ATLANTA — Auburn head coach Bryan Harsin opened his SEC Media Day press conference Thursday in part by addressing the investigation into the Tigers football program from February.
Harsin said: “There was an inquiry. It was uncomfortable. It was unfounded. It presented an opportunity for people to personally attack me, my family, and also our program. And it didn’t work.”
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 buyout of $21.45 million. The university investigated the football program after an exodus of players and assistant coaches. The defections came after Auburn started the 2021 season 6-2, before dropping their last five games of the season to finish 6-7.
“I mean you go back and I don’t think even in our own division we weren’t the team that lost the most players,” Harsin said. “That’s not mentioned, whether that’s relevant or not just, it is what it is. Coaching changes happen, and we brought in new players.”
Harsin added that he felt people underestimated the difficulty of coming into the job during the COVID-19 pandemic, which he says made the transition more difficult.
“The first team meeting was in the indoor facility with the swamp coolers on six feet apart, everybody wearing masks and nobody could hear anything,” he said. “And you’re trying to bring this energy and enthusiasm and it was a bad environment. And we had to meet over in the business building and there was a lot of things that didn’t allow us to come in right away and establish.”
Auburn tight end John Samuel Shenker said: “When he came in, he has one way of doing things, [and] he was successful where he was before. So when you have a guy that’s that successful, it’s just buy in and see what lies on the other side. And last year we didn’t fully buy in.
“We had guys that were very singular, individual, and those guys are gone now. And now we have a lot of guys that are bought in to what we are doing and what coach Harsin wants us to do. And I think that’s all that matters.”
Current and former Auburn players took to social media in early February 2021 to both defend and criticize Harsin, prompting the university to say in a statement: “We do not make institutional decisions based on social media posts or media headlines.”
“It was a week,” Harsin said. “And like I said, it was something that nobody wants to go through and they were able to open the doors and attack me and our players and everybody else and our program and it didn’t work.
“So at the end of the day, let’s move on. What do we gotta do to help these guys get better? Because they have a short amount of time to achieve their goals and dreams.”
Shenker added: “The culture has changed from two years ago to what it is now. Last year was kind of a wall, it’s in the middle, but now it’s really changed in a way that is so much better for Auburn that you can’t really explain it really well. You have to kind of see it day to day to understand that.”
Auburn opens the season at home against Mercer on Sept. 3.
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