How Auburn and Bryan Harsin move forward as soap opera ends with Tigers coach returning for second season

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The soap opera on the Plains is over, but the real intrigue has only just begun.

Auburn announced Friday that it retain coach Bryan Harsin for his second season after a week-long saga that cast his status in doubt. Influential boosters and administrators made it clear they were unhappy with both the roster and turnover of coaches, as well as his inability to relate to players as he led Auburn to their first losing record since 2012.

This whole saga neatly encapsulates an acronym that is constantly found on the program – JABA, which stands for “Just Auburn Being Auburn”.

So how will Harsin handle a 2 year after going through the JABA peak?

The easy answer is to win, especially with a 6-7 record in Year 1. Barely broken bowl eligibility won’t be enough in Year 2, and a similar performance will most certainly result in dismissal of Harsin and his journey in the life of redemption. Winning, however, is not the only factor in moving forward.

Harsin cannot isolate himself and the booster program; that’s not how Auburn works. Powerful people demand a say in how it works, and these power brokers believe that history proves that its dysfunctional functioning is in fact a success. Tommy Tuberville went undefeated in 2004, a year after boosters tried to sign Bobby Petrino before the Iron Bowl in an incident known as “JetGate”. Gene Chizik won a national title in his second season in 2010. Gus Malzahn. meanwhile, came within 13 seconds after repeating the feat after his debut season in 2013.

It’s not like winning cured for any of these three coaches, and it won’t matter much to Harsin either. He must make an attempt – even if a little dishonest – to involve the power brokers and play the JABA game, in addition to struggling between the white lines.

Recruitment will also be an important part of the equation. Auburn is operating on de facto probation after nearly two dozen players left the program and the Tigers finished ninth in the SEC in the 2022 recruiting round. The gap between Auburn and SEC relevance does not only widened due to the recruiting prowess of conference powerhouses such as Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama.

Many will suggest this soap opera will kill recruiting and prevent Harsin from building a winner – but I’m not so sure. Rookies live in a different world than the rest of us, and most understand that the coaching carousel is spinning at an alarming rate these days. Playing time is a huge deal for many high-profile prospects, and there’s no doubt that Auburn can offer just that to rookies coming out of high school as well as transfer gate players.

Harsin needs to start acting like an SEC coach on the recruiting track, though. Multiple sources told CBS Sports that he’s disconnected, passive and, at times, doesn’t put much effort into the process, even when prospects are on official visits during home games. It is simply unacceptable. The biggest lesson Harsin has to take from this is that he can’t just sit back and just coach football. He must be a seller. He must be happy. He must close the gap between himself and Kirby Smart, Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher. Just sitting around and calling plays on the field isn’t enough despite his proven track record as a very good X and Os coach.

Concessions have to be made on both sides. The boosters must come to terms with Harsin’s methods and Harsin must handle the political and recruiting aspects of major college football more responsibly as the two pursue this marriage into a second year.

Oh yeah – beating Georgia and Alabama would also help.

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