Friday March 31st, 2023 3:37PM

Auburn fires coach Bryan Harsin, who won 9 of 21 games

By The Associated Press
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AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — Auburn fired coach Bryan Harsin on Monday after less than two seasons, ending a rocky tenure in which the proud program struggled to compete in the Southeastern Conference.

Harsin went 9-12 overall and 3-5 this year. Auburn has lost four straight games while struggling against Power Five opponents, including a 41-27 loss to Arkansas on Oct. 29 that proved the final straw. Auburn will owe Harsin 70% of his remaining contract — more than $15 million — and half of that must be paid within 30 days.

“President (Chris) Roberts made the decision after a thorough review and evaluation of all aspects of the football program,” the school said in a brief statement announcing the move.

“Auburn will begin an immediate search for a coach that will return the Auburn program to a place where it is consistently competing at the highest levels and representing the winning tradition that is Auburn football,” the statement said.

Auburn canceled its weekly football football news conference about 90 minutes before Harsin was scheduled to speak. The school named running backs coach Carnell “Cadillac” Williams as interim coach. The Tigers play at Mississippi State on Saturday.

Williams is in his third season as an assistant at his alma mater, where he was the fifth overall pick in the 2005 NFL draft and earned Rookie of the Year honors at Tampa Bay.

Harsin was hired away from Boise State in December 2020 and Auburn gave him a six-year, $31.5 million deal. He never came close to replicating his past success or making the Tigers competitive in the SEC, and he failed to keep up with rivals Georgia and Alabama on the field or on the recruiting trail.

Those results were unacceptable to a program that won a national title in 2010 and played for another in 2013, when it won the most recent of its eight SEC championships.

Auburn has lost three straight bowl games, including the Birmingham Bowl against Houston under Harsin. That was Auburn's fifth straight loss and the Tigers dropped to 6-7, their first losing season since 2012.

The 45-year-old Harsin becomes the first Auburn coach to end his tenure with a losing record since Earl Brown went 3-22-4 from 1948-50, not counting interim coaches. He went 3-10 after winning six of his first eight games and won four times in 15 games against Power Five opponents.

New athletic director John Cohen, who had held the same post at Mississippi State until Monday, will take on the job of finding Harsin's replacement.

The Tigers struggled throughout the season, with the normally reliable defense giving up 40-plus points three times while the offense never solved its own problems.

The heat on Harsin rose after a 41-12 loss to Penn State and didn’t cool off much after that. A listless 42-10 loss to No. 1 Georgia emphasized the talent gap facing the Tigers, who subsequently fell to Mississippi and the Razorbacks.

Harsin said after the loss in Athens that he focuses on the things under his control but added that the enjoyment of coaching “never goes away.”

Auburn is tied with Texas A&M for last in the SEC West at 1-4. Much of Jordan-Hare Stadium had emptied out by the fourth quarter against Arkansas.

“Obviously from the outcome of the game, nobody’s going to feel what we did was good enough,” Harsin said. “I think everyone is in there hurting, which we should be.”

Athletic director Allen Greene, who resigned in August with five months left on his initial five-year deal, made the out-of-the-box hire of a coach with no SEC background. Harsin had gone 69-19 in seven seasons at Boise State, his alma matter.

Harsin survived a school investigation into his program in the offseason that was initiated by then-President Jay Gogue following heavy turnover on his roster and coaching staff.

Three-year starting quarterback Bo Nix left for Oregon, where he has led the Ducks to a No. 8 ranking and 7-1 start. Defensive coordinator Derek Mason left for the same job at Oklahoma State, and Harsin fired offensive coordinator Mike Bobo.

His first choice to replace Bobo, Austin Davis, accepted the job and then changed his mind, citing personal reasons. Auburn wound up standing by Harsin — at the time.

With all that as a backdrop, Harsin struggled to bring in top recruits. His 2023 class was ranked ahead of only Missouri and Vanderbilt in the SEC, according to the 247Sports composite ratings.

When spring opened, Harsin said he wasn’t bitter.

“I’m a guy that wants to move forward, that wants to get better, that wants to keep moving,” he said at the time.

One former player had said Harsin treated the team “like dogs,” though others rose to Harsin’s defense. The investigation ended with Gogue decrying the “wild speculation” and misinformation in the “feeding frenzy” surrounding Harsin, whose contract ran through the 2026 season. He didn’t specify the nature of that speculation.

Harsin’s tenure ended with Auburn owing another huge payout. Like his predecessor, Gus Malzahn, the amount remains the same even if Harsin accepts another job. The school paid Malzahn, now the coach at UCF, $21.5 million after his firing.

Malzahn was fired after going 6-4 in 2020, but he didn't have a losing record in eight seasons. Gene Chizik, who won the 2010 national title, went 3-9 two years later and was fired.

One losing season — and the strong possibility of another — was all it took for Harsin to lose his job.


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