Auburn football wanted coach to 'consistently compete for championships.' Is Bryan Harsin it?

Josh Vitale
Montgomery Advertiser

The person who coined the phrase "it's about the journey, not the destination" had obviously never been invested in a college football coaching search.

Because Auburn's journey to get to where it did Tuesday did not appear enjoyable, especially if you have spent any time on social media or reading message boards since coach Gus Malzahn was fired. You could find conspiracy theories about hostile takeovers, meddling boosters and power struggles, reports of coaches turning the Tigers down and everything in between.

University president Jay Gogue said that it was "unfortunate that so much misinformation was spread in recent days about the process."

But in the end, the only thing that really mattered was the destination: Bryan Harsin.

Gogue and athletics director Allen Greene said the same thing in the statements they released: Their goal was to find Auburn a coach who could "consistently compete." Gogue said "at the highest levels." Greene said "for championships in the Southeastern Conference."

They believe they did hiring a 44-year-old who did nothing but win at Boise State – a 69-19 record, six division titles and three Mountain West championships in seven seasons.

More:5 things to know about new Auburn football coach Bryan Harsin

Harsin echoed their words: "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."

Boise State coach Bryan Harsin hoist the Mountain West championship trophy after defeating Hawaii in the conference's 2019 championship game at Albertsons  Stadium.

It's impossible to know now whether Harsin will be able to do that at Auburn. Everyone expected Jim Harbaugh would at Michigan, and he hasn't. No one thought Dabo Swinney would at Clemson, and he has repeatedly.

Harsin is an out-of-the-box hire. He has never coached in the state of Alabama or the SEC. He has only two seasons of Power 5 experience.

Analysis:Winners, losers from Auburn football coaching search for Bryan Harsin

But what Greene said impressed him about Harsin was "his detailed plan to lead Auburn." That's what the program needs. Malzahn led the Tigers to eight consecutive winning seasons, but only three championships (division and conference in 2013, division in 2017). Harsin will be asked to lead the Tigers higher, closer to the level of rivals LSU, Georgia and Alabama.

There were three qualities Auburn needed to be looking for in the new coach  – the ability to recruit at an elite level, hope for a high-scoring offense and the energy to build a program.

Harsin checks a lot of those boxes.

Ability to recruit at an elite level

Boise State isn't near the top of any national recruiting rankings. It's a Group of 5 school in Idaho. But given the situation, it's difficult to argue with Harsin's success.

The Broncos' recruiting classes ranked first in the Mountain West every year from 2015-21, per 247Sports. They ranked no better than 54th nationally in any of those seasons, but also no worse than 68th. They finished in the top 10 among non-Power 5 schools every season, and first twice.

One of Harsin's strengths? Developing talent on the offensive and defensive lines.

According to 247Sports analyst Brandon Huffman, Harsin was also one of the first coaches to offer BYU standout Zach Wilson and landed Brett Rypien, who turned down Pac-12 and SEC offers and became a Mountain West passing leader.

Boise State produced a few gems during Harsin's tenure, too, some of whom are familiar names in the NFL – Demarcus Lawrence, Jay Ajayi, Alexander Mattison and, most notably, 2018 first-round pick Leighton Vander Esch.

Going up against SEC powers in the highly competitive recruiting territories of Florida and Georgia will be a completely different type of challenge. But Harsin does have some pedigree.

Hope for a high-scoring offense

You probably didn't realize it when you watched it 14 years ago, but Harsin was one of the architects of one of the most dramatic bowl games ever: Boise State 43, Oklahoma 42 in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl.

And the hook-and-ladder and Statue of Liberty plays the Broncos used to pull off that upset are not Harsin's only claims to fame.

Boise State went 61-5 during his tenure as offensive coordinator under Chris Petersen from 2006-10, averaging at least 36.7 points in each of those seasons and ranking top three nationally four times.

Among some of the players he coached – running back Ian Johnson (1,713 rushing yards, 25 touchdowns in 2006), quarterback Kellen Moore (at least 3,400 passing yards and 25 touchdowns every season from 2008-10) and wide receiver Austin Pettis (averaged 903 yards and 12 touchdowns from 2009-10).

That success led him to Texas under Mack Brown, where he took over an offense that ranked 88th nationally in 2010 (23.8 points per game) and elevated it to 55th in 2011 (28.1) and 23rd in 2012 (35.7).

Boise State has ranked in the top 40 nationally in scoring offense every season since Harsin returned as head coach in 2014. Auburn has done that only twice since 2015 and ranked 86th nationally this year averaging just 25.7 points.

Energy to build a program

Harsin didn't have to build Boise State when he was named coach. It was already a Group of 5 power. The Broncos went 6-17 during their first two seasons as an FBS program in 1996-97. Over the next 16 seasons under Dirk Koetter, Dan Hawkins and Petersen, they went 171-33.

But Harsin has shown that he's not willing to simply rest on those laurels. The Idaho Press reported earlier this month that he had been pushing university leadership to leave the Mountain West.

“I understand there are risks and budgets and travel costs that’s all real to me," he wrote in emails to administrators. "I also know that’s exactly why Boise State is the program it is today because we took risks necessary to grow our program.”

Auburn Athletics director Allen Greene.

Auburn won't be leaving the SEC anytime soon. But there is something to be said for an attitude of desiring more than your current station. That's exactly what the Tigers want – they've been a consistently good football program over the past eight years, but they want greatness above where Malzahn could bring them.

That will take plenty of work and resources. Auburn needs to get going on the new football-only facility that has been promised for more than a year. It needs to invest in recruiting in the way its rivals have. Jordan-Hare Stadium could certainly use some upgrades.

More:Changing coaches might fix one of Auburn's biggest problems, but not the other

Maybe Harsin can push for those things. Maybe he can be the coach that can put Auburn in a position to "consistently compete for championships," as Greene, Gogue and the fan base desire.

Would he have left his hometown and alma mater for a state and conference he has never coached in if he didn't believe he could?

"I knew it would take a special opportunity to get me out of Boise," Harsin said. "Auburn is exactly that."

Josh Vitale is the Auburn beat writer for the Montgomery Advertiser. You can follow him on Twitter at @JoshVitale. To reach him by email, click here.