ATLANTA — Auburn head coach Bryan Harsin opened his SEC press conference on Thursday’s media days in part by addressing the February investigation into the Tigers football program.
“There was an investigation,” Harsin said. “It was uncomfortable. It was unfounded. It was an opportunity for people to personally attack me, my family and also our program. And it didn’t work.”
The university examined the football program following an exodus of players and assistant coaches. The defectors came after Auburn started the 2021 season 6-2 before losing their last five games of the season 6-7. Harsin was hired at Auburn in December 2020 after seven years at Boise State. He replaced Gus Malzahn, who was fired after the 2020 season and received a $21.45 million buyout.
“I mean, you’re going back, and I don’t think that even in our own league, we weren’t the team that lost the most players,” Harsin said. “It’s not mentioned, whether that’s relevant or not, it’s just the way it is. Managerial changes happen and we’ve brought in new players.”
Harsin added that he feels people have underestimated the challenge of getting into the job during the COVID-19 pandemic, which he says has made the transition difficult.
“The first team meeting was indoors, with the swamp coolers 6 feet apart, everyone was wearing masks and nobody could hear anything,” he said. “And you’re trying to bring that energy and enthusiasm and it was a bad environment. And we had to meet at the business building and there were a lot of things that didn’t allow us to come in right away and reasons.”
Auburn tight end John Samuel Shenker said: “When he came in he had an opportunity to do things [and] he was successful where he was before. So if you have a man that successful, just shop in and see what’s on the other side. And last year we didn’t fully buy in.
“We had guys who were very unique and individual and those guys are gone now. And now we have a lot of guys that are interested in what we do and what Coach Harsin wants from us. And I think that’s all business.”
Current and former Auburn players took to social media to both defend and criticize Harsin in early February 2021, prompting the university to say in a statement, “We do not make institutional decisions based on social media posts or headlines in the media.”
“It’s been a week,” Harsin said. “And like I said, it was something nobody wanted to go through and they could open the doors and attack me and our players and everyone else and our program and it didn’t work.
“So at the end of the day, let’s move on. What do we have to do to help these guys get better? Because they have little time to achieve their goals and dreams.”
The culture of the program has changed from two years ago to today, Shenker said. “Last year was kind of a wall, it’s in the middle, but now it’s really changed in a way that’s so much better for Auburn that you can’t really explain it well,” he said. You have to see it every day to understand that.”
Auburn opens the 2022 season on September 3 at home against Mercer.
https://www.espn.com/college-football/story/_/id/34275838/bryan-harsin-says-auburn-probe-personal-attack Bryan Harsin says Auburn college football probe a personal attack