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What led Bryan Harsin to leave a lifetime at Boise State for Auburn? – AL.com

The path that led Bryan Harsin to Auburn began five years ago in a swimming pool with Allen Greene.

It was at an event in 2015 that the two first met, by chance, well before either one of them had their eyes set on the Plains. Harsin was in his second year as head coach at Boise State, while Greene was the athletics director at Buffalo. Neither would get into specifics about the day, and Greene said Thursday he can’t recall their conversation, though he remembers being impressed by Harsin.

“It was apparent from our first conversation — not the first conversation in this process, but it was apparent with our first conversation about five years ago,” Greene, now Auburn’s athletics director said. “… I remember thinking, ‘I like that guy.’”

That chance encounter left a lasting impression on Greene, and Harsin recalled it when he first looked into Auburn’s coaching vacancy. As soon as he read Greene’s bio while doing his own due diligence on the Tigers’ program, everything clicked for him as he thought back to that meeting five years ago.

First impressions, it so happens, go a long way, and it made for a natural connection between Auburn’s athletics director and its newest head coach when they first discussed the position earlier this week.

Harsin was identified early on as a potential candidate for Auburn after the program fired Gus Malzahn following eight seasons. He may not have been the Tigers’ top choice from the beginning of the nine-day search, but he had qualities that made him stand out among the 20 and 25 coaches that Greene and Parker Executive Search contacted during the process. He went 69-19 in seven seasons as head coach at Boise State, has an impressive track record of developing quarterbacks, and his status as an outsider — which can be perceived by some as a concern — was actually a bonus for Auburn, AL.com reported Wednesday.

“Many of you, as the news broke, you were trying to figure out who this Bryan Harsin guy is, and many of you went to Wikipedia and tried to look up all his stats,” Greene said. “He’s a winner. Simply put, he’s a winner. He’s third overall in winning percentage nationally, behind two people who might be playing for a national championship in a couple of weeks. He’s won division championships multiple times. He’s won conference championships. The dude flat-out knows how to win. Those are the outputs; winning is simply a function of the inputs.”

Harsin was born and raised in Boise, Idaho. He walked on at Boise State as a quarterback. He has spent 17 of his 21 years as a college coach at his alma mater, with brief stops at Eastern Oregon (his first coaching job in 2000), Texas (as offensive coordinator in 2011-12) and Arkansas State (as head coach in 2012). So, after spending most of his 44 years in the Pacific Northwest, what was it about Auburn that drew Harsin from his hometown of Boise?

The people, he said.

That began with Greene after their first encounter in 2015. It extended to Auburn legend Bo Jackson, who coincidentally spoke to Boise State’s team before the 2019 season, when the Broncos proceeded to finish 12-1. As well as to Board of Trustees member Quentin Riggins, who Harsin bonded with over football philosophies during the interview process, and Auburn president Jay Gogue and Lieutenant General Ron Burgess, the university’s executive vice president who also served on the advisory committee for the search.

Harsin had initial conversations about the opening with Greene, who he said was “100 percent on-point” and transparent about the search — which was painted in a chaotic light in the public sphere, with rumors spreading on social media and various reports of dysfunction behind the scenes. The further along the two got in discussions — digging deeper into coaching beliefs and recruiting philosophies, academics, personal development and other topics — the more fired up Harsin became about the possibility of taking over the reins at Auburn.

A formal interview took place Monday through Zoom, and while Harsin ultimately impressed those involved, the impression he gave about his own experience portrayed a less rosy image.

During the interview, Harsin’s Zoom screen went blank. He couldn’t see Riggins or Burgess, but they told him they could see him on their screens, so the interview continued despite the technical difficulties.

“I was staring at was a blank screen right there, and I thought, ‘this couldn’t go any worse,’” Harsin said. “But I got done, I could feel them. I felt the emotion in there.”

When the committee asked Harsin about himself, the first thing he mentioned, Greene said, was his family and their importance to him. That also resonated with those involved, given Auburn’s embrace of the “Auburn family” and the atmosphere promoted on the Plains.

By Tuesday evening, Harsin was closing in on a deal to become Auburn’s 28th head coach, as the Tigers were able to lure him away from his alma mater and hometown. It was a decision Harsin said was “simple,” even after spending the majority of his life in Boise and sustaining success with the Broncos over the last seven seasons.

“There was no other place other than Auburn University that was going to pull me away from a program like that,” Harsin said.

When Harsin met with members of Auburn’s team for the first time Wednesday virtually through Zoom, he recalled that first brush with Greene at the pool five years ago. His message to the players was that you only “get one shot to make a first impression… and it does matter.”

That’s something Harsin believes in, and it’s ultimately what helped lead him to Auburn, where he made another first impressions Thursday during an hourlong introductory press conference.

“I know there’s a lot of questions about me,” Harsin said. “I know many of you don’t know who I am, but I feel like I know who Auburn is. Let me say that. I’m excited to learn more, but as far as what I’ve been able to gather through this and the people that have been involved in it, that’s the reason I’m here, and Auburn is about people. This is what I want to be a part of, and this is what I want my family to be part of.”

Tom Green is an Auburn beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @Tomas_Verde.

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