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A spirit that is not afraid

COLUMN | Harsin is running off players he likely won’t be coaching next year

Auburn wide receiver Landen King (40) catches a touchdown in the 2022 A-Day Game in Jordan-Hare Stadium on April 9, 2022.
Auburn wide receiver Landen King (40) catches a touchdown in the 2022 A-Day Game in Jordan-Hare Stadium on April 9, 2022.

If it’s news to you that Bryan Harsin’s head is next in line for the head coach firing chop block, then welcome to Auburn's hellacious reality.

A reality in which Harsin, who is now the odds-favorite to be the next head coach fired, is denying players redshirt status and is instead forcing them to play or leave the team.

Auburn has had maybe three highlightable receptions from this season, one of which was by 6-foot-5 Landen King who dove ahead to high point a 24-yard throw from T.J. Finley against Penn State, his only reception on the year. 

King sent out a cryptic tweet of a single sleeping emoji with no others words or emojis after seeing zero offensive snaps against Missouri at home, in what seemed like a game dying for a breakout star to reveal himself.

The Texas native came to the Plains as a tight end but was moved to receiver in the offseason.

He has yet to see more than seven catches during his two years in Auburn and was on the verge of burning a year of eligibility, having played three games to this point in the season. 

Lest we not forget, even as Auburn football's season burns to the ground, these players have dreams past just this season and past just this Auburn football team. Players can play in up to four games a season before forgoing redshirt status.

To avoid that, King announced to members of the media in early October that he would be taking a redshirt and preparing for next season. Three weeks later, King is no longer on Auburn's roster and is now in the transfer portal.

Harsin's inability to sympathize with players has been glaring over these last two years and is likely the reason for the Tigers' latest roster loss. 

Did he try to get King involved in the game, or did he just talk about doing it? Does he blame a player for wanting to preserve a year of eligibility when he's not being played? It's not as if King is being needed and is telling his coaches no, he's being told to sit and wait and burn a year of college eligibility, which is fair for him to say no to.

The transfer portal has two windows that players can enter during a given academic year, but there a few circumstances where a player can enter the portal early: a head coach change, a canceled or reduced scholarship, or a non-renewal of the athlete's scholarship for the next year. 

It is unclear which route King took to land himself in the portal, but his scholarship was likely affected in one way or another.

Is it possible that King would’ve been the premiere target going forward and a focus point for Eric Kiesau's offense if he didn’t try to redshirt? Yeah, I guess anything is possible. But if the coaches weren’t even giving him a chance to see the field, let alone give him targets, that’s an unlikely feat.

One might argue that only freshman can use the redshirt rule. Tell that the ESPN’s Tom VanHaaren who wrote, “The rule does not discriminate against the number of years spent in a program, so it applies not just to true freshmen but any player who has not participated in more than four games in a single season.”

For example, this was seen when Clemon's second-year starter Bryant Kelly was awarded a redshirt after Trevor Lawrence took his starting job four weeks into the season. Kelly had yet to play a fifth game and thus maintained his ability to be redshirted, even after starting for the Tigers to start the season.

Was Harsin’s decision made because the team really needs every scholarship they have on hand for a replacement? Nope. The Tigers should have at least two scholarships open with the losses of Zykevious Walker and A.D. Diamond, both of whom were announced to be off of the team by Harsin himself on Monday and Wednesday, respectively. 

And the Tigers have plenty of scholarships open for the 2023 class, a recruiting class with just 11 hard commits as of late October. Auburn had averaged over 22 hard commits during Gus Malzahn’s eight-year tenure, the team has yet to reach 20 commits in the last three seasons since Harsin took over as head coach.

The only question now is if he is receiving a redshirt for this season because he had to yet to play in three games before announcing his transfer, or if that needs to be awarded by Auburn, the NCAA or his new team. 

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When he announced his intention to redshirt, over three weeks ago, he told On3’s Justin Hokanson that he didn’t have plans to transfer and that he loves Auburn and his teammates too much to do so. This falls in line with his timeline. If he truly wanted out of Auburn, then he would have just entered the transfer portal instead of staying on the team as a redshirt. 

The timing of this is interesting because it assumes that Harsin didn't inform him of the decision for play-or-go-home until weeks after the media knew about his intentions to redshirt, with the athletic department possibly knowing even before then. If his scholarship was affected, which allows for him to enter the portal immediately, it was entirely an administrative choice.

This decision possibly may even affect any NIL money he could have been receiving at Auburn. 

On the other side, if you don’t believe in his love for Auburn, King may have had a grand scheme in place to redshirt and save a year, then end up transferring in the fall anyway with an extra year of play for his new team. But by waiting to enter the portal until the conclusion of the season, that is limiting how many schools he could be in contact with because schools can only go after players after they've entered the portal. 

He may have been able to stay on the team and redshirt near the end of the season, but that's entirely contingent of Harsin's plans to sit King or continue playing him sparingly and burning up his redshirt status faster than he burned the Tigers' hopes for a winning record in 2022.

At the very least, keeping King on roster in redshirt status would keep other teams from trying to win the player over with NIL deals or promises of play. Communication from other teams with players is not allowed by transfer rules until they leave their initial school. But Harsin continues to force that rule into relevancy by denying the players redshirt status and therefore urging them to leave the team entirely.

Basically, King had to either lose an entire year of college ball for one catch and stay on a team he isn’t being utilized for — or enter the transfer portal. An easy decision for some.

It’s entirely possible that King recommits to the Tigers whenever a new coach is implemented, but this uncertainty could have been completely avoided by granting the young man a redshirt status and preventing further damage to the program that Harsin has already caused.

Larry Robinson | Photo Editor

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. 

Twitter: @ReportingLarry

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