Mark Edwards: Seven months after Auburn hired him, we're still learning about Bryan Harsin

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Jul. 22—HOOVER — Back when Auburn hired Bryan Harsin as its next football coach, a state radio host referred to him as "Coach Wikipedia."

As in, you have to go to Wikipedia to figure out who he is.

I'm still unsure if Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey knows much more about Harsin than that. When Sankey introduced coaches at this week's SEC Media Days, he always tried to humanize his introductions. He would include several tidbits he had gleaned from what he knew about them, such as telling us that Nick Saban hit a hole-in-one this summer.

Before Harsin's time at the podium Thursday, Sankey was reduced pretty much to reading his Wikipedia entry. At the end, Sankey mentioned that they had been talking in the hallway and he learned that Harsin's father was a drag racer. So there's that.

Seven months after he was hired, we're still a little in the dark about the new coach.

That's not his fault at all. I don't mean to hint that it is. It's just that with him spending a large majority of his career at Boise State as a player, assistant coach and head coach, we just don't know a lot about him and won't until his Auburn team plays. Then we'll get a chance to see how he handles all the ups and downs that the games inevitably bring.

So, if we try to do much of a deep dive into predictions about what kind of coach he'll be, we're just throwing darts while blindfolded.

He's an outsider at Auburn, but that's not a bad thing. Pat Dye wasn't an Auburn man until he became one. Neither was Shug Jordan, Tommy Tuberville, Gene Chizik or Gus Malzahn.

The difference for those guys was that they all had experience either at Auburn or in the SEC before becoming head coach.

So what did we learn about Harsin on Thursday?

He seems eager for the challenge at Auburn. He even seemed to take SEC Media Days as a function to take seriously.

He mentioned that he had coached in plenty of big games but got more texts wishing him luck before Media Days than he ever got before a game.

He said he's excited about Tiger Walk. He talked about rolling the trees after big wins.

"I want to be able to be part of a program that, when you win, your fans go crazy and go downtown and we toilet paper trees," he said. "I mean, how awesome is that?"

He prepared for Media Days by learning what had been asked the previous three days and approaching those subjects head on in his opening statement.

That lasted about 16 minutes, and considering each coach is allotted 30 minutes in the main room, that's a lengthy opener. He also answered questions so fully that he only had time for three. Maybe his new nickname should be Coach Filibuster.

In contrast, Mississippi State's Mike Leach gave an opening statement of less than a minute Wednesday, essentially saying he didn't have an opening statement. He managed to run through 21 questions in the rest of his time.

Harsin even gave his COVID-19 figures without being asked. He says the team's vaccination rate is in the "60 percent range," and his unwillingness to speak out in support of the vaccine was a disappointment. He laid it off on the medical staff.

That was the weakest part of his 30 minutes, but at least he talked about it. When Leach was questioned about the vaccine, he reacted as if he had been exposed to direct sunlight.

Harsin was strongest when talking about Auburn and how much he's enjoying being in the community.

"The Auburn community, I can't thank them enough," he said. "My family loves it. My daughters, my son, they love living in Auburn. I've asked them and just said, 'Hey, tell me what it's like,' and they love it. I'm like, 'Really?' They're like, 'Yeah, we love it.' This is unbelievable."

Most of all, you've got to appreciate his willingness to come to the SEC. He won more than 78 percent of his games at Boise State. He won three Mountain West Conference championships. He finished first or tied for first in his division five times.

He could've wracked up a pretty good record if he had stayed. Or, he could've waited for a Pac-12 job to open, which would've been more money and prestige but closer to his Idaho roots.

Instead, he chose to come across the country to Auburn. The stakes are higher here. The reward for a great team at Auburn would be a shot at a national championship, not a spot in the Las Vegas Bowl. He took the gamble.

"That's why you come to Auburn," he said. "That's why you're in the SEC, because it does mean more, and opportunities like that. It's not like that at other places."

That's worth something.

Senior Editor Mark Edwards: 256-235-3570. On Twitter: @MarkSportsStar.

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