The soap opera on the Plains is over, but the real intrigue is just beginning.
Auburn announced Friday that it will after a week-long saga that put his status in doubt. Influential boosters and administrators made it abundantly clear that they were unhappy with both roster and coaching turnover, as well as his inability to relate to the players as he led Auburn to its first losing record since 2012.
This entire saga perfectly encapsulates an acronym that gets thrown around the program on a consistent basis — JABA, which stands for “Just Auburn Being Auburn.”
So how on Earth will Harsin handle a Year 2 after going through peak JABA?
The easy answer is to win, especially coming off a 6-7 record in Year 1. Barely cracking bowl eligibility won’t cut it in Year 2, and a similar performance will most certainly result in Harsin’s dismissal and journey into buyout life. Winning isn’t the only factor moving forward, though.
Harsin can’t isolate himself and the program from boosters; that’s not the way Auburn works. Powerful people demand a say in how it operates, and those power brokers believe history proves its dysfunctional operation is actually successful. Tommy Tuberville went undefeated in 2004, one year after boosters tried to hire Bobby Petrino before the Iron Bowl in an incident known as “JetGate.” Gene Chizik won a national title in his second season in 2010. Gus Malzahn. meanwhile, came within 13 seconds of repeating the feat following his first season in 2013.
It’s not like winning cured all for any of those three coaches, and it won’t matter all that much for Harsin either. He has to make an attempt — even if it’s a tad disingenuous — to involve the power brokers and play the JABA game, in addition to contending between the white lines.
Recruiting will be a big piece of the equation, too. Auburn is operating on de facto probation after nearly two-dozen players departed the program and the Tigers finished ninth in the SEC during the 2022 recruiting cycle. The gap between Auburn and SEC relevance is only getting wider due to the recruiting prowess of conference powers such as Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama.
Many will suggest that this soap opera will kill recruiting and prevent Harsin from building a winner — but I’m not so sure about that. Recruits live in a different world than the rest of us, and most understand that the coaching carousel spins at an alarming rate in this day and age. Playing time is a huge deal for many top-tier prospects, and there’s no doubt that Auburn can offer just that to recruits coming out of high school as well as players in the transfer portal.
Harsin does, however, have to start acting like an SEC coach on the recruiting trail. Multiple sources have told CBS Sports that he is disconnected, passive and, at times, doesn’t put much effort into the process, even when prospects are on official visits during home games. That’s simply unacceptable. The biggest lesson Harsin has to take out of this is that he can’t simply sit back and only be a football coach. He has to be a salesman. He has to glad-hand. He has to close the gap between himself and Kirby Smart, Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher. Just sitting back and calling plays on the field isn’t enough despite his proven track record as a very good Xs and Os coach.
Concessions need to be made on both sides. Boosters have to accept Harsin’s methods and Harsin has to handle the political and recruiting aspects of major college football more responsibly as the two continue this marriage into a second year.
Oh yeah — beating Georgia and Alabama would also help.