ATLANTA — Nearly six months after surviving an internal coup aimed at his job, Bryan Harsin stood on the main stage of SEC Media Days inside the College Football Hall of Fame. Confident and holding nothing back, the second-year Auburn coach remained steadfast in his vision for the program — an impressive feat considering that he just as easily could have been one-and-done in the SEC.
“There was an inquiry. It was uncomfortable. It was unfounded,” said Harsin. “It presented the opportunity for people to attack me and my family and also my program. It didn’t work.”
Harsin’s offseason plight was comparable to a daytime soap opera. His Tigers went 6-7 and lost their last five games of 2021. Harsin then lost both of his veteran SEC coordinators departed — one by his choice and one via lateral move — and a small village of players transferred out of the program. Plus, the recruiting effort leading up to the traditional National Signing Day was not up to par with what Auburn has expected throughout its rise to SEC contention.
Then came a bombshell the size of Jordan-Hare Stadium.
On February 3, Auburn Live reported that several high-profile officials had been actively searching for ways to fire Harsin “for cause.” That set off a wild eight-day saga culminating with the announcement that Harsin would be retained as the coach of the Tigers.
It was a situation that was uniquely Auburn — “Just Auburn Being Auburn” (JABA) as it’s known in southern football circles. The program has been known for decades as one that has too many chefs in the kitchen. The most notable example came in 2003, the week of the Iron Bowl vs. Alabama, when former athletic director David Housel and several influential boosters flew to Louisville to gauge then-Cardinals coach Bobby Petrino’s interest in the Auburn head coaching job, still occupied by Tommy Tuberville at the time.
The question that swirled around SEC Media Days on Thursday was simple: what happens next? Harsin is comfortable … at least for now … with where he stands with the powers-that-be.
“Right now, our focus is moving forward,” Harsin said. “What came out of that inquiry were a lot of positives. There’s a silver lining in all of this because what I saw from our players and our coaches were leadership opportunities for them to step up. That’s exactly what they did. You got a chance to see guys provide leadership and coaches to provide leadership. What it did is that it united our football team. It united our players. It united our staff and it united our football team. I’m really proud of our guys. I’m proud of what something like that, which can be very challenging and difficult for a lot of people, how our guys stepped up and handled it.”
Tight end John Samuel Shenker, who has been supportive of Harsin on social media, echoed those sentiments.
“I’m a Bryan Harsin fan through and through,” said Shenker. “You also know, knowing his character and the man that he is and the father that he is husband he is, they’re just there to stir the pot. It got blown up with social media. To back him is something that we though, even [defensive lineman] Derick [Hall], myself and some other guys on the team thought that was best. Having that experience with him brought us closer as a team. I thought it might be an issue and separating guys, but it really did bring us closer. We are all pushing for one thing and that’s to keep our coach here.”
How long will this “peace” last, though? CBS Sports senior writer Dennis Dodd placed Harsin on one of the hottest seats in America earlier this month. The schedule doesn’t suggest that he’ll get off of said hot seat unless the Tigers orchestrate a massive one-year turnaround.
Auburn faces both participants of last season’s national title game — Georgia and Alabama — on the road. The Tigers also face Ole Miss on the road the week after the Georgia game and get Penn State at home in Week 3.
For now, Harsin has met the people who tried to oust him in the middle. That’s the first step. The second, however, will be the biggest challenge of his career: actually winning in the SEC.