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Interestingly, a number of Auburn coaches have suffered similar or worse losing streaks in their debut seasons. Others found surprising and unprecedented success in the beginning. Here, we take a look at Harsin's first year relative to the 10 Auburn coaches who came before him, stretching back almost 90 years.
Bryan Harsin: 6-6 (3-5 SEC)
The bad: Harsin's offensive coordinator hire lasted one year. The 2021 Tigers blew a school record 25-point lead to Mississippi State, succumbed to the less talented South Carolina Gamecocks and lost the first-ever overtime Iron Bowl. The good: Harsin managed to end a 22-year drought at LSU, and his Tigers beat a 10-win Ole Miss team. They also weren't supposed to be in overtime with Alabama to begin with.
Gus Malzahn: 12-2 (7-1 SEC)
Rebounding from one of the worst seasons in program history, the 2013 Tigers won the SEC and were on the verge of a national title. They blew a 20-3 lead to Florida State and lost on a Jameis Winston touchdown pass with 13 seconds left in the BCS era. Still, Malzahn led Auburn to a dream season punctuated by two of the most magical moments in program history. Georgia and Alabama fans would rather forget.
Gene Chizik: 8-5 (3-5 SEC)
Like Harsin, Chizik lost to rivals Georgia and Alabama in his first year, including a 26-21 Iron Bowl known for a dramatic late drive that silenced Jordan-Hare Stadium. In fact, if Alabama's 15-play, 79-yard back-breaker didn't already claim the nickname, then Bryce Young's 97-yard march last Saturday would surely be known as "The Drive" in Iron Bowl lore. Chizik's 2009 team also lost at LSU. Auburn's only true road win was at Tennessee, and it took overtime to beat Northwestern in the Outback Bowl.
On the horizon was a Heisman Trophy winner and a national championship in Chizik's sophomore effort.
Tommy Tuberville: 5-6 (2-6 SEC)
If there's historical precedent to defend Harsin after a four-game tailspin, look to Tuberville's 1999 Tigers. His debut was flattened by a five-game losing streak that lasted through October. The highlight of the season was a 38-21 upset at No. 14 Georgia after the losing streak, but Auburn then lost the Iron Bowl. Five years later, Tuberville had survived the hot seat and led Auburn to a 13-0 season in which the team was snubbed from an opportunity to play in the BCS title game. In a College Football Playoff format, maybe Auburn would have a 2004 national championship banner. Tuberville lasted 10 years before he was fired.
Terry Bowden: 11-0 (8-0 SEC)
In one of the most bizarre years in program history, Auburn was banned from television and the postseason in 1993, a consequence of previous NCAA violations. That didn't stop Bowden from buying his players bootleg SEC championship rings after an undefeated debut season. Auburn rallied from down 27-14 to win on a late field goal against No. 4 Florida and pulled off another comeback win in the Iron Bowl.
Pat Dye: 5-6 (2-4 SEC)
Another coach who overcame rivalry losses to Alabama and Georgia in his first year. He only won one road game in 1981, as Auburn matched its 1980 record that got Doug Barfield fired. But winning two SEC games marked the beginning of a rebuild, and two years later, Dye fielded his greatest team, a winner of 10 straight games. Forty years after his debut season, the field at Jordan-Hare Stadium is named after Dye.
Doug Barfield: 4-7 (3-3 SEC)
That record is forgiving. Auburn lost 28-19 to Mississippi State, but the Bulldogs' win was later vacated. It became a forfeit victory in the books for Auburn, an otherwise 3-8 team in 1976. If Tuberville and Dye are the recent defense for Harsin's lackluster first season, Barfield is the counterargument. His debut also ended with four straight defeats (if you count Mississippi State), including losses to Georgia and Alabama. His best season was 8-3 in 1979, but he was fired the next year.
Ralph 'Shug' Jordan: 5-5 (3-4 SEC)
Oddly enough, the greatest coach in Auburn history also ended his first season with a four-game losing streak. The highlight of 1951 was a dramatic 14-13 win over Florida, when Auburn trailed 13-7 and faced fourth-and-5 with the game on the line; Allan Parks threw a 24-yard touchdown pass to win it in the final minute. Auburn didn't come close to beating Ole Miss, Georgia, Clemson or Alabama. But six years later, Jordan led the program to its first national championship. He enjoyed a 25-year career with 175 wins at Auburn.
Earl Brown: 1-8-1 (0-7 SEC)
Unsurprisingly, Brown lasted only three years in the head coaching job. His debut season ushered in the return of the Iron Bowl after a 41-year hiatus. The 1948 Tigers hadn't won since their season opener, and they were memorably demolished 55-0 by Alabama at Legion Field in Birmingham. Brown had one triumphant moment in his tenure when Auburn won a 14-13 Iron Bowl shocker the next year, but his teams went a combined 3-22-4.
Carl Voyles: 4-4 (0-4 SEC)
The 1944 season ended with a 38-19 road win at Miami, but that was merely a footnote after Auburn lost 49-13 against Georgia to complete a winless SEC campaign. Voyles went 15-22 in four years as the head coach.
Jack Meagher: 2-8 (1-6 SEC)
A five-game losing streak in 1934 included defeats at Tulane and LSU. Auburn won its rivalry game at Georgia Tech 18-6 before ending the season with losses to Florida and Georgia. But "Meagher's Marauders" were just getting started: He turned the program around with an 8-2 season in 1935, and the next year he took the Tigers to their first bowl game in Havana, Cuba. They won the Orange Bowl in 1937, and Meagher coached Auburn through 1942. His coaching tree includes Shug Jordan.
This article originally appeared on Montgomery Advertiser: Comparing Bryan Harsin's first season to past Auburn football coaches