ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
SEC photo by Jimmie Mitchell / Auburn first-year football coach Bryan Harsin said Thursday at SEC Media Days that he welcomes the pressure that accompanies guiding the Tigers.

Since Bo Jackson went over the top at the goal line in 1982 to deliver Auburn a 23-22 victory over Alabama at Birmingham's Legion Field, the Tigers have claimed 20 Iron Bowls to the Crimson Tide's 19.

Auburn's wins in college football's most recognized in-state series have been less frequent since Nick Saban arrived at Alabama, yet the Tigers have triumphed five times — once under Tommy Tuberville, once under Gene Chizik and three times under Gus Malzahn. Tuberville reeled off six straight Iron Bowl triumphs from 2002-07 but resigned after the 2008 matchup, with Chizik and Malzahn having since been fired on the heels of losses to the Crimson Tide.

As Alabama comes off its sixth national championship of the Saban era, Auburn has arguably assumed the nation's top pressure-cooker of a program. Venturing into the rivalry and into the Southeastern Conference is Bryan Harsin, who left the comfort of a 69-19 record at Boise State, his alma mater, to take on the Godzilla of the sport in addition to annual challenges against Georgia, LSU and Texas A&M.

"As far as the importance of my job and how I view it, I've always felt like I've tried to prepare and find ways to win, and every little thing has mattered to me," Harsin said Thursday morning as SEC Media Days drew to a close. "I try to work that way and try to develop myself that way, so what we did today in our workouts matters, and what we do tomorrow and so on. I'm going to continue that.

Photo Gallery

SEC Media Days gallery 4

"I know that the microscope is a lot different at Auburn, but that was part of it, too. This is why you come to Auburn. This is why you want to be in the SEC."

Malzahn took Auburn to a pair of SEC championship games during his eight seasons on the Plains, more than LSU and Texas A&M combined during that stretch, but his 68-35 record with eight bowl bids wasn't enough. Enter Harsin, and enter the immediate pressure.

Auburn players are aware of the scrutiny as well, and they know comparisons are inevitable to the team in Tuscaloosa.

"Everybody at Auburn should come in with the mindset of beating Alabama," said junior quarterback Bo Nix, who led the Tigers to a 48-45 upset thriller inside Jordan-Hare Stadium as a freshman but endured a 42-13 beatdown last year. "It's just important to us, and it's important to me. Obviously, I understand how it is beating them in 2019, and we have a lot of guys on our team who have beaten them. It's going to be one of the biggest, loudest games of the year. It always is, so we're just excited.

"I think there's a mutual respect between Auburn and Alabama. I think they know that they're going to Alabama to beat Auburn, and we are going to Auburn to beat Alabama. All the games are always respectful, and both sides appreciate the other for what they have to go through."

Junior linebacker Owen Pappoe thought it would be a good idea to discuss the Iron Bowl with Harsin not long after Harsin's arrival.

"I actually tried to talk to him, but he actually stopped me," Pappoe said. "He said, 'Look, man, we're going to take things one at a time. Focus on going 1-0 every week, and when we get there, we're going to deal with it.'"

 

Early showdown

The first head-to-head pairing of SEC teams this season is not one to be overlooked, as Missouri will travel to Kentucky on Sept. 11. The winner between Eli Drinkwitz's Tigers and the Wildcats of Mark Stoops would be viewed as the chief Eastern Division challenger to the top tandem of Georgia and Florida.

"I have a whole lot of respect for Coach Stoops and the job that he's done at Kentucky," Drinkwitz said Thursday. "He's probably the most consistent coach in our league outside of Coach Saban, and I just have a lot of respect for who he is and how he runs his program. It is absolutely going to be a tremendous challenge on the road.

"It's the first time we're going to face that kind of crowd, and there are going to be a lot of unknowns. Obviously, they have a new offensive coordinator, so you're not going to have a whole lot of tape on what they're going to do. Like any game in this league, it's going to be a tremendous challenge."

Missouri was 5-3 late last season before faltering against Georgia and Mississippi State and couldn't play in the Music City Bowl due to COVID-related issues. Kentucky had a 4-6 regular season before defeating North Carolina State in the Gator Bowl.

"I think we're all chasing to win the East," Drinkwitz said. "I don't know a team outside of Missouri that's won the East besides Georgia and Florida since we've joined the league, so we're all working to get there."

 

Pittman's route

The SEC has a slew of head coaches who earned opportunities after stints as a coordinator, but Sam Pittman of Arkansas spent three decades as an offensive line coach before getting his break last year in Fayetteville.

"What many people don't realize is that if you're an offensive line coach, you talk to 20 people every day," Pittman said. "It's not like you have five guys in your room, so you are coordinating a team of basically half the offense. You have to understand secondary play because that helps you understand blitzes. You have to understand different fronts and what they mean, so you're very knowledgeable. All these offensive line coaches are.

"I certainly don't want to be the torch bearer. I don't want that kind of pressure on me, but I would like to see more if they're qualified and they're ready to go — I think a big part of me being a head coach at Arkansas was because I was there at Arkansas before. I had to be qualified, but I think a big part of mine was the passion I had for the University of Arkansas, too."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT