Bryan Harsin is making a career out of replacing Gus Malzahn. Harsin, the 44-year-old Boise State head coach, was officially hired by Auburn University on Tuesday night, replacing Malzahn and ending one of the wildest coaching searches in recent memory.
In the nine days since Malzahn’s firing, Harsin’s name didn’t appear in any of the numerous reports about the open position and his hiring was essentially a done deal before any media outlet reported he had been interviewed.
“I’m incredibly excited and humbled for the opportunity to be at a place like Auburn University,” Harsin said in a statement released Tuesday evening. “I knew it would take a special opportunity to get me out of Boise and Auburn is exactly that, the chance to compete at the highest level for one of the greatest programs in college football.”
There’s little doubt that Harsin is a good hire, but his hiring is well outside the norm for an Auburn program that likes to go with known entities and familiar faces. Harsin’s complete detachment from the program and its web of boosters indicates two things: Auburn athletic director Allen Greene was given wide latitude to make this hire, and Greene was determined to get the best man, not simply the best Auburn man.
Those goals, sources told APR, were directly related to both the messiness of the firing of Malzahn and the early days of the search to replace him, when a handful of powerful boosters attempted to insert defensive coordinator Kevin Steele. That plan blew up when fans, including several major donors, protested, with thousands of calls and emails flooding the offices of Greene and Auburn President Jay Gogue.
That led Gogue to a decision to form a search committee led by Greene, the sources said. In the days following, it became clear that the movement to get Steele the job had been a plan for months. It was also clear that better candidates were interested in the job.
“We started the search with two goals,” Gogue said. “We want a coach who will lead our team to consistently compete at the highest levels and to make Auburn proud on and off the field. We found both in Coach Harsin.
“Our search was diligent and thoughtful, and it is unfortunate that so much misinformation was spread in recent days about the process.”
A string of rumors plagued the Auburn search from the outset — some were true, some were crazy. By late Monday, numerous outlets had reported that both Lousiana’s Billy Napier and UAB’s Bill Clark had withdrawn their names from consideration for the job. Other coaches, mostly assistants at other schools, were also rumored to be uninterested.
While the sources didn’t dispute any specific rumors, they said much of the angst was generated by run-of-the-mill negotiations being spun into constant negatives for the AU program. They said Harsin was a top-tier candidate for the committee from the early days of the search.
There’s no reason he wouldn’t be.
Harsin was 7-5 and won the Sunbelt Conference in 2013 in his only season at Arkansas State, where he replaced Malzahn. He left to take over his alma mater, Boise State, in 2014, and the former BSU quarterback had never turned in less than nine wins prior to this COVID-reduced season. He’s gone 69-19 overall in those seven seasons and was 45-8 with three championships in the Mountain West Conference.
In all, the Idaho native has played or coached at Boise for more than 20 years, and leaving was not taken lightly. But the lure of SEC football at one of the nation’s top college football programs was too much to pass up.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for the coaches and players in the Southeastern Conference, but am ready to help build a foundation at Auburn where we can consistently compete for championships,” Harsin said. “I want our program to make Auburn proud both on and off the field with consistent excellence. I’m very grateful to Allen Greene and Dr. Gogue for this opportunity. Kes, our kids and I can’t wait to meet the Auburn family and get to work! War Eagle!”