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Minnesota Football Coaching Candidate: Bryan Harsin

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The current head coach at Boise State has ties to current Minnesota athletic director Mark Coyle.

NCAA Football: Boise State at Oregon State Cole Elsasser-USA TODAY Sports

Now that Minnesota Golden Gophers head football coach Tracy Claeys has been fired, the search for a new head coach begins. Over the next few days, we’ll be profiling potential candidates for the position. Next up is Boise State’s Bryan Harsin.

Bryan Harsin
Current Position: Head Coach at Boise State
Current Contract: Five-year contract worth a guaranteed salary of $1.5 million, signed in February 2015
Buyout: $500,000
Age: 40

Coaching Career

Prior to his coaching career, Harsin was a quarterback for Boise State from 1995-99. Harsin has spent most of his coaching career at Boise State, but started out coaching quarterbacks and running backs at Eastern Oregon in 2000.

In 2001, Harsin returned to Boise State as a graduate assistant under then head coach Dan Hawkins, who would promote Harsin to tight ends coach in 2002. Harsin coached tight ends until Hawkins bolted for Colorado in 2006 and Chris Petersen took over as head coach. Petersen promoted Harsin to offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, and over the next five years Harsin helped lead the Broncos to two undefeated seasons and two Fiesta Bowl wins. But Mack Brown came calling and Harsin accepted the offensive coordinator position at Texas in 2011.

For two seasons, Harsin served as co-offensive coordinator of the Longhorns with Major Applewhite — now the head coach at Houston -- and coached the quarterbacks. Harsin dealt with a revolving door at the quarterback position in his first year, with Garrett Gilbert, Case McCoy, and David Ash each starting at one point during the season. Only McCoy had more touchdowns than interceptions in 2011. In 2012, Ash took hold of the position until a late season skid that opened the door for McCoy to see more snaps. Ash finished the season with 2,699 passing yards, 19 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions, with a completion percentage of 67.3.

On December 12, 2012, Harsin accepted the head coaching position at Arkansas State. His predecessors — Hugh Freeze in 2011 and Gus Malzahn in 2012 — both left for Power 5 programs after one year at Arkansas State, so Harsin’s contract included a substantial buyout of $1.75 million (Spoiler: It didn’t work). Whereas Freeze and Malzahn went a combined 19-5 over two seasons, Harsin finished 7-5 in his lone season with the Red Wolves, but clinched a share of the Sun Belt Conference title and a trip to the GoDaddy Bowl.

Despite the buyout clause, Harsin left after one season to take the helm at Boise State. In his first season as head coach of the Broncos, Harsin led Boise State to a Mountain West Conference championship and a win over Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl.

Arkansas State and Boise State

The following are the S&P+ rankings for Arkansas State and Boise State over the last four years under Harsin. For anyone unfamiliar with S&P+, the lower the number, the better the ranking. Here is a link to their official website, Football Outsiders.

Teams under Bryan Harsin

Team Arkansas State 2013 Boise State 2014 Boise State 2015 Boise State 2016
Team Arkansas State 2013 Boise State 2014 Boise State 2015 Boise State 2016
Record 7-5 12-2 9-4 10-3
Conference Record 5-2 7-1 5-3 6-2
Overall 79 18 41 19
Offense 85 13 54 19
Rushing 79 12 76 57
Passing 88 11 75 17
Success Rate - 16 57 32
IsoPPP - 7 99 26
Defense 90 38 32 39
Rushing 96 30 7 13
Passing 69 33 50 30
Success Rate - 24 7 35
IsoPPP - 47 64 11

I’m not sure what conclusions can be drawn from a single season at Arkansas State, but I like what he has done at Boise State. Obviously, he stepped into a good situation, but Harsin hasn’t allowed the car to veer off the road. He had a bit of a step back in 2015, but has bounced back nicely in 2016. I’m also particularly impressed with the performance of the Broncos on defense, especially considering Harsin has a background at an offensive coach.

Recruiting

Harsin had just one recruiting class as head coach at Arkansas State — ranked 5th in the Sun Belt Conference and 101st nationally — so it is difficult to evaluate his performance there. But fortunately we have three going on four years to look at from his tenure at Boise State. According to 247 Sports, Harsin has signed the top class in the Mountain West Conference the last three years, with Colorado State threatening to end that streak this season.

2014: 1st in the MWC (68th nationally)
2015: 1st (57th)
2016: 1st (70th)

With 15 commitments, his current recruiting class at Boise State is second in the MWC and 71st nationally. For comparison, Minnesota’s current recruiting class — which is very much in flux at the moment now that Tracy Claeys and his coaching staff have been fired -- ranks dead last in the Big Ten and 68th nationally.

Final Take

I like Harsin, perhaps more than I like Fleck. The Gophers obviously need help on the offensive side of the ball, but I’d rather do that without compromising the success Minnesota has had on the defensive side of the ball. It’s clear to me from the S&P+ rankings that Harsin hasn’t allowed his defenses at Boise State to suffer from neglect. I’m envious of that balance.

The reason Harsin’s name has come up is because Mark Coyle, the current athletic director at Minnesota, was the athletic director at Boise State who hired Harsin. Clearly Coyle is familiar with Harsin and felt comfortable choosing him to lead the program at Boise State. Perhaps Coyle would be interested in a reunion with his first football coaching hire.

The trouble with Harsin could be trying to pry him from Boise State, considering that he has obvious ties to the school as both a former player and a current coach. His predecessor Chris Petersen spent eight years as head coach at Boise State before taking the same position at Washington. Will Harsin stick around that long?