March 17, 2013

Harsin understands transition

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Dallas Jackson is the National Columnist for Rivals.com. Email him your comments or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.

Bryan Harsin knows all about transitions, and that's a good thing in his new job.

Harsin took over as the head coach at Arkansas State on Dec. 11 after Gus Malzahn accepted the same position with Auburn on Dec. 4.

Malzahn was 9-3 in one season at Arkansas St., leading the team to a conference title and a GoDaddy.com Bowl victory. The year prior, Hugh Freeze was one-and-done in Jonesboro, going 10-2 and winning the Sun Belt before leaving for Ole Miss. Freeze's predecessor, Steve Roberts, led the program through its transition to the FBS level.

There are senior players who are on their fourth head coach, meaning Harsin will be coaching a group of players selected by three different staffs.

"I thought about all of that," he said. "Where these players have been and where they all have come from with different coaches, staffs and styles. It is on all of us to make it work.

"Change can be good, and really, we are here now and we have to enhance what has been done -- sustain this level of success -- and implement what we feel like will be successful going forward. We cannot have players focused on what has happened -- only on what can happen."

As a player at Boise State, Harsin was recruited and played under famed coach Pokey Allen. When Allen was diagnosed with the cancer that would ultimately take his life, Tom Mason was named the interim coach for one season. Harsin then played his junior year under Houston Nutt and his senior season for Dirk Koetter, when Nutt left for Arkansas.

What was then a confusing time has become a practical application.

"I can relate to them because I have been there, done that," Harsin said. "Being able to bridge the gap between the staffs is hard, but I just tell them that we are all in this together. It is important to say, 'Here we are, we know where you have been, and this is where we will be going.'"

Harsin said he envisions the program being a hybrid of his coaching style and what has been successful at Arkansas State.

As a first-year offensive coordinator at Boise State in 2006, Harsin led a multiple, up-tempo attack that was paced by running back Ian Johnson. Harsin went more to the spread-pass offense when Kellen Moore took over as quarterback in 2008. In his tenure at Boise State, the program was 61-5 with two Fiesta Bowl victories over Oklahoma and TCU.

His promotion to Texas was a mixed bag because Harsin was the primary play-caller but paired with Major Applewhite as co-offensive coordinator. The power run attack was limited and was not as successful.

"We will be closer to what I did at Boise than at Texas," Harsin said. "The up-tempo has worked for me and has worked here at Arkansas State, so we don't want to lose sight of that. We will want to run the ball and keep the defense honest, but it will not look a lot like Texas."

The play calling will not be the only noticeable difference from his time at Texas. Harsin will have to adjust his recruiting back to his Boise State days.

"There are very few places that can recruit like Texas," Harsin said. "What Mack (Brown) has done down there is something else. We will have to send out a lot more offers and be active in a lot more places.

"Arkansas will be No. 1 for us, but we will be going into Atlanta, St. Louis, Louisiana, Mississippi and probably Texas with the relationships this staff has from being down there."

Harsin said that while many Sun Belt teams have gone into Florida, his staff will likely stay true to Texas, noting that both areas are loaded with talent and having a strong presence in one is better than splitting efforts in both.

The class of 2013 was nearly complete when Harsin took over, and the players he brought in were mostly from Texas. Five of his final eight signees were from the Lone Star State, while two were from California and one from Alabama.

Harsin admitted that the challenge of finding players in just six weeks was difficult, but he has a process that he's ready to implement as the program moves forward.

The biggest thing is his reliance on his staff doing the work on the front end.

"Whether a kid has 35 offers or we are his first one, we need to be ready and prepared for him to jump in (and accept)," Harsin said. "We need to know as much as we can about the kids before we send out the offers, and that doesn't always happen in college football.

"It has become somewhat of a trend to send out offers because this team or that team offered a kid that was on your board. I want to make sure we have done all of our homework on every player before we send out that offer. I don't want to pull offers after a kid commits to us, and I can't have coaches starting to do background stuff after a kid says he is in."

With the results of the past few seasons and the raised expectations, Harsin is prepared for the demands of the job.

"When you have success the bull's-eye gets bigger, and we understand that," Harsin said. "We have championship expectations, and we are all ready to get back on the field and get to work."




 

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