Column: Disaster Strikes The Pasture As Auburn Family Loses Faith In Coach
Monday, Auburn football coach Bryan Harsin met with members of the media for his weekly press conference on the Plains. This week, however, started with a less than welcoming scene for the second-year Tigers coach.
Now, before we dive a bit deeper into the rabbit hole of Auburn football and Auburn athletics in general, I wanted to specify a few things.
First, this column piece is completely built off my own thoughts and in no way a reflection upon the words of Auburn University or Coach Harsin. Rather, the next several paragraphs are a reactionary piece on Harsin's entire tenure at Auburn and the game this past weekend.
Everything you are about to read came from my (slightly biased) observations of Auburn on the other side of the state and words exchanged by fans and beat writers in a Sunday night Tigers Twitter space. I am in no way, shape or form an Auburn fan, but I do have quite an opinion on the Penn State game and where the Tigers go from here.
Before we begin, I feel the need to state that JABA, a phrase coined for 'Just Auburn Being Auburn' is not meant to make sense. It is only an explanation for the next chaotic thing to occur on the Plains. I am not the guy with the power to bring back orange throwback jerseys, build a Toomer's Lemonade stand atop Plainsmen Parking Deck or convince the NCAA Cam Newton should have a year of eligibility left. However, I happen to hear a lot on the state of Auburn.
Grab yourself a glass of Milo's or some Jack D if you feel the need to get tipsy. It's about to get real frisky, folks.
Without further ado, let's get to the good stuff.
Coach Harsin addressed the media following a 41-12 thrashing by the Nittany Lions on Saturday. Although the loss does nothing to affect Auburn's chances in the SEC West, it fully exposed all of the flaws within the program both inside and out, which have become fully apparent after a Saturday afternoon spent getting run out of Jordan-Hare on CBS.
And we weren't kidding about the whole run out of their own stadium bit, either.
This game got so bad for Auburn, its own band director took matters into his own hands, to make sure the Tigers did not fully sacrifice their grounds.
After months of chatter regarding the Harsin era in Auburn, the former Boise State Broncos head coach finally had his chance to silence the doubters against the Nittany Lions this past weekend.
Could the 'Harsin way' work at a place like Auburn, despite every effort being made behind the scenes to oust him from his spot as head coach?
Heading into this game against a Penn State team known for results just above mediocrity under James Franklin, many fans entered with hope. For the spirit of the Auburn Family, the environment of an SEC West stadium at full capacity and the speed of the Tigers' players were expected to overwhelm the Nittany Lions and keep this game close.
Of course, this was always the recipe for success down at Auburn... it's how the Tigers pulled off upsets over Georgia and Alabama throughout the Malzahn era in the cathedral of Jordan-Hare on those crisp fall afternoons.
Auburn in the CBS slot on the Plains? More like Friday the 13th with a black cat sighting, right?
Well, that magic seems to be a thing of the past.
Bruce Pearl gathering the basketball team to cheer the Tigers from the student section shirtless, an 'orange-out' with no orange and handing out hats to the media backfiring like a boomerang, are a few quick ways to sum up the brief, yet eventful Harsin era at Auburn thus far.
Needless to say, even the great William Shakespeare would have needed more than a few beers to write a tragedy as complex as the one currently playing out on the Plains.
For the direction of the 2022 Auburn football season is one thing. However, explaining the true state of Auburn football is like trying to teach someone how the NASCAR playoffs work. No matter how much time you spend on the topic, you're going to leave your audience confused, yet immensely intrigued in the madness.
How do cars turning left on a track relate to the disfunction of Auburn, one may ask? Golly gee, are you in for a treat.
To understand NASCAR and become a fan of the storied American motorsport, one must expect and embrace chaos. Every week on the circuit brings with it the chance for total unpredictability, which makes it great.
Beautiful chaos, a term I often like using for the cars turning left in circles and their sanctioning body. Beautiful chaos, a term that pairs so well with Auburn athletics.
Saturday, I conversed through the Tennessee Smokies with a group of friends, taking in a gameday tailgate in Knoxville before attending the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
While thoughts of the Volunteers' upcoming contest with Alabama next month and cars turning left danced through my head, the score of the Auburn-Penn State game stayed in the back of my mind many times.
It seemed as though the typical afternoon Auburn script could be playing out in front of our eyes, while the miles on the dashboard from Knoxville to Bristol dwindled, the Tide kept tossing touchdowns and I fumbled with the FM radio dials.
However, as we transcended on Bristol, the Tigers' hopes of a miracle season had just turned into a nightmare the way a last-second Kevin Harvick prayer later would that very night.
(Harvick is a very famous race car game driver in the world of left-turns, for you common folk).
With Bristol being a cut-off race for the first round of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, Harvick found himself in a near must-win situation to advance, similar to Harsin and his Tigers entering the day.
Unlike Harsin, however, Harvick would actually come prepared for his clash in the Last Great Colosseum, one in which he could have dominated if not for mistakes out of his control on pit road.
Harsin found himself in a deep hole from the very beginning at Auburn, in ways one could compare to Harvick racing the past two seasons at Stewart-Haas. However, Harvick found ways to win through all the adversity at hand this season, even making the playoffs in a year with no wins in 2021 as well.
Meanwhile, Harsin faltered into the darkness on Saturday afternoon, losing the little support that remained amongst the fanbase, media and likely the team itself down in Auburn.
After lackluster performances on the recruiting trail and in the transfer portal, all the Tiger faithful had left in the optimism jar was belief Harsin could win the X's and O's battles on gameday and that the Auburn Spirit could will their team to victory.
Let's take a quick peek into how that's going...
To Harsin's credit, the second-year coach started off strong upon arrival. Auburn fought hard in an early loss at Penn State last season before staying competitive through a brutal first half of a conference schedule.
The Tigers picked up a ranked victory at home over Ole Miss and road wins at LSU and Arkansas before the program started to completely spiral.
Following a ranked matchup loss on CBS in College Station against Texas A&M, the Tigers went on to lose its next five games against Power Five opponents, including Saturday vs. Penn State.
In that time-frame, the Tigers also found a way to choke a sure-fire win over rival Alabama at home, drop the Birmingham Bowl to Houston and narrowly escape a buy game against San Jose State this fall.
Despite all the chaos around the Auburn program, firing a coach not even halfway into his second season may sound absurd to those outside the world of God, sweet tea and the SEC. However, time is a ticking up on the Samford Hall clock tower in Lee County.
Losing to the 'big brothers' up in Athens and across the state in Tuscaloosa most years is one thing. Meanwhile, making tune-up games against Georgia State and San Jose State too close for comfort, while losing to every Power Five team on the schedule is another.
Auburn is not going to win the recruiting battles over Nick Saban, Kirby Smart or likely even Lane Kiffin, Sam Pittman or Josh Heupel at the moment. For as much of a storied and tradition-rich SEC program as Auburn is, there are too many Cooks (pun intended, Tim Cook) in the kitchen around Opelika.
The infamous 'Auburn boosters' that are Jimmy Rane, Bobby Lowder and the Harbert family get brought to mention, no matter the occasion. At a program as unique as Auburn, the boosters are essentially celebrities, making decisions for the actual celebrities that were put into the positions of power.
You've heard all the political corruption stories constructed on politics in Washington and the legendary tales of 'the Machine' here at Alabama. What you haven't heard, but so desperately needed to hear, is the breakdown of the Auburn athletic department and its booster program.
As someone who grew up in the college football mecca of Atlanta, one with family allegiances to Auburn and its two main rivals Alabama and Georgia... the Tigers have always been a relevant storyline in my life, even when they weren't on the field.
I have gained many great friendships and connections from people that graduated from or currently attend that school down in Lee County.
However, despite so much influence, insight and expertise taken into my tool box, I still sit here with one major question.
Why is Auburn the way it is? Why are the boosters allowed to have so much influence on the program and run a coach like Gus Malzahn off, just one year removed from yet another extension? Why did Auburn not hire Kevin Steele if that is who the boosters went all-in to get during that process? Why did Auburn not fire Harsin last winter or better yet even hire him in the first place if they never wanted him from the beginning? Why is Auburn able to find a coach like Bruce Pearl or Butch Thompson to keep its other two money-making sports afloat, while the football program falters farther and farther into a moat? Why did Auburn keep its own fanbase on its feet with the prospect of orange jerseys all week? Why is the lemonade so sweet? Why was Legion Field deemed a poor place for football teams to meet? Is Bryan Harsin even on the actual hot seat?
All of these questions constantly linger through my head, yet you would probably feel better asking Mr. Turtle the number of licks to get to the center of a Tootsie pop than you should on having these direct questions answered.
What's next for Auburn? Oh, aren't you a fun time. I think I might have to make the drive to Mississippi and play the PowerBall if I can predict the chaos that will take place next on the Plains.
The school may not have much of a media program, but the content created by folks around the outer Opelika area is enough to make Al Pacino, Joe Pesci and Marlon Brando raise a glass.
None of it will ever make sense, but that's the true beauty in all of it.
For a wise lady once said, "to demand sense is the hallmark of nonsense. Nature (Auburn) does not make sense. Nothing makes sense."
Don't you get it now?
"Life is like the seasons, always changing and unpredictable. We have summer, spring, winter, autumn, seasons some of which get us sunshine, rain, and cold winters too. Similarly life has its own phases of happiness, sadness, ups and downs. Just like each season changes and gives way to the new season with hope we should also believe that our life will change and nothing is stagnant in life."
Oh except one thing ... a common theme that seems to constantly remain ...
When no one seems to know who is control, chaos is abound and the Tigers are the negative sports talk of the town ...
It's probably 'Just Auburn Being Auburn'.
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