Head coach Bryan Harsin made it clear that the first major coaching change of his tenure was a necessary one to make.
News struck Sunday afternoon that Auburn had fired first-year wide receivers coach Cornelius Williams just four games into the season after a lackluster performance by the wide receiver core on Saturday against Georgia State.
Harsin’s track record suggests he doesn’t typically make coaching decisions to this caliber so early into the season, but Harsin made it clear to the media on Monday that the change is only about making Auburn better.
“We made a change at the wide receiver position," Harsin said. "Cornelius Williams, first of all, he’s a good man and did a very good job for us. Showed up every day and worked, very professional. I felt like for us now moving forward, in the things not just at the wide receiver position, but for our staff and some of the things we feel the need to do, and felt the need to do and so we made a change.”
Auburn found itself down 24-12 to the Sun Belt’s Georgia State with just 128 yards of passing in the first half with zero touchdowns. Starting quarterback Bo Nix was averaging a flat 50% completion percentage while running a mostly passed-base offense. Tank Bigsby, meanwhile, was continuously stopped up in the trenches for little to no gain, averaging 3.6 yards a pop.
Not all of those incompletions can necessarily be pinned on Nix, though. Some of Nix's catchable throws were dropped by receivers, some of whom were wide open.
Reports from Auburn's spring camp prior to the start of the season spelled of the same trouble.
Not only that, but videos began to circulate on social media of receivers running onto the field late during Saturday’s game, hinting at some sort of miscommunication or mistake between receivers, offensive coordinators, wide receivers, or a combo of any of the few.
“I felt like in order for us to continue to progress like I feel like we need to, a change needed to be made and it needed to be made now,” Harsin said. “So, I made that decision.”
Auburn receivers have struggled in getting separation and making catches, that much is apparent four games into the season. How much of that comes from quarterback play, route concepts or development is remained to be seen, but Harsin believes this is one step in the right direction.
The next step was hiring Williams' replacement, which Harsin announced to be Eric Kiesau.
“He has a plan, he has a vision," Harsin said of Kiesau. "He has things that I know we’ll do at the wide receiver position that will help us improve.”
Meeting the New Hire
Harsin’s first major in-season coaching change came at the wide receiver’s position, with more possible changes on the way. In one fell swoop, Harsin’s administration fired Williams and hired a familiar face. Kiesau is a former wide receivers coach under Harsin, who served for two years in that position before being upgraded to offensive coordinator and quarterback’s coach at Boise State
It’s unclear how much influence Harsin intends Kiesau to have in other areas of the offensive, but hiring a former offensive coordinator with a more recently stale in-game offense is an interesting move that may spark some extra motivation in the coaching room.
“And for this team, like every other coach on this staff, we all need to be doing that, we all need to improve, which is always our goal every single week,” Harsin said. “How do we continue to keep getting better. That’s been our message since we started back in December when we were putting the staff together. We know we need do a better job, especially in the red zone, we know we need to score touchdowns.”
Kiesau shouldn’t be overlooked.
He’s coached the likings of Deshaun Jackson and Kennan Allen while mentoring receivers from every level of analysis possible. A former quarterback himself, Kiesau has held a multitude of positions at respected football programs. Kiesau served as the receivers coach at California for four years and offensive coordinator at Washington for former Alabama offensive coordinator and current Texas head coach, Steve Sarkisian.
Auburn fans may not like this one, but Kiesau has tasted the pinnacle of success with the school across the state. He served as an analyst on Alabama’s staff during the team’s 2015 College Football Playoff run and eventual national championship win.
“He’s a very good teacher,” Harsin said on Kiesau. “He understands what we want to do, he understands how we want to it, and he understand why we’re doing it the way we’re doing it so I think he brings that experience and level of teaching that can improve our room and help those guys understand what it is that they’re trying to accomplish every play.
"I think he’s a good technician. He’s a very good coach, he’s very detailed. That’ll be the one thing I would describe him as, he’s a very detailed coach."
Before Williams' came to Auburn, he held the position of wide receivers coach from 2014-2020 at Troy University, his alma mater.
“He’s a good young coach. Certainly looking forward to things that will happen for him in the future,” Harsin said of Williams.
Do you like this story? The Plainsman doesn't accept money from tuition or student fees, and we don't charge a subscription fee. But you can donate to support The Plainsman.
Larry is a senior studying journalism with a minor in sociology. He is from Enterprise, Alabama and is in his third year with The Auburn Plainsman.