Whether Bryan Harsin admits it or not, this wasn’t the plan.

The plan wasn’t to fire the offensive coordinator he poached from South Carolina after just 1 year. Most likely, the plan wasn’t to return just 4 on-field assistants to their same role, unless of course, that was on the heels of a Gus Malzahn-like Year 1 and those coaches got promotions to leave. I wouldn’t consider Derek Mason resigning and then taking the same position at Oklahoma State one of those situations.

When it was initially reported last week that Mason was stepping down after just 1 year, some took it was “let him leave. The defense should’ve been better anyway.” It’s fair to say a secondary with Smoke Monday and Roger McCreary was supposed to be better than No. 96 against the pass. So for some, Mason not sticking around wasn’t a loss at all and promoting inside linebackers coach Jeff Schmedding was a sign that this was part of Harsin’s plan.

Agree to disagree.

Mason still produced a top-30 defense and he was No. 4 in the SEC in yards per play allowed. Yeah, the MSU loss was bad. You know what wasn’t bad? Holding 6 of Auburn’s last 7 foes to 21 points or less in regulation.

Harsin, whether he admits it or not, took another Year 1 “L” with Mason’s departure. That’s after he ended Year 1 with Auburn’s longest in-season losing streak since the Harry Truman administration. The plan wasn’t blowing second-half leads in 4 of those 5 games, either. In Harsin’s ideal world, Bo Nix would’ve been the best version of himself for a full season and not just a month or so before transferring to Oregon.

Speaking of Nix, he’s 1 of 18 Auburn players who hit the transfer portal since the Iron Bowl. That’s not including Tank Bigsby, AKA the team’s best player who reportedly entered the transfer portal but then decided to stay at Auburn.

That was Harsin’s biggest win since mid-October … getting the team’s best player to stick around for 1 more year.

It certainly wasn’t watching his leading receiver, Kobe Hudson, leave Auburn to reunite with his predecessor Gus Malzahn at UCF.

And sure, maybe some of the departures were a byproduct of the new transfer rules (or lack thereof). Undergraduates can transfer once without sitting a year and in 2021, we also saw the abolishment of the intra-conference transfer restrictions. Combine that with NIL and yes, there are a whole lot of coaches like Harsin who are feeling the effects of the portal.

But if you compare Harsin to the first-year coaches in the SEC, he’s an outlier:

First-year SEC coaches
Transfers lost (since 11/29)
Transfers gained (since 11/29)
Clark Lea, Vandy
Shane Beamer, South Carolina
Josh Heupel, Tennessee
Bryan Harsin, Auburn

Let’s call it what it is — Year 1 was a total mess. A repeat of that and nothing is off the table for a school that just paid a coach $23 million to go away after a winning SEC season. In case you were wondering, Harsin’s buyout is $15 million next year. If Harsin picks up where he left off and keeps taking “L” after “L,” that buyout will be common knowledge.

For the sake of Auburn fans, let’s hope that doesn’t come to fruition. Plenty of Auburn fans gave Harsin a pass for his Year 1 struggles, and they perhaps even pointed to the fact that Kirby Smart and Nick Saban didn’t have winning SEC seasons in Year 1, either.

Fair. Also fair? They cranked it up to “11” in Year 2.

Both signed top-3 classes, won a division title and earned a top-6 national finish.

What suggests that Harsin is ready to do anything close to that? The fact that he replaced his top 2 assistants? Or the fact that his answer to figuring out his quarterback issue was going out and getting Zach Calzada, who had the No. 12 quarterback rating in the SEC out of 14 qualified signal-callers?

Harsin doesn’t need to achieve Smart or Saban levels of success in Year 2, but where he failed so far is building belief. He was never going to fail or succeed based on spending 21 of his previous 25 years in Boise. This was always going to be about the decisions that Harsin made after his hiring (which wasn’t Auburn’s original plan). If you had asked an Auburn fan at this time last year, there would’ve been a ton of confidence in those decisions. After all, Harsin poached not 1, not 2, but 3 assistants from Beamer at South Carolina. Just 1 of those assistants (offensive line coach Will Friend) will be on Harsin’s 2022 staff.

Replacing Mike Bobo took Harsin 3 weeks. That’ll be an afterthought if Auburn’s offense plays better in the second half of November games than it did in 2021. If the offense takes off with a first-time play-caller, we’ll praise Harsin for finding a diamond in the rough like Austin Davis.

We play the results in this business. Had Harsin finished 9-3, he would’ve been in the SEC Coach of the Year discussion. Instead of getting the “don’t judge a coach in Year 1” crowd on his side, Harsin would’ve had the “I really like what he’s building” crowd on his side.

So far, Harsin looks like he’s in damage control. He’s cleaning up a mess. Granted, it was a mess that was partially his doing.

He can — and probably will — talk about culture until he’s blue in the face. He might’ve gained some support with his business-like approach or with his decision to ban players from taking the elevator in the team facility.

But in Year 2, all that matters with that plan is being a significantly better football team. A mass personnel exodus the past 2 months doesn’t suggest that’s imminent.

Harsin needs and deserves time. But blind faith only lasts so long.