Auburn’s new coach Bryan Harsin may be more like Bruce Pearl when it comes to answering the media’s questions. But once the game starts, you won’t see his every emotion displayed in his arm gestures on the sidelines. Instead, Harsin is stoic, emotionless, whether his team is up by 40 or down by 14, until the clock runs out and he releases his smile.
It’s the first time in a long time — six years to be exact — that Auburn fans have gone through this process, the discovery of the little things that make a coach who he is.
How does he conduct himself on the field, in the community, in press conferences and in the locker room?
Since Harsin spent so much of his life in Boise, growing up, playing and coaching there, AL.com reached out to some of the people who worked alongside him for years to learn more about him.
Paul J. Schneider and Harsin go way back, back to before any Auburn undergraduates were born. Schneider, who spent 35 years as the Voice of the Broncos, remembers meeting Harsin when he was the quarterback for Capital High School in Boise. He watched him go from recruit to player to assistant to head coach.
Bart Hendricks was a grade behind Harsin and met him when he joined the Broncos in 1996. They were teammates, both playing quarterback for the Broncos, and later coworkers when they returned to work for the Boise State athletic department.
By the time Dave Southorn met Harsin, he was a young, energetic coach returning to his alma mater as the offensive coordinator. Southorn, who worked for the Idaho Statesman and then the Athletic, saw Harsin grow as a coach, leave for more experience and then return as a head coach. That’s when B.J. Rains, who works for the Idaho Press, and Jay Tust, who works for KTVB, first met Harsin. The three of them spent the last seven years telling Harsin’s and the Broncos’ stories.
Here’s what they had to say about working with Harsin, Auburn’s new football coach:
How would you describe his coaching style?
Harsin does not like to be still or to stay stagnant, Hendricks said. He’s always looking to improve, especially when it comes to his coaching philosophies.
But some things will always stay the same, like his emphasis on hard work. From what Schneider saw, he’s always been a great believer in the weight room and is a no-nonsense coach when it comes to prepping his players and his staff. As a result, his teams usually seem better prepared than most.
Harsin will also always be involved with the offense because that’s what his background is in. Rains said the defensive staff tends to have more control and autonomy. While Harsin is very hands-on and will pay attention to both sides of the field, most of his time is spent at the offensive end.
“You’ll see him in practice throwing passes to the wide receivers during drills,” Rains said. “He’ll jump in there and throw passes, do handoffs to the running backs. He’ll be very involved in the offense. He’ll run over and see a quarterback and pull him aside to do a technique.”
All of this is driven around a desire to win, which Southorn thinks is his No. 1 motivator on the field. He and Tust are in complete agreement that Harsin really, really hates losing, more than the average coach. But when he does lose, it motivates him to do whatever it takes to bounce back the next game.
When Auburn Athletic Director Allen Greene introduced Harsin, he pointed out this winning mentality. There are some Boise State fans who may have complained that the wins weren’t pretty and that Harsin didn’t try to run teams to the ground like Dan Hawkins and Petersen did, but Harsin got the job done. He finished with a 69-19 record at Boise State.
How does he run his program off the field?
Harsin is a BIG message guy. Everyone seems to agree on that.
As soon as he arrived at Boise State, he had one ready: ATF, Embrace The Past, Attack The Future. That lasted through his first season, and he continued to come up with mantras and messages through the rest of his time there. Harsin is guilty of coachspeak but he’s good at preparing his players for upcoming games.
Southorn said Harsin would bring in a lot of speakers, and Rains said there was a “Real Life Wednesday” program they held over the summers to help players get ready for life after football.
Another huge emphasis for Harsin has been getting his teams out in the community, Schneider said. It’s always been one of “his deals,” so Auburn fans can almost definitely expect to see the team out and about, participating in the community.
Through it all, Harsin maintains that attention to detail, that no-nonsense persona and a strong sense of discipline. That discipline has been something Southorn has always been impressed with. Because Harsin recruited high-character players, Southorn didn’t really have to keep an eye on police reports like reporters at some schools have to. And if a player did mess up, Harsin had a set plan of action. If that didn’t work, he was off the team.
How has Harsin grown?
While at Boise State, Harsin sometimes talked about how he always seemed to be replacing someone, Rains said. As a high schooler, he took over for future NFL quarterback Jake Plummer and as a coach he took over for the legendary Chris Petersen.
But when Harsin whipped out ATF at his first press conference, he set the stage for a smooth transition. Harsin still had to deal with lots of comparisons, but he was able to find a way to acknowledge that he wasn’t Petersen while getting fans excited about his plans for the program.
Since the day ATF was born, Harsin has become more confident and comfortable in his role as the head of a program to the point where the slogans aren’t as necessary, even if he still likes to pull them out.
Southorn and Schneider have each seen Harsin’s growth from before he was a head coach.
To Schneider, the way Harsin soaked up information, both as a player and an assistant, was one of the biggest keys to his development and success.
“He’s a guy that is very astute, pays a lot of attention to other people,” Schneider said. “And at every stop, basically, he kind of picked up the highlights of the coaches he worked for.”
Harsin had developed into a young, energetic, creative offensive coordinator by the time Southorn met him. Without the responsibilities as a head coach, he was more open with the media and the public.
When Harsin rose to a head coaching position, it seems he initially tried to take too much control of the Arkansas State program, Southorn said, because when Harsin returned to Boise State, he implied that he didn’t delegate well. Once he figured out how to delegate at Boise State, the Broncos started to faring better. As he’s gotten older and more comfortable, Harsin has taken some control back, but he’s also a different type of coach than he was when he started.
“I think as he got older, he definitely became less of the youthful rah rah guy and more like the CEO who has been entrenched for a little bit, reads Jon Gordon books and stuff like that,” Southorn said.
What is Harsin like as a person?
This is a tough question because Harsin keeps his circle tight – very, very tight.
“He’s a tough read,” Schneider said, pointing out that Harsin’s been in the public eye basically since he was a well-known high school quarterback in Boise.
The one thing Harsin always lets people know is just how important his family is to him. From his parents to his wife to his kids, he loves his family and is very involved with them. His wife and kids are on the sidelines at practices and games and his dad, who works on race cars, would bring cars around to the games.
Harsin isn’t all business all the time, but he doesn’t let many people see the other side of him, Tust said.
He isn’t super open to the media and doesn’t tell as many fun stories as he would when he was an offensive coordinator. Sometimes that could be frustrating for both the fans and the media, the reporters said. Even with all the slogans and hashtags, he struggled at times to connect with the fanbase.
Out of everyone, Hendricks got to know Harsin on a more personal level, since they were teammates. Obviously, he grew and matured as he became a coach. There is a difference between “Hars” and “Coach Harsin.” But Hendricks can assure you that there is a sense of humor hiding under that super professional veneer.
What did fans like best about him and what did they get most frustrated about?
Harsin’s offenses are legitimately fun to watch. They utilize trick plays and mess with the tempo, and they’re usually pretty good on third down. At Boise State, they could score 40 or more points on teams.
“I think that some of the creativity in the offense, especially when they were clicking, people loved that,” Southorn said.
Fans also loved to see his dedication, how much he cared. His energy seemed to spread to his staff, and fans picked up on it.
Harsin brought in much higher-rated recruits than Boise State was used to, which was a big selling point, as well. Back when he first started, he was younger and seemed to really relate to the players. Even though the age gap between him and his players is growing, he still seems to be able to communicate with them really well, Schneider said. He hires assistants who can, as well.
And, of course, the No. 1 thing people loved was that he was winning 9.5 games a season.
But, once again, Harsin came after Petersen, and some fans couldn’t forget that. Even after games where he’d win by two touchdowns, they’d be upset that he didn’t win by more. Both Hawkins and Petersen used to run all over teams, but competition also looked different back then.
“But no one could be truly satisfied unless they were blowing the doors off people,” Southorn said. “And I don’t think they were ever going to do that.”
The Broncos also had that one “clunker” every year where they lost to a team they were better than. “There were just some puzzling losses,” Rains said.
“I mean, you could go back,” Tust added. “It’s just crazy. You can always identify that one game every year.”
What’s the most important thing Auburn fans should know about their new coach?
The Boise State reporters were listening as Auburn introduced Harsin as its coach for the first time, and when the first question he fielded was about Alabama, Rains found that a little funny. Right from the start, it was clear what Harsin signed up for.
But Harsin loves a challenge. There’s not a single person among the four of them who doubts Harsin will give Auburn anything but his all, and that’s something Auburn fans should know. Harsin wouldn’t have left Boise for just any job.
If the Auburn family gives him a chance, they think he could find success. It might not happen right away, but he’s a really good coach, they said.
“And if he’s not successful, it certainly won’t be from a lack of trying,” Schneider said.