Another day, another saga for Bryan Harsin during his second season as the Auburn head football coach.
During Wednesday’s Southeastern Conference teleconference, he was asked about a story that said he denied non-medical redshirts to players.
“I don’t know what report you’re talking about,” Harsin said.
According to Auburn Daily reporting, Harsin was “refusing to allow players to request a redshirt without a medical reason for not playing,” framing it as “you play, or you go,” forcing some players to end their 2022 seasons early to avoid losing a season of eligibility.
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Tight end Landen King confirmed his intent to redshirt on October 5th after reports surfaced earlier in the day. According to sources around the program, Harsin believed King could still serve a role for the Tigers and was healthy enough to play. Initially, King publicly said he would remain in the program as he still attended practice and participated with the scout team for the last few weeks.
Auburn did not confirm or deny the redshirt for King because he was progressing on the scout team, and there was an opportunity for an increased role. He was removed from the online roster late Tuesday night after he tweeted a statement that he was entering the transfer portal.
King is more attractive in the transfer portal with three years of eligibility versus two years. King, recruited to Auburn by previous coach Gus Malzahn, was displeased with his playing time, which led to the redshirt request, according to sources. Harsin wanted King to commit to playing and hoped to have him available for the Arkansas game.
Harsin alluded to the value of having as many healthy players as possible on Monday when asked about the health status of his team after the opening date.
“The one thing about the injuries, we only look at it as players in the game, how it affects that game. But it really affects practice,” Harsin said. “If the guy has to take the two reps, he doesn’t have anybody to back him up, and he’s getting double reps, and pretty soon he fatigues, and that’s going to cause injury down the road for us.”
King arrived at Auburn as a tight-end recruit and was in his first season playing a new position with different responsibilities. He was also behind experienced receivers Ja’Varrious Johnson and Tar’Varish Dawson on the depth chart. Freshman Jay Fair was also pushing for playing time.
King did not play in the season-opener against Mercer, partly because his adaptation from tight end to wide receiver was still progressing. According to Pro Football Focus, he had 16 snaps in the win against San Jose State. His one catch for 24 yards came in the loss against Penn State.
According to PFF, King had 15 snaps against the Nittany Lions and 12 against Mizzou.
The former 3-star recruit dressed out for the LSU game but didn’t get any snaps in the contest. He didn’t make the 70-player travel roster for the Georgia and Ole Miss road losses.
When asked Wednesday about his policy on redshirting players following the exits of multiple players into the transfer portal, Harsin said it is something his staff discusses and examines. “We know the number of games,” the Auburn head coach said. “So we really monitor that as a staff. We’ve done that every year, and certainly with the new four-game rule. We’ve always paid attention to that.”
Harsin got a follow-up question directly mentioning the allegations of him denying redshirts for any reason other than an injury. He elaborated on his policy on handling redshirting.
“It all goes back to what is needed and who’s out there also putting themselves in a position to be able to play, and who can help us play,” Harsin said. “We monitor that as a staff, and we continue to monitor that with guys. If they’re not going to be able to go out there and play for us, there’s guys ahead of them, and they’re young players; if they have a redshirt year, that’s usually when they’re able to use it.”
Harsin’s job is to put the best players on the field to give Auburn a chance at winning. It’s also no secret that he’s on one of the hottest seats in America heading into the final five games of the season. King has the right to protect his destiny as a football player. Harsin’s fate at Auburn hinges on winning games right now. Auburn is 3-4 with a 1-3 SEC record, and Harsin is 9-11 as the Tigers’ head coach.
“But overall, every guy that comes here, they’re coming to play,” Harsin said. “That’s what we go through every week: What is that plan, and how do we utilize our players to help us and their teammates to be successful and go win ballgames?”
Harsin’s comments on Wednesday’s call demonstrate his belief that the coaching staff’s evaluations should lead to a decision on a redshirt.
In today’s world of the transfer portal, is it fair for a player to dictate his sitting out while reaping the benefits of being a scholarship athlete until they depart? Should an athlete leaving or waiting for the current coach to get fired continue to access the program’s resources like the weight room, physical therapists, training table, and more? Should the player risk losing the valuable redshirt if they believe they’re in an untenable situation?
Your answer might depend on which position you’re in at the moment. Harsin’s place as Auburn’s coach gets more precarious by the day.
Nubyjas Wilborn covers Auburn for Alabama Media Group.