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A spirit that is not afraid

Harsin out as head coach, search for replacement effective 'immediately'

Auburn's 41-27 loss to Arkansas was the blow that sent head coach Bryan Harsin's tower tumbling to the ground. On Monday, Auburn announced that Harsin has been fired as the head football coach midway through his second season.

Harsin's tenure at Auburn got off to a promising start at 6–2 through his first eight games, but second-half collapses last season led to a 6-6 record that preceded repetitive late-game letdowns this season. He went out on a four-game losing streak and was 3-10 in his last 13 games with the only wins being over Mercer, San Jose State and an overtime victory over Missouri in 2022.

He was 3-5 in 2022 and finished his last 13 games 3-10, tied for last in the SEC West at 1-4 in conference play.

But that's not the end of the story. For example, Nick Saban went 6-6 in his debut season, but the result for him has been a long, prosperous career with six National Championship rings to show for it.

So what happened in Auburn? 

It was over before it started, like a Jenga set with only one log on the bottom row. Saturday's loss wasn't necessarily Harsin choosing the wrong piece to pull out, but it was the failure to insert a missing piece — one that was never there.

It was a standard that was never set, and it led to a problem that even he was unable to identify even after the team's fourth straight loss to Arkansas.

"Yeah, well, we don't quite have our finger on [why Auburn has struggled]," Harsin said.

The resignation of Auburn Athletic Director Allen Greene knocked loose another piece holding the tower together, and then each game in 2022 seemingly slid away another piece. Greene was the one in Auburn Athletics who had a relationship with Harsin before he arrived, so Harsin lost his day one supporter with Greene's departure. 

Unhappiness with Harsin and Greene goes back to when the coaching search was announced, following the firing of Gus Malzahn. 

Still, a win versus UGA might've put some pieces back in the tower, keeping things intact temporarily, but the 32-point beatdown pulled out the final piece on the bottom layer, and the tower went crashing to the ground.

The missing pieces began to make themselves known on Nov. 6, 2021. Auburn was 6-2, won three SEC games in October and was ranked No.13 heading into a matchup with Texas A&M after beating Ole Miss. That's when things began to fall apart.

The Auburn defense showed up to College Station and kept it to a 3-3 game at halftime, but that November afternoon opened the door for Harsin's exit from his tenure on The Plains.

Bo Nix fumbled a snap in the fourth quarter, and the Aggies scooped the ball up and took it to the house for the only touchdown of the game. Texas A&M took the second half by storm to win 20-3 and started the chain of five straight Auburn losses to finish Harsin's debut 2021 season.

Auburn looked like it was rebounding in a big way the next week against Mississippi State, but the Bulldogs exposed Harsin's struggles to find a strong second-half game plan. They outscored Auburn 33-6 in Jordan-Hare Stadium to complete the comeback after being down by 18 at halftime.

The Tigers then lost to South Carolina, lost the Iron Bowl in 3OT after leading 10-0 at halftime and lost the Birmingham Bowl to Houston to end the season at 6-7.

This was a historically bad ending to a season, but Auburn made a bowl game and nearly dethroned the national runner-ups in the Iron Bowl. 6-7 only nips at the bud of what was the beginning of the end for Harsin.

In January of 2022, things went from bad to worse when allegations were brought against Harsin, spurring an internal investigation that ultimately found no cause for disciplinary action or firing. Harsin stood firm, players either voiced support or transferred and his time at Auburn lived on. Things were never quite the same after that.

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Harsin entered his second season on the hot seat, with an expectation that the program would look better than it did during the late-season skid of 2021. With each loss in year two, and even in the underwhelming wins, the flame grew.

Auburn started out 2-0 despite a less-than-impresive 24-16 win over San José State in week two, but when Penn State ventured into Auburn, the struggles couldn't be hidden behind a "W" any longer. The 41-12 defeat at the hands of the Nittany Lions made it obvious that the program was spiraling out of control.

Penn State came to Auburn and earned four takeaways while Auburn got none. Auburn is 124th in the nation in turnover margin (-1.1), with Robby Ashford having the second-most individual fumbles in the nation (8).

Once again, Auburn seemed to have changed its fate the next weekend when Derick Hall intercepted Missouri's opening-drive pass for Auburn's first takeaway of the year.

Wrong. After going up 14-0, Missouri shut out Auburn for three quarters to force overtime. It seemed the Tigers were going to take a loss in its SEC opener until Anders Carlson hit an overtime field goal to lift Auburn to a miraculous win, sealed by recovering a Missouri fumble that rolled out of the running backs' outstretched hand and into its own end zone.

The issues lingered, though. The next week, Auburn once again got out to a big 17-0 first-quarter lead versus LSU, but it did not score again while LSU racked up 21 consecutive points to hand Auburn another loss that had the markings of a win early on.

Harsin's job survived another heartbreaking loss in week five, but each SEC loss seemed like a moment where Harsin could be dismissed. The coach continued to respond to the inevitable questions about his job future with Auburn by responding that he was focusing on what was in his control.

But when Auburn was outscored in the second half once again by Arkansas, 24-14, the Tigers fell to two games under .500 in 2022, and the head coaching job at Auburn went out of his control. The Harsin era is officially over for Auburn, and the Tigers will now search for a new bottom piece to anchor the tower.

Though yet to name Harsin's replacement, Auburn's next men up within the program are offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau, who came to Auburn with Harsin from Boise State, and defensive coordinator Jeff Schmedding.

Being midway through the season, it seems likely that Auburn might name an interim head coach to fill the gap left the firing of Harsin, unless it already has a pre-meditated replacement. According to Auburn associate athletic director of communications, Kirk Sampson, the search for a replacement head coach is "immediate."

In either case, Auburn is 3-5 with a brutal conference schedule ahead of them with Mississippi State, Texas A&M and Alabama being its next three SEC opponents. 

Noah Griffith | Assistant Sports Editor

Noah is a senior in journalism from Salem, Alabama. He joined the Plainsman in August of 2021 after transferring in from Southern Union Community College.

Twitter: @NoahGG01

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