Bryan Harsin moved some 2,170 miles from his longtime home for his new job as Auburn’s coach.
But that’s hardly the only big adjustment facing the former Boise State quarterback/assistant coach/head man. Harsin is making the leap from the Mountain West to the mighty Southeastern Conference, and certainly seems undaunted by the challenge.
“He’s ready for it, man,” linebacker Owen Pappoe said. “One thing I’ll say about Coach Harsin, man, he’s a winner. He’s not backing down from any challenge. He’s not intimidated by the fact that it’s the SEC because he’s come from the Mountain West.
“His approach all year has been we’re here to win championships, and that’s the mindset this team has. He’s really helped establish that for us.”
Harsin arrived on the Plains after five 10-win seasons from 2014-20 at his alma mater, replacing Gus Malzahn. Malzahn was fired after a 6-5 season, concluding an eight-year run with no losing records.
Harsin inherits a team led by two-year starting quarterback Bo Nix, tailback Tank Bigsby and linebackers Pappoe and Zakoby McClain, along with defensive backs Roger McCreary and Smoke Monday.
Harsin has tried to establish his own culture and mind-set.
“You want to be one of those teams that every single year, you’re in the hunt for an opportunity to play and win a championship, all right,” the 44-year-old said. “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.”
NIX YEAR 3
Nix, a former five-star recruit, has passed for nearly 5,000 yards the past two seasons while completing a modest 59% of his throws. But he’s also been criticized for not making an obvious jump in Year 2 and now has former LSU starter T.J. Finley behind him along with his third offensive coordinator, Mike Bobo.
There will be a different look on offense from Malzahn’s spread-like system.
“Well, our ultimate goal is for a championship. And then other than that, it’s just winning as many games as possible,” Nix said. “And our goal is doing whatever it takes to win, whether that’s running the ball throwing the ball, it doesn’t really matter.
“But just from last year, a lot of growth, and this year, a lot of things we’re looking forward to.”
Bigsby is back after running for 856 yards and five touchdowns to earn SEC freshman of the year honors.
Harsin turned to former head coaches as his coordinators. Bobo, a former Georgia quarterback who ran South Carolina’s offense last season, spent five seasons as Colorado State’s head coach. Defensive coordinator Derek Mason led the Vanderbilt program from 2014-20 and is a former Stanford defensive coordinator.
The offensive line has struggled in recent years, but returns every starter, including center Nick Brahms and tackle Brodarious Hamm. The defensive line had heavy turnover, with Harsin saying that starting defensive tackle Tyrone Truesdell was no longer with the team during preseason camp. Four other defensive linemen transferred.
Auburn moved tight end J.J. Pegues to the defensive line and brought in transfers Marcus Harris (Kansas), Eku Leota (Northwestern) and Tony Fair (UAB).
Auburn lost its top three receivers, Seth Williams, Anthony Schwartz and Eli Stove. There’s some young or inexperienced talent back, and Georgia transfer Demetris Robertson joined the mix over the summer.
The top returning pass catcher, tight end John Samuel Shenker, had just nine receptions.
Auburn opens with four straight nonconference games, with easily the toughest opponent coming with a visit to Penn State on Sept. 18. The Tigers host Georgia (Oct. 9) and Alabama (Nov. 27).
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