Bryan Harsin is having a 'welcome to the SEC' week, and not necessarily in a good way
So, you want to join the SEC, you say.
That’s cool. Just realize what that entails.
It means when your team is down double digits in the second half as a 4-touchdown favorite, your fan base is going to be irate. It means when you have to pull your former 5-star quarterback because he can’t put together scoring drives against a Sun Belt defense, your quarterback battle is going to be item No. 1 until next Saturday. It means when you fire a position coach a month into the season for performance-based reasons, your national media spotlight is going to get a whole lot brighter.
Bryan Harsin, welcome to the SEC. It is equal parts ruthless and diabolical. One Saturday can send your entire world out of orbit. Life changes faster than you can say “War Eagle.”
For Auburn, that’s been the case since the Penn State loss. TJ Finley’s late heroics last week saved what would’ve been Auburn’s most embarrassing loss since Southern Miss in 1991.
Think about that. No coach wants to have “suffered program’s most embarrassing loss in 30 years” on their résumé. Now multiply that by the Auburn standard, where buyouts are Monopoly money and winning a national title only gets you a 1-year grace period.
Fortunately for Harsin, that’s not his reality. He still has a full plate of “new head coach slop” to wolf down.
Deciding what to do with the underperforming receivers coach was like staring at those undercooked lima beans. Harsin elected to dump the lima beans underneath the table so the dog could eat them.
That’s a weird way to sum up firing a position coach, but you get the picture. It’s an atypical move to fire an on-field assistant after a 3-1 start. Granted, 2 of those wins were practice games and the other was the aforementioned near-heart attack. Firing Cornelius Williams on a Sunday after a dud performance makes it look like he was the scapegoat for the loss. Even if some fans view it as “accountability,” it still comes off like the head coach shifting blame.
Harsin said on Monday that “Williams understands what we want to do” and that “he understands how to do it … He’s a very detailed coach. He has a plan, he has a vision.”
Whatever Harsin’s preseason vision was for Year 1 on The Plains, I can guarantee you it didn’t include booting the position coach of his team’s biggest area of weakness before October.
But hey, what’s the Mike Tyson saying? Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face?
Harsin’s team got punched in the face by Georgia State on Saturday. It was just fortunate to avoid TKO and somehow win by decision.
Had Auburn lost? Yikes. What’s that other saying? Hell hath no fury like an Auburn fan scorned?
I can guarantee you that none of Harsin’s previous 25 losses as a head coach would’ve been treated anywhere close to falling to Georgia State. Again, though. It was a win. Finley saved the day.
Now how does Harsin handle his first true quarterback decision?
Perhaps there are parallels to 2015 at Boise State. Harsin had to decide between redshirt sophomore Ryan Finley and true freshman Brett Rypien, who was Boise State’s first 4-star quarterback recruit. Harsin elected for Ryan Finley, but when the veteran was injured in Game No. 2, it opened the door for Rypien to take over. The rest is history. Rypien became a 4-year starter while Finley followed then-Boise State offensive coordinator Eli Drinkwitz to NC State, where he became a first-team All-SEC quarterback.
Harsin might’ve initially favored the veteran who was there before he took over for Chris Petersen, but ultimately, Harsin rode the hot hand. He played it close to the vest, and neither quarterback was allowed to speak to the media that year. A national story? Not so much.
In this current scenario, Nix is obviously the veteran from the previous staff and Finley is the hot hand. For someone who struggled against pressure as a true freshman at LSU, Finley seemed to be at his best when flushed out of the pocket on Saturday.
Fourth down. Game on the line.
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) September 25, 2021
Not surprisingly, Harsin didn’t answer the obvious question about his starting quarterback situation. He actually wasn’t even asked “who is your starting quarterback moving forward?” It was simply “when do you want to have your starter decided this week?” Harsin responded with “that’s not how this works” and then gave a nothing answer about everyone needing to get better.
Typical Harsin. This is the guy who spoke at SEC Media Days for 31 minutes and he answered a total of 3 questions. The less he reveals, in his mind, the better.
But more important is how he handles that situation behind closed doors. If he has a locker room full of guys ready to see Finley take over, that’s a dynamic he must handle no matter who QB1 is.
Here’s the other thing worth remembering; Auburn has played 4 games. A player who appears in 4 games or fewer can redshirt. Nix still has that in his back pocket. Could he pull off the Kelly Bryant move when he left Clemson after 4 games in 2018 once Trevor Lawrence was named the starter? If Finley starts, would the former 5-star quarterback consider such a move to preserve a year of eligibility? Nix could then leave with 3 years of eligibility left (also remember that 2020 didn’t count against anyone’s eligibility).
Do I think that happens? Probably not, but it just shows all the moving pieces associated with a midseason quarterback move. Auburn’s reasoning for adding Finley this summer was in part because having a true freshman backup going into the season isn’t ideal, especially when that true freshman (Dematrius Davis) is barely 200 pounds. If Nix leaves, Auburn is back in that dangerous spot with essentially the entire SEC schedule ahead.
Maybe it was inevitable that Harsin would have a week like this in his first month. After all, the Tigers have as brutal of a first-half schedule as any program in the country. Go figure that it was Georgia State who caused unrest on The Plains.
A telling juncture awaits Harsin. Will his swift staff firing work out? Can he push the right buttons in his quarterback room? Shoot, can he wake his team up after sleepwalking through Georgia State?
All of that awaits ahead of his first night game at Death Valley … where Auburn hasn’t won this century. By week’s end, Harsin could find himself facing a new set of challenges.
What’s that other saying?
Welcome to the big leagues.