Auburn fires Bryan Harsin, who won 9 of 21 games

Jake Crandall /USA TODAY NETWORK
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AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn fired coach Bryan Harsin after less than two seasons, ending a rocky tenure in which the proud program struggled to compete in the Southeastern Conference.

Harsin went 9-12 overall and 3-5 this year. Auburn has lost four straight games while struggling against Power Five opponents, including a 41-27 loss to Arkansas on Oct. 29 that proved the final straw. Auburn will owe Harsin 70% of his remaining contract – more than $15 million – and half of that must be paid within 30 days.

“President (Chris) Roberts made the decision after a thorough review and evaluation of all aspects of the football program,” the school said in a brief statement announcing the move.

“Auburn will begin an immediate search for a coach that will return the Auburn program to a place where it is consistently competing at the highest levels and representing the winning tradition that is Auburn football,” the statement said.

Auburn canceled its weekly football football news conference about 90 minutes before Harsin was scheduled to speak. The school didn’t immediately name an interim coach. The Tigers play at Mississippi State.

Harsin was hired away from Boise State in December 2020 and Auburn gave him a six-year, $31.5 million deal. He never came close to replicating his past success or making the Tigers competitive in the SEC, and he failed to keep up with rivals Georgia and Alabama on the field or on the recruiting trail.

Those results were unacceptable to a program that won a national title in 2010 and played for another in 2013, when it won the most recent of its eight SEC championships.

Auburn has lost three straight bowl games, including the Birmingham Bowl against Houston under Harsin. That was Auburn’s fifth straight loss and the Tigers dropped to 6-7, their first losing season since 2012.

The 45-year-old Harsin becomes the first Auburn coach to end his tenure with a losing record since Earl Brown went 3-22-4 from 1948-50, not counting interim coaches. He went 3-10 after winning six of his first eight games and won four times in 15 games against Power Five opponents.

The Tigers struggled throughout the season, with the normally reliable defense giving up 40-plus points three times while the offense never solved its own problems.

The heat on Harsin rose after a 41-12 loss to Penn State and didn’t cool off much after that. A listless 42-10 loss to No. 1 Georgia emphasized the talent gap facing the Tigers, who subsequently fell to Mississippi and the Razorbacks.

Harsin said after the loss in Athens that he focuses on the things under his control but added that the enjoyment of coaching “never goes away.”

Auburn is tied with Texas A&M for last in the SEC West at 1-4. Much of Jordan-Hare Stadium had emptied out by the fourth quarter against Arkansas.

“Obviously from the outcome of the game, nobody’s going to feel what we did was good enough,” Harsin said. “I think everyone is in there hurting, which we should be.”

Athletic director Allen Greene, who resigned in August with five months left on his initial five-year deal, made the out-of-the-box hire of a coach with no SEC background. Harsin had gone 69-19 in seven seasons at Boise State, his alma matter.

Harsin survived a school investigation into his program in the offseason that was initiated by then-President Jay Gogue following heavy turnover on his roster and coaching staff.

Three-year starting quarterback Bo Nix left for Oregon, where he has led the Ducks to a No. 8 ranking and 7-1 start. Defensive coordinator Derek Mason left for the same job at Oklahoma State, and Harsin fired offensive coordinator Mike Bobo.

His first choice to replace Bobo, Austin Davis, accepted the job and then changed his mind, citing personal reasons. Auburn wound up standing by Harsin – at the time.

With all that as a backdrop, Harsin struggled to bring in top recruits. His 2023 class was ranked ahead of only Missouri and Vanderbilt in the SEC, according to the 247Sports composite ratings.

When spring opened, Harsin said he wasn’t bitter.

“I’m a guy that wants to move forward, that wants to get better, that wants to keep moving,” he said at the time.

One former player had said Harsin treated the team “like dogs,” though others rose to Harsin’s defense. The investigation ended with Gogue decrying the “wild speculation” and misinformation in the “feeding frenzy” surrounding Harsin, whose contract ran through the 2026 season. He didn’t specify the nature of that speculation.

Harsin’s tenure ended with Auburn owing another huge payout. Like his predecessor, Gus Malzahn, the amount remains the same even if Harsin accepts another job. The school paid Malzahn, now the coach at UCF, $21.5 million after his firing.

Malzahn was fired after going 6-4 in 2020, but he didn’t have a losing record in eight seasons. Gene Chizik, who won the 2010 national title, went 3-9 two years later and was fired.

One losing season – and the strong possibility of another – was all it took for Harsin to lose his job.

Signing day ends recruiting sagas for QB Rashada, CB McClain

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The opening of college football’s traditional signing period for high school prospects brought an apparent end to two of the cycle’s most notable recruitments.

Blue-chip quarterback Jaden Rashada, who signed with Florida in December and then asked to be released from the commitment when a name, imagine and likeness deal fell through, announced Wednesday he is going to Arizona State.

“Glad to truly be home!” Rashada posted on Twitter.

Also in the Pac-12, Cormani McClain, previously committed to Miami, signed with Colorado to make it two straight years that coach Deion Sanders has landed a five-star cornerback.

Rashada’s recruitment made national headlines and became something of a cautionary tale for the college football’s NIL era.

The four-star recruit from California was the focal point of a recruiting fight between Miami and Florida. That led to a bidding war between booster-run collectives that try to secure sponsorship deals for athletes from those schools.

Rashada had originally given a verbal commitment to Miami, but flipped to Florida and signed with the Gators during the early signing period after being offered an NIL deal that could have been worth more than $13 million.

When it became clear that Gator Collective, which is not part of the University of Florida or its athletic department, did not have the money to fund the deal, Rashada asked to be released from his national letter of intent. Florida granted the request.

Gators coach Billy Napier told reporters he could not provide details on what happened with Rashada, but did say he did not anticipated hearing from the NCAA about possible violations of recruiting rules.

“I think the reality is the current structure of NIL with third parties being involved, with agents being involved, with marketing representatives, with lawyers, with collectives, very fluid and I think a very unique dynamic,” Napier said. “I think ultimately NIL is a strength for the Gators.”

Rashada becomes the highest-profile high school recruit in new Arizona State coach Kenny Dillingham‘s first signing class. The 32-year-old Phoenix native and Arizona State graduate was hired in December.

Rashada’s father, Harlen, was part of Arizona State’s football team in the 1990s. Jaden Rashada called ASU his “childhood dream school.”

“Can’t wait to carry on the family name at the University and start my journey. Forks up!” Rashada posted.

McClain’s recruitment was more traditional in its twists and turns. One of the highest-rated players in the country, he was pursued by most of college football’s most successful programs, including Alabama, Georgia and Ohio State.

The Lakeland, Florida, product committed to Miami last fall, but even then it seemed he might be lured away from the Hurricanes by the Crimson Tide.

Then Coach Prime took over in Boulder, Colorado, and changed the game.

Last year, Sanders made recruiting history when he swayed five-star cornerback Travis Hunter to renege on a verbal commitment to Florida State and sign with Jackson State.

Never before had a player rated that highly signed at a school that plays in Division I football’s second tier, the Championship Subdivision.

Colorado hired Sanders to turn around a program that has been stuck near the bottom of the Pac-12 for most of the last decade. McClain visited Boulder last month and soon after committed to become the first five-star to sign with the Buffaloes in more than a decade.

He made it official early on signing day. McClain will join Hunter, who transferred to Colorado, in the Buffs’ secondary.

“First time CU signed two five-star players in the same class,” Sanders said. “Same position, by the way, and both of them are dogs. I can’t wait to see them play together.”

SOUTH CAROLINA SPEEDSTER

Nyckoles Harbor from Washington was one of the few five stars, as rated by 247 Sports’ composite rankings, who entered signing day uncommitted with real mystery surrounding where he would end up.

The decision came down to Oregon and South Carolina and the Gamecocks were the choice for the 6-foot-5, 225-pound edge rusher who might wind up playing receiver in college.

Harbor runs track, has posted elite times in the 100 and 200 and has Olympic aspirations.

STILL DUCK SEASON

Oregon drew a lot of attention during the early signing period, winning a handful of high-profile recruiting battles to be in position to have the Pac-12’s highest rated class.

The Ducks missed out on Harbor but had one more big score, landing four-star cornerback Rodrick Pleasant. The California player picked Oregon over Pac-12 rival – at least for another year – Southern California.

“Ultimately, we want to sign the best players everywhere but if you can win in your footprint, and our footprint, certainly California is part of that, we want to have success there and think this year we proved that we’re able to do that,” Lanning told reporters.

USC, which moves to the Big Ten after the 2023-24 school year, did get a signing day win with four-star tight end Walker Lyons.

FINAL SCORE

Alabama had already locked up the No. 1 recruiting class in the country for the 10th time in 13 years before the February signing period.

The Tide landed nine five stars. There were only 39 players given a five-star rating in the class, according to 247’s composite.

Two-time defending national champion Georgia was second, followed by Texas, Oklahoma and Ohio State. The rest of the top 10 were LSU, Miami, Oregon, Tennessee and Notre Dame.

While there has been much angst over the impact of NIL money being used as a recruiting inducement, the early results suggests it isn’t changing which schools are coming away with the highest-rated classes.

Using a five-year average of recruiting rankings from the 247 composite, here are the top 20 schools from 2017-21.

1. Alabama, 2 (average ranking)

2. Georgia, 2.2

3. Ohio State, 5

4. LSU, 6.8

5. Clemson, 8.2

6. Oklahoma 9.2

7. Texas A&M, 9.6

8. Texas, 10.8

9. Florida, 11.0

10. Oregon, 11.4.

11. Auburn, 11.6

12. Michigan, 11.6

13. Notre Dame, 12.4

14. Penn State, 13.8

15. Miami, 15.0

16. Florida State, 16.0

17. Tennessee, 16.8

18. USC, 19.6

19. Washington, 20.0

20. Nebraska 20.6.

Over the past two years (2022 and ’23), 17 of the top 20 teams remain in the top 20. USC was knocked out by an unusually low 70th place in 2022.

1. Alabama, 1.5

2. Georgia, 2.5

3. Texas, 4

4. Ohio State, 4.5

5. Oklahoma, 6

6. Texas A&M, 8

7. Notre Dame, 8.5

8. LSU, 9

9. Penn State, 9.5

10. Clemson, 10.5

11. Oregon, 10.5

12. Miami, 11.5

13. Tennessee, 13

14. Michigan, 13.5

15. Florida, 16

16. Auburn, 19

17. North Carolina, 19

18. Florida State, 20

19. South Carolina, 20

20. Kentucky. 22.5

Coach Prime comes up big in 1st recruiting class at Colorado

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Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY Sports
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BOULDER, Colo. — Deion “Coach Prime” Sanders proudly recited the numbers from his first recruiting class at Colorado.

Two five-star recruits. A No. 21 overall class ranking, which was the highest in 15 years, he pointed out. A top-five class from the transfer portal, according to 247 Sports.

Then, a quick reminder – he’s not done gathering talent. Not by a long shot. This is just a brief pause, he teased, with possibility of more skilled players arriving sometime after the spring.

It’s taken Sanders less than two months in Boulder not only to revamp a downtrodden program but to give a starved fan base something else – hope.

“We’re not recruiting just no ordinary Tom, Dick and Harry,” Sanders said Wednesday on signing day. “We recruited some guys that can light up the scoreboard and prevent touchdowns from occurring. We’re coming. We’re serious about that.

“Hope is in the house. Hope is in the air. Hope is in the city. Hope is in the community.”

Sanders and his veteran staff have been busy scouring the nation for talent. The Hall of Fame NFL player known then as “Prime Time” has also posted on social media for recruits to reach out to him as well: “I ain’t hard to find.”

The Buffaloes signed players from 16 states and two from England. Not only that, they brought in a pair of five-star recruits in high school cornerback Cormani McClain and transfer cornerback/receiver Travis Hunter, who followed Sanders from Jackson State.

In all, there are around 35 newcomers on the spring roster. Maybe that’s why Sanders didn’t really want to talk about each of them by name.

“We’ve got names on the back of their shirts right now,” cracked Sanders, who starts spring practice March 19 with the intrasquad game scheduled for April 22. “I’m not familiar with every kid. I’m not being disrespectful. I’m just being honest.”

Only natural, given that he’s completely overhauled the roster from a team that went 1-11 last season. The class has four players from Georgia and seven from Sanders’ home state of Florida. There are eight defensive backs, which will come in handy given the level of quarterback play in the Pac-12.

In addition, Sanders brought in eight wide receivers, including Adam Hopkins, a four-star from Georgia. There’s also running back Dylan Edwards, who switched after verbally committing to Notre Dame.

Of course, don’t forget that transfer quarterback named Shedeur Sanders, who just happens to be the son of “Coach Prime” and threw 70 TD passes in two seasons at Jackson State.

Deion Sanders said he’s only getting warmed up, too.

“This is just a comma, because there’s a lot of people that’s going to bungee jump into the portal after spring because they’re going to be disappointed in playing time, commitment or the level of participation they’re garnishing,” Sanders said. “We’re going to take full advantage of that. So we’re not done. This is just the comma for the spring. But I love where we are, and what we have.”

It hasn’t taken long for Sanders to settle into the city of Boulder, calling it a “hidden gem.” He can’t wait to move into a house and have “a dog run around the yard.” He even doesn’t mind the snow, which blanketed Folsom Field on Wednesday. Quite honestly, he’s not sure why any player would want to go anywhere else.

“We expect to go get that kid,” Sanders said. “Only thing that can keep that kid from coming and signing with us, is a bag – someone paying them, the collectives or whatever. That’s it. Just outkicking the coverage. That’s it.

“Because the coaching staff, the atmosphere, the city, the publicity, the structure, the discipline, the academics, the graduation rate, the food in the cafeteria – I can keep going, because this thing is getting good. Just everything. It’s hard to say no. It really is.”

Listening in was athletic director Rick George, who appreciated the tone of what he heard. Sanders has quickly built the framework for a speedy turnaround.

“He’s brought a lot of energy and passion to this program again,” George said. “It’s what we desperately needed.”