Pressure? New Auburn coach Bryan Harsin has embraced big expectations everywhere he's been
Bryan Harsin knows a thing or two about taking the baton from Gus Malzahn. This is the second time he’s done so, after all. He also knows all about pressure, or maybe better yet, how not to crack under the weight of external beliefs.
For the skeptics concerned about the pressure cooker that Harsin is about to walk into at Auburn, the new head coach made it abundantly clear at his first SEC Media Days that he’s all about embracing expectations, and he has implemented a culture from Day 1 that he’s not about to veer from.
In the SEC, it does mean more, and Harsin admitted as much, but the formula and the method to arriving at a win is the same, no matter what level of football you’re at. The importance of each victory varies from place to place, but the level of preparation remains consistent.
“As a coach and as a competitor, everything I do, I want to win,” Harsin said. “So the preparation and all the things that go into that, it doesn’t matter if I’m at Capitol High School or I’m at Auburn and coaching the football team there, it all matters.”
The microscope that Harsin will be placed under at Auburn is much more significant than the one in Boise or Arkansas State, but Harsin has demonstrated that he can consistently build a successful program. Expectations from an Auburn fan base don’t mean much to Harsin because he has his own set of expectations to live up to after going 69-19 in 7 seasons with his alma mater.
Instead, what Harsin finds himself more concerned with is the culture he builds off the field. At the end of the day, he’s a teacher — as made clear by his NIL taxes discussion with players — more so than anything else. If players take care of business (literally and figuratively) off the field, positive results will carry onto it.
Ninety percent of Harsin’s media day appearance was spent talking about discipline away from football and the history and tradition that he’s walking into. Harsin sees football as a part of life rather than life as an accessory to football, which in many ways is refreshing in the myopic culture of the SEC.
“You want to win, you want to be consistent, you want to be one of those teams that every single year, all right, you’re in the hunt for an opportunity to play and win a championship,” Harsin said. “All right, well, you’d better bring your personal best every single day. You’d better be disciplined, you’d better be tough, and you’d better have conviction for what it is you’re doing.”
What Harsin is doing is simplifying the process for his players. By preaching self-focus, external pressure is removed. It’s coach speak, but the personal wins achieved every day will hopefully add up to team wins on Saturdays. It’s that 1-0 mentality; never get too far ahead of yourself.
Perhaps Auburn’s biggest flaw during the Gus Malzahn era was yielding to the pressure created by comparing the Tigers to Alabama. That’s simply not a fair expectation in Year 1, 2 or maybe even 3 for the new head coach.
With that said, Harsin is well aware of the angry-mob tendency of fans to run coaches off The Plains, and he even knows how it feels to be on the wrong end of 90,000 fans at Jordan-Hare (see his 2013 losing effort with Arkansas State). Rather than run from the pressure cooker, he’s embracing its atmosphere.
“I want to be able to be part of a program that, when you win, your fans go crazy and go downtown and we toilet paper trees,” Harsin said. “That’s why you come to Auburn. That’s why you’re in the SEC, because it does mean more, and opportunities like that, it’s not like that at other places.”
It’s a new era, but Harsin is game to combine the existing traditions with his own self-implemented culture. He’s not about to bend to outside voices.
Harsin is 1 of 4 new head coaches in the SEC, but unlike Vanderbilt, Tennessee and South Carolina, the Tigers are one of the few programs that can consistently compete with the big boys. That in itself is a pressure-provoking situation, but it didn’t feel that way at the podium for Harsin on Thursday.
Auburn’s defense is built to compete now, and if Bo Nix progresses along with another great year from Tank Bigsby, 2021 doesn’t have to be a rebuild. It feels like Harsin has got his returning players to buy in, but how much progress can be made in one offseason installing a new culture?
It may or may not come together this year, but Harsin isn’t sweating. Stick to the process, and the rest will follow.