Aubserver Mailbag 65: what is happening
This week: Bryan Harsin, eternal chaos, the value of Zep Jasper, hoops strategy, investing in more sports, Keith Lee, superstitions and Little Texas
(Todd Van Emst/Auburn Athletics)
Last Friday, I expected that there would be some sort of clarity on Bryan Harsin’s future at Auburn by the next time I wrote a mailbag.
That did not happen.
This past week featured a whirlwind of reports, rumors, takes and two official statements from Auburn University leadership. But it hasn’t featured a ton of clarity, as the school continues its look into Harsin and what should be done moving forward.
Oh, and Auburn basketball announced a renaming of the Arena and lost for the first time in nearly three months.
This week’s mailbag tackles a lot of your questions on Harsin and the future of the football program, even though the best answer a lot of times is a giant ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. We also cover a lot of ground in basketball, specifically with Auburn’s play without Zep Jasper — who could return to action Saturday against Texas A&M.
Thank you for your continued support of The Auburn Observer. On weeks like these, your feedback and kind words go an extremely long way.
What percent chance do you give Harsin being the coach for Game 1?
I’m not going to rule anything out. I’ve spent 28 and a half years around Auburn football as a fan or as a writer. This place isn’t normal. The things that happen here aren’t normal. Applying normal logic and process to Auburn is rarely a good idea. This is Chaos, The Program.
I still find it quite hard to see how Bryan Harsin comes out of this situation and it’s better for all parties involved to keep moving forward with him as the head coach. Again, it’s impossible to predict what happens at Auburn, either on the field or off the field.
But Harsin is in a situation where his roster has taken a step backwards in terms of numbers this offseason, and it’s going to be even harder to recruit moving forward. It’s going to be difficult to convince players, whether in the transfer portal or a historically strong in-state 2023 high school class, to join a program where there is clear and obvious instability. As I wrote last Friday, the damage is already done here.
I don’t know exactly how Auburn let this situation get to this point — a very public standoff with a coach who doesn’t seem like he’s going to back down at all — but it’s not going to end well. The program is either going to hit the reset button at an inopportune time or stick it out with a coach that doesn’t have strong support.
The university will probably say it was doing its due diligence with the investigation, which was triggered by the late-January staff departures. (And the fact that this is out of the hands of athletics probably has something to do with the lack of a clear timeline for all of this, which explains Harsin going to the SEC coaches meeting in Birmingham on Thursday. After all, he needs to continue to operate as business as usual.)
That being said, if Auburn doesn’t fire Harsin for-cause and he doesn’t settle for a decreased buyout, there’s a chance his full buyout isn’t paid and he keeps going. But it doesn’t feel large. I would ballpark it somewhere in the 20-25% range. I just don’t know how Auburn just keeps moving forward as a program without a change at this point.
It’s not impossible. Again, I won’t rule anything out at Auburn. But it would be quite difficult for the Tigers to do what they need to do, both on and off the field, to take a step forward as a program. This is just not normal.
Do y'all have a sense of where most fans are on Bryan Harsin at this point? The initial drip of information about his impending firing led players, former players, and, most importantly here, fans to close ranks around him. (I include myself in that group.)
As more recent information and reporting about his performance (I'm thinking specifically of some of the work by Split Zone Duo) came to light, I have found myself in the odd position of ... agreeing ... with the boosters on the need to move on. It's a weird spot! We need an oral history of all this.
For now, what's your take on what the average Auburn fan wants?
From what I can tell, things are split fairly evenly. There’s a large group of fans who want to see Harsin stay put for a variety of reasons — they like his approach, they want to give him time, they don’t want to see Auburn go through another coaching search right now, they don’t want to see the boosters win, etc.
(I would push back on that last one, just because this situation at its core is more of an HR investigation than a booster coup. But I’m also not going to say that Harsin had the support of all the people with money and influence.)
And then there’s a large group of fans who want to see the Harsin era end now — they are discouraged by what has been reported about him, they don’t like what they saw on the field and on the recruiting trail in Year 1, they don’t think he’s the right fit, they never wanted him in the first place, etc.
The two sides of this debate aren’t monoliths, and — like anything online — there’s a whole lot of broad-brush painting going on here. It might be a binary answer, fire or retain, but there’s a wide range of opinions out there.
I think both sides of the aisle can largely agree that, no matter what happens, Auburn is going to be in a tough spot for the near future. Turning it around in recruiting looks even harder now, but it’s going to have to be a top priority moving forward. The roster needs reinforcement for 2022 and beyond.