomore backup TJ Finley, a transfer from LSU, was just 4-of-8 passing for 33 yards with a three-and-out before the final minutes of the game.
So, Auburn offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Bobo, a former Georgia quarterback who has coached at Georgia, Jacksonville State and South Carolina, is lucky that he still has a job today. He should thank Finley, who threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Shedrick Jackson with 45 seconds to play. He completed 5-of-8 passes for 64 yards with a 16-yard scramble in Auburn’s final drive.
Running backs coach Carnell “Cadillac” Williams, an Auburn All-American tailback from Gadsden who previously coached at West Georgia and for the Birmingham Iron pro team, is lucky to have a job today too. His running back, Tank Bigsby, lost a fumble on the Georgia State 24-yard line with 6:43 to play with Auburn trailing, 24-19. And his rushing attack netted just 166 yards.
There were no fumbles from wide receivers.
And what about Auburn defensive coordinator Derek Mason, the former Vanderbilt head coach? His unit gave up 267 yards rushing to a Sun Belt team at 5.7 yards a carry.
How bad a job could Cornelius Williams have been doing in just four games? A receiver did catch the winning touchdown, and receivers have six TD catches on the season.
Perhaps this is why Harsin took more than three minutes and more than a few hundred words to explain in his opening statement at Monday’s press conference why he fired Williams and promoted offensive analyst Eric Kiesau, who was Harsin’s offensive coordinator at Boise State, to replace Williams.
“I wouldn’t say there was a tipping point, but there was obviously a decision made that I felt like was what we needed,” Harsin said. “No, there was no incident. There’s nothing like that. Cornelius Williams, first of all, he’s a good man, and did a very good job for us, showed up every day and worked. Very professional. We’ve got to get better. I felt we needed to make a change.”
What Harsin did not say was that Kiesau is much more qualified as an offensive coach than Williams was when Harsin hired him. He would have likely made Kiesau, 48, his wide receivers coach instead of Williams, 34, in the first place, but Kiesau was up for the Boise State head coaching job that Harsin left. And Harsin was in a hurry to fill his staff.
Kiesau was previously offensive coordinator at Fresno State and an offensive assistant at Utah State, California, Colorado, Washington and Kansas.
It was a rash decision to fire Williams, but Harsin did the right thing by getting a more experienced coach in the mix amid a discombobulated offense that has had trouble finding the end zone.
Too many head coaches – like former LSU coach Les Miles and present LSU coach Ed Orgeron – surround themselves with too many assistants who are primarily there to recruit. Instead, a head coach needs several assistants on staff who can really coach, whether they can recruit or not.
“He’s a very good teacher,” Harsin said of Kiesau . “He understands what we want to do. He understands how we want to do it. He’s a good technician. He’s very detailed. He has a plan. He has a vision. He has things I know we’ll do that will help us at the wide receiver position.”
Harsin also obviously knows he needs the help, and he basically went back home to find it.
And you best believe Kiesau will be helping Bobo with more than just receiver routes, whether Bobo likes it or not.
Harsin could have made Kiesau his new receivers coach and co-coordinator while keeping Williams on staff with less responsibility without saying anything about it. And then he could have let Williams get another job after the season without the tag of being fired. It has happened before.
But Harsin almost lost to Georgia Freakin’ State, so he had to do something loud to quiet the locals. If it doesn’t work, he will hear from them again soon.