3 takeaways from Bryan Harsin’s Auburn introduction: Future of program, recruiting, expectations
The first question Bryan Harsin was asked during his introductory press conference Thursday evening was about the Alabama Crimson Tide and playing in the Iron Bowl.
Talk about a welcome to Auburn.
Harsin, though, barreled through it. He has great respect for coach Nick Saban, he said, and is looking forward to going up against him the Saturday after Thanksgiving 2021. But that day is still 11 months away.
“Let me just tell you how I view it: Every single game we play is important. Every single practice and day that we spend in here is important. And if it's not, then when you get in moments like that, I think they become too big,” Harsin said. “We're going to focus on what we need to do at Auburn and how we need to do it so we can put ourselves in position to compete when it's time.”
Auburn hired Harsin to be the program’s 28th head coach on Tuesday, replacing Gus Malzahn after eight seasons. The record on paper speaks for itself – 69-19, six division titles and three Mountain West championships over seven seasons as the coach of his alma mater, Boise State.
On Thursday, though, Harsin got his first chance to come to Auburn, speak to fans and show people what he’s all about.
Here are three takeaways from his introductory Christmas Eve press conference:
He is very much focused on the process
Asked what his goals are for the 2021 season, Harsin declined to look even close to that far ahead.
“My No. 1 goal is to win today,” he said. “That was my goal. Be 1-0 today. So, I'm a pretty task-at-hand type guy.”
He made that evident throughout the hour he spent at the lectern inside Auburn’s athletics complex. Naturally, there are a lot of questions when a new coach is hired – such as who he plans to add to his staff and what kind of offense and defense he wants to run – but he wasn’t interested in answering any of them Thursday. All in due time.
When Harsin spoke to Auburn’s players in a Zoom meeting, his message to them was to give coaches their undivided attention when they return to campus Saturday to begin preparations for the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1 in Orlando.
When Harsin met with the Tigers’ current coaching staff, he asked them, “What can I do to help you? What can I do to support you? What can I do to make sure that you guys have everything you need to get these guys prepared to go play against Northwestern?”
Soon, Harsin will have to decide which of those coaches to retain and which to replace. He said his phone has been buzzing nonstop since he got hired because “there is no shortage of interest from coaches that want to be part of this Auburn program.”
But his plan Thursday was to head back home to Idaho and celebrate Christmas with his family. The big decisions – which university president Jay Gogue made clear are entirely up to Harsin – will come later.
He understands the importance of recruiting, and plans to go national
The first question to Harsin was about the Iron Bowl. The next two were about recruiting.
It’s no secret that what he and his staff do there will make or break how successful Auburn can be on the field. He found relatively great success in that area at Boise State, whose classes ranked No. 1 in the Mountain West and no worse than ninth among non-Power 5 programs every season since 2015.
But recruiting against the likes of Alabama, Georgia and LSU – which rank first, third and fourth nationally, respectively, in 2021 – is an entirely different challenge.
“That's a fair question, the challenges and all that,” Harsin said. “But recruiting in Boise State it was challenging. The kind of guys that we were trying to go after, it wasn't just you go after a certain type, but you go after the very best. That's how you recruit. You go after the very best.”
Early signing day:How Auburn football kept foundation of 2021 recruiting class together
Harsin said his No. 1 focus will be Auburn’s backyard and making sure the top recruits from Alabama, Georgia and Florida “want to be at Auburn University.” But given his West Coast ties, he wants to recruit all over the country, too.
“How do you do that? You do it relentlessly, every single day,” he said. “You're passionate about your program, you're passionate about what you're trying to build. There are the right people out there that are going to come in and do exactly that at Auburn University. You've just got to find them.”
He has no problem embracing high expectations
Malzahn was a good coach at Auburn. He led the Tigers to eight consecutive winning seasons, two SEC West titles and a conference championship. But the fan base expects greatness.
Harsin is not shying away from that.
“I understand the expectation," he said. "I understand that, to win championships and to play consistently, what it will take to do that. And the areas that that we need to be better, all right, we'll discover those as we go.
"But we want to play for championships.”
Harsin could have continued to do that in Boise, which is where he was born, where he played college football and where he spent 17 of his 21 seasons as a college coach. He said there was no other place than Auburn that could have pulled him away from that.
He got an introduction to what that meant Thursday, getting asked about the team from the other side of the state less than three hours after stepping off the plane at AUO. But Harsin seems like a man up to the task.
"I've heard that it's gonna be challenging, it's going to be tough. Isn't that what you want as a competitor?" Harsin said. "This opportunity at Auburn was so attractive because exactly those those things. It's exactly the reason why you want to play for Auburn University and exactly why you want to come to a place like this, because it's going to be challenging is going to be hard. It's going to be all those things you talk about you read about you see.
"I'm certainly excited about the challenge."