After investigation, Auburn sticks with coach Bryan Harsin

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Auburn coach Bryan Harsin will return for a second season after defections by assistants and players alike helped prompt a school investigation into unspecified concerns.

Auburn President Jay Gogue announced the decision Friday, a week after telling trustees that his office was “trying to separate fact from fiction” surrounding the polarizing coach who was accused publicly by one former player of treating his team “like dogs.”

Gogue decried the “wild speculation” and misinformation in the “feeding frenzy” surrounding Harsin, whose firing would have cost Auburn millions. His contract runs through the 2026 season,

“Let me be clear – our university, the administration and the entire Board of Trustees stand behind Coach Harsin and are ready to help him succeed as the leader of our football program,” Gogue said in a letter posted on the university’s website.

He said the review, which started after concerns were raised to his administration, included interviews with current and former coaches and administrative staff under Harsin, plus “numerous” players, administrators and others.

But it led to a week of uncertainty for both Harsin and Auburn fans less than 14 months into his tenure.

“This has been one of the hardest weeks of my career and it had nothing to do with my coaching ability,” Harsin said. “The personal attacks on me and my family went too far and were without justification. … We saw and felt the worst of the worst in some people. Fortunately, we also saw the best of the best in others and we will always be grateful for the support of so many through a very difficult time – our players, staff, the Auburn family, and many others.”

Gogue and Harsin both said he cooperated during the process, but the fact that it was deemed necessary at all still cast doubts on the program’s stability for potential coaching hires and recruits.

Auburn has lost 18 players and five assistant coaches in the aftermath of a 6-7 season. That includes three coordinators: Harsin fired offensive coordinator Mike Bobo and Bobo’s replacement, Austin Davis, resigned for personal reasons, while defensive coordinator Derek Mason left for the same job at Oklahoma State. Harsin has not yet hired a new offensive coordinator.

“To be clear, this process, which was never individual- or outcome-specific, did not yield information that should change the status of our coaching staff or football program,” Gogue said. He also took aim at unspecified rumors on social media.

“Unfortunately, social media fueled wild speculation, substantial misinformation and unfair attacks on good Auburn people,” Gogue said. “A feeding frenzy resulted that was beyond anyone’s control. We regret the concern, anger, frustration or hurt that this caused any member of the Auburn family.”

Gogue announced his retirement last June and his successor, Chris Roberts, starts on May 16.

Among the players who left the program was Central Florida defensive tackle Lee Hunter, who had criticized Harsin’s handling of players in a social media post.

“Coach Harsin has the true mindset for a winner but has a terrible mindset as a person,” Hunter wrote on Instagram. “The reason I chose to leave auburn because we got treated like we wasn’t good enough and like dogs.”

Other players rose to Harsin’s defense, however, including tight end John Samuel Shenker and linebacker Chandler Wooten.

Firing Harsin would have been expensive, especially after Auburn had to pay fired coach Gus Malzahn $21.45 million as part of his buyout.

If Auburn had fired Harsin without cause, the school would have been on the hook for 70% of his contract that runs through the 2026 season and averages $5.25 million per season. That would amount to just over $18 million.

Air Force football sanctioned for recruiting violations

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AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — The Air Force football program received two years of probation from the NCAA and had its squad size reduced by 10 for four years as part of its sanctions for recruiting violations.

The penalties were announced Thursday after Air Force and four individuals reached an agreement with NCAA enforcement staff on recruiting violations. A fifth individual in the case has contested their role and will be heard by the committee on infractions.

The sanctions also include a fine and a reduction of 46 total official visits for the football program in the 2022-23 and `23-24 academic years. In addition, there’s a prohibition on unofficial visits in football from Sept. 1 through Oct. 12, 2022, and a reduced number of evaluation days this fall.

Air Force has around 115 players on its varsity roster, plus a JV team that all count as NCAA athletes and its roster size.

“The (committee) appreciates the parties’ efforts in working collaboratively together to reach agreement on the violations, levels, classifications, and significant and meaningful penalties,” Gary Miller, the chief hearing officer for the panel and president at Akron, said in a statement. “The panel also recognizes that Air Force has gone above and beyond in its overall approach to this case.”

In a joint statement, Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Richard Clark and director of athletics Nathan Pine said: “The U.S. Air Force Academy is pleased that our case has progressed to the point of the NCAA accepting our negotiated resolution. We will continue working with the NCAA on this ongoing self-reported case from the COVID dead period, as it’s our responsibility to ensure integrity of the institution, athletics department, cadet-athletes and staff.”

The Falcons are off to a 3-1 start and host Navy on Saturday to begin the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy competition. The trophy is presented to the service academy with the best record in the round-robin format.

Florida shakes up secondary after dismal game at Tennessee

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Billy Napier is shaking up his secondary after the Gators allowed 349 yards passing – including 247 of those on eight plays – in a loss at Tennessee.

Safety Trey Dean, a fifth-year senior who has started 32 games and played in 54, is out with what Florida is calling a “lower leg injury.” But no one would be surprised if Napier was quietly benching Dean after he made two mental errors against the Volunteers that resulted in 70- and 45-yard gains and set up touchdowns.

Freshman Kamari Wilson will replace Dean and make his first college start Sunday against Eastern Washington.

Cornerback Jaydon Hill will join Wilson in the starting lineup. Hill, a third-year sophomore, will make his first start since 2020. He missed the 2021 season with a torn knee ligament. He impressed Napier and his new staff in the spring but sat out preseason camp with another knee injury.

Hill will replace sophomore Avery Helm, who also struggled against the Vols.

“You talk about what he’s been through from an injury perspective,” Napier said following practice Wednesday. “Jaydon was one of the better players that we had on our team in spring practice. I was very impressed . It’s no surprise to me. He showed pretty quickly here that he’s very capable. I’m excited to watch him play.”

Georgia transfer Jalen Kimber, a former five-star recruit, is now listed as a third-team cornerback. Kimber played just 11 snaps in Knoxville a week after he returned an interception for a touchdown in a 31-28 win against South Florida.

“I like to say we try to eliminate the bad football,” Napier said. “Talking about mental errors, misalignments, poor communication, bad fundamentals and techniques, bad decision-making within the play. … We have a laundry list of things that we need to eliminate each week.

“Last week’s game, I thought we were really close, but there’s 12 or 15 plays in the game where Florida is beating Florida. We’ve got a smart group here. I think they’re very aware of what the issues are, and I think they’re working hard to address those issues.”