Bryan Harsin didn’t wait for any questions about the attempts to push him out as Auburn’s football coach last February. Instead, he took care of that by himself during his time at the podium on the final day of SEC Media Days at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta.
“Going back to what happened back in February, what I'm going to do now is address it,” Harsin said in the early moments of his time before the media. “Moving forward, that will be the last time I talk about this subject. There was an inquiry. It was uncomfortable. It was unfounded. It presented an opportunity for people to personally attack me, my family, and also our program. And it didn't work.”
He wasn’t done.
“Right now our focus is on moving forward,” Harsin said. “What came out of that inquiry were a lot of positives. There was a silver lining in all of this. What I saw from our players and our coaches was leadership opportunities for them to step up, which is exactly what they did. You got a chance to see guys provide leadership. You got a chance to see coaches provide leadership. What it did is it united our football team, our players, our staff, our football team. I'm really proud of our guys. I'm proud of what something like that that could be very challenging and difficult for a lot of people, how our guys stepped up and handled it. We had coaches and players that could have went to different places, avoided all the adversity and challenges.”
So now it’s put to rest?
Not exactly. To be exact, it was put to rest for seven questions. On the eighth question, it was back to the inquiry which nearly ended his Auburn tenure after one season.
“Anytime we're going [backward], talking about the past, we're not moving forward, talking about the future,” Harsin said. “That's about it. It was quick, to the point with our players. We moved on.”
The truth is, Harsin and the Tigers need to have on-the-field success before some will fully move on. A year ago, Auburn was 6-2 before losing the final five games, including a come-from-ahead setback in the Iron Bowl and Birmingham Bowl setback to Houston.
Another season of similar results and the pressure will mount again.
Auburn is bolstered by the return of running back Tank Bigsby, who was rumored to be headed for the transfer portal while the program was mired in turmoil. Bigsby finished with 1,099 yards and 10 touchdowns during his sophomore season but carried the ball an average of 17 times per game.
“When I came to Auburn as a freshman in 2020, I just felt like this school is different,” Bigsby said. “After my sophomore season, I felt the same way. I want to change and do the things I need to do for Auburn. It’s a different program, and you have to be a different man to be in this program. A lot of people don’t like us, and a lot of people speak bad about us, but at the end of the day we have to come to play, and we have to be ready to play. That’s why [I] came to Auburn, and that’s why I’m still at Auburn. I feel like we’re [going] to do what we have to do this year and handle our business.”
The business that will carry the running load is answered with his return. The quarterback battle will linger into fall camp. T.J. Finley played in nine games last season and was the starter at the end of the season. Texas A&M transfer Zach Calzada, a part-time starter last season, made an impact since coming to Auburn but he sat out the spring because he hurt his shoulder against Auburn last season. Hoover High product Robby Ashford, who bounced back home after a year at Oregon, is also in the mix.
Harsin didn’t pick a leader at this point but he did praise Calzada.
“Zach has been awesome,” Harsin said. “He's really been awesome. Every day he's been there, just the work ethic, the focus, the attention to detail, the little opportunities to do more when he has a chance to do that, has really become his foundation.”
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