As university leaders scrutinize the struggles of Auburn football coach Bryan Harsin amid an exodus of players and coaches, Harsin told ESPN he’s committed to the school for the long term.
“I’m the Auburn coach, and that’s how I’m operating every day,” Harsin, who is entering his second season, told ESPN in a lengthy interview late Thursday night. “I want this thing to work, and I’ve told our players and told everybody else there is no Plan B. I’m not planning on going anywhere. This was and is the job. That’s why I left the one I was in, to come here and make this place a championship program and leave it better than I found it.”
Auburn athletic director Allen Greene met with seven or eight veteran players on Friday evening to address the uncertainty around Harsin’s future, sources told ESPN. His simple message to the players, sources told ESPN, was to stay the course and control what you can control, as there’s no clarity. After the open discussion, an all-team run finished Friday’s workout for the players
Harsin, who is out of the country on vacation, said he hasn’t had any conversations with Auburn leaders that would suggest he won’t be back for the 2022 season.
As he works to finalize the reconstruction of his staff, university officials are examining the factors that led to 20 players and five assistant coaches leaving the school, sources told ESPN.
“There have been a lot of rumors and speculation about our football program,” Auburn president Jay Gogue said at a board of trustees meeting Friday. “I just want you to know we’re trying to separate fact from fiction. We’ll keep you posted and make the appropriate decision at the right time.”
Upper administration officials at Auburn, including executive vice president and chief operating officer Lt. Gen. Ron Burgess, have conducted interviews with some of the people exiting, sources told ESPN. At the root of the inquiry, sources told ESPN, is the overall volatility in the program and Harsin’s treatment of players and assistant coaches.
“It all gets back to people and the way they were mistreated,” one source told ESPN. “There’s a reason so many people have left. You just don’t see that many people at one school leave, not in one year. It’s a mess.”
Burgess and Greene did not respond to requests for comment.
Lee Hunter, who transferred from Auburn to UCF this offseason, posted on Instagram on Friday that “Coach Harsin has the true mindset for a winner but has a terrible mindset as a person.” He also posted, “the reason I chose to leave auburn because we got treated like we wasn’t good enough and like dogs.”
Harsin bristled at any suggestion that he mistreated coaches or players and pointed out that there were different reasons for coaches and players leaving the program. He listed everything from a coach landing another job or leaving for personal reasons, to a coach simply not living up to expectations, to a player leaving because he was a distraction to the team or wooed by another school.
“Any attack on my character is bulls—,” Harsin said. “None of that is who I am.”
Said one source to ESPN: “There are some kids in the locker room who do like him. If they fire him, what are we going to do? It would set Auburn back two or three years.”
Auburn linebackers Chandler Wooten, a team captain who is headed to the NFL, and Derick Hall, who led the Tigers last season in sacks and tackles, took to Twitter on Friday to defend Harsin.