Grading Harsin’s Auburn Staff, Part 1: Offense

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Auburn Head Coach Bryan Harsin and his wife, Kes, arrive on the Plains. Courtesy of Todd Van Emst/AU Athletics.

By Wil Crews
sportscrews@opelikaobserver.com

It has been 29 days since Bryan Harsin was named the 28th head football coach of Auburn University. Since then, Harsin has been compiling a staff with the aim of integrating SEC connections into the foundation he previously built at Boise State. Here is a look at who Harsin has added to the Auburn staff on the offensive side of the ball, and a glimpse into what they can provide for the Tigers.

Offensive Coordinator – Mike Bobo: Harsin needed guys with SEC connections. After spending seven years as offensive coordinator at Georgia (2007-14) and last season at South Carolina, Bobo certainly fits that mold. During his time at Georgia, Bobo recruited and coached several talented prospects including Matthew Stafford, A.J. Green, Todd Gurley and others, producing four first-round NFL draft picks. In the 92 games that Bobo was OC, the Bulldog offenses were prolific, scoring 30-plus points 57 times, 40-plus points 29 times and more than 50 points 13 times. After leaving Georgia, Bobo had a five-year stint as head coach at Colorado State (2015-19) before reverting to coordinator last season at South Carolina. While the Rams did not find great success under Bobo (28-35 overall), his offenses were worthy of the CSU record books, finishing with three of the school’s top six marks for total offense and the school record for most pass yards in a season in 2017. Without any homerun hires to make, Harsin did well to get a proven SEC coordinator who helps address one of his biggest immediate needs: recruiting. However, the real question is: How well will Harsin, an acclaimed offensive mind himself, and Bobo work together on the field?

Grade: B-

Running Backs – Carnell “Cadillac” Williams: Every Auburn fan knows about Cadillac’s playing career, but he’s a relative newcomer to the coaching ranks. He began coaching running backs at Henderson State in 2015 before short stints at West Georgia, IMG Academy in Florida and the Birmingham Iron, of the Alliance of American Football. Former Auburn coach Gus Malzahn signed him to his staff in 2019. Since then, Williams has already had tremendous impact on bringing talent to the Plains, namely recruiting Tank Bigsby, the 2020 SEC Co-Freshman of the Year and the Associated Press SEC Newcomer of the Year. Retaining the guy who recruited arguably your team’s best player is a no-brainer decision. Not to mention he is a literal Auburn legend and fan-favorite. Harsin has a good one here.

Grade: A

Wide Receivers – Cornelius Williams: Williams spent the previous six years coaching receivers at Troy, his alma mater, and the last two as passing game coordinator. He made his return to Troy after spending time as receivers coach at UAB (2014), Jacksonville State (2013), North Alabama (2012) and Murray State (2011). This season, Troy finished ninth nationally in passing offense, 25th in scoring offense and 18th in total offense. In total, 14 receivers earned All-Sun Belt honors under Williams, and the 2019 receiving corps individually topped the 100-yard mark 11 times to shatter the school record for 100-yard games that previously stood at seven. Williams is not a flashy name like some of the other speculative candidates, but he has improved receiver production everywhere he has been. He has some quality southern connections too, but his lack of Power-5 experience is the ultimate downside of this hire.

Grade: C+

Offensive Line – Will Friend: Thank Bobo for this one. From 2011-14 Friend was the offensive line coach and running game coordinator (2013) under Bobo at Georgia and then followed him to Colorado State to serve in the same role from 2015-17. He helped guide a Bulldog offense that averaged 41.3 points per game in 2014, which ranked eighth nationally, and a Rams offense that ranked 11th nationally in total offense at 492.5 yards in 2017. Friend spent the previous three seasons as offensive line coach at Tennessee, where he mentored two-time All-SEC first team lineman Trey Smith and 2019 Freshman All-SEC linemen Wanya Morris and Darnell Wright. Overall, he has coached nine linemen who have been selected to the NFL Draft. Recruiting, check. Development, check.

Grade: B+

Tight Ends – Brad Bedell: A six-year NFL player who spent the last four years as offensive line coach and run game coordinator under Harsin at Boise State. During that time, he coached 13 All-Mountain West linemen. That would indicate he is a good developer. Furthermore, Bedell is taking a downgraded role to come to a more prominent university. That solidifies him as a low-risk, good hire. Whether or not he can recruit in the SEC will determine if he was a great hire, but that’s partially what Bobo is there for. Harsin is bringing his guys from Boise for the culture. The culture of developing winners. Bedell will have the chance to instantly prove his worth by developing a plethora of tight end options that are currently on Auburn’s roster.

Grade: B+

Associate AD/Chief of Staff – Brad Lorrondo: Harsin created this position on his staff specifically for Larrondo. Starting at Boise in 2012, Larrondo was named football chief of staff in 2019. In that role, Larrondo was the athletic department’s primary football contact and liaison for Harsin as he assisted with oversight of the football support staff. Furthermore, Larrondo provided external support for fundraising and community outreach. With a strong marketing and management background, Larrondo will work with Harsin and Auburn Athletic Director Allen Greene to build the Auburn brand and facilitate Harsin’s vision for the program. I imagine this hire will help to square the desires of fans with the needs of the athletes and provide the athletic department with a greater level of autonomy to operate away from the influences of boosters.

Grade: B+

Overall: B

Part two of this series, on Harsin’s defensive hires, will be in next week’s edition of the Observer.

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