Bryan Harsin: Head Football Coach, Boise State University

I grew up in the Treasure Valley with a passion for sports. I played baseball all the way through high school and followed many different sports teams at various times in my life. The Oakland Athletics and New York Yankees (my late-grandfather’s favorite team). Michael Jordan’s Bulls and Kobe Bryant’s Lakers. The Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders. The Illinois Fighting Illini and Wichita State Shockers basketball programs. The Cal Bears (father’s alma mater), Arizona State Sun Devils (brother’s alma mater), Idaho Vandals (most of my family’s alma mater, myself included) and Boise State Broncos football programs. I loved sports and loved my teams.

As I’ve matured my affinity for specific teams and my emotional connection to them has died but the fascination with these beautiful games has remained. Sports intrigue me, though I wouldn’t call myself a sports fan. I don’t care when any of these teams lose, but it is cool to see them succeed.

During my formative-years (and still to this day) I was blessed with a wonderful, hard-working mother. This blessing has afforded me many other blessings, including allowing me the opportunity to previously have adjacent backyards with a certain former-Boise State offensive coordinator and quarterback. A man who’s easily one of the most-fascinating characters I’ve ever met.




“Coach Hars”

While I played baseball in high school I often had to do many fund-raisers as a stipulation of being a part of the program. Bryan and his wife Kes were an intimidating and exciting stop on my quest for donations and we’re happy to support their local high school sports teams. Kes was always kind and inviting. I always would have described Bryan as “scary” back then. He was a successful and powerful grown-man. I don’t recall if I was even shaving yet.

I once made a scrap-book of newspaper clippings from the Idaho Statesman of Boise State’s famed 2006-2007 Fiesta Bowl campaign. Sports-writing has fascinated me for well-over a decade. I had a page in the scrap-book illustrating the three Harsin-called trick plays the Broncos used to beat the Oklahoma Sooners on that program-defining day in the Arizona Desert. I asked Harsin to autograph this for me and he was more than happy to do so.

I still lived at that house the day it was announced that Harsin was leaving for the Texas Longhorns offensive coordinator position. I found it funny and ironoic that he’d be harassing the program from Norman once again.

I’ve always been a fan of Bryan Harsin-the man (though his sport-coats may be a little large for my taste).




Unintended Bitterness

Last summer I Tweeted a criticism of a faction of Boise State fans that I deemed ungrateful for Harsin’s tremendous-efforts and sacrifice for their beloved-program. Though Harsin wasn’t tagged in the Tweet it made way to his eyes and inadvertently-offended him. A small bit of animosity subsiquently-grew between us after this, not that he spends anything remotely-close to significant amounts of time thinking about me. And while I did in-fact just say I’ve always been a fan of Bryan Harsin-the man, that isn’t entirely truthful.

I was a bit “salty,” as the kids say these days, until Signing Day this year when I was afforded the opportunity to apologize for an uncouth comment of mine that he got wind of. I could tell he felt disrespected when I introduced myself to him that evening. Later in the night I was able to clarify the intention of my comment and apologize for the offense or disrespect that he felt as a result of it. He received my apology with grace, appreciation and recognition of the comment’s original intention, proceeding to look me dead in the eye: “We have to go win a championship.” We shook hands later in the evening. I was grateful for the respect he had shown and the forgiveness he graced upon me.

“We have to go win a championship.”
-Bryan Harsin, Signing Day, 2017




Awards & Accolades

Harsin has quite the impressive coaching resume to date and has collected an excellent list of accolades and awards. Obviously winning three golden-footballs in the Arizona-desert, he guided the 2014 Fiesta Bowl Champion-Broncos in his first year at the helm of the program.

He’s hoisted the 2014 Sports Authority Mountain West Football Championship Trophy on The Blue, what was the program’s first outright conference championship since 2009.

That year he was also named as a finalist for the Paul “Bear” Bryant National Coach of the Year Award, the Eddie Robinson National Coach of the Year Award, and the Dodd Trophy (another National Coach of the Year Award). The Football Writers Association of America named him the top first-year Head Coach in the country that season. In each season that he’s been the Head Coach at Boise State he’s been a candidate for the Dodd Trophy.

The Boise-native is the only Bronco to ever win conference championships as a player, assistant and head coach according to BroncoSports.com.

In 2015 he orchestrated a 55-7 victory over Northern Illinois in the Poinsettia Bowl, the fifth-largest margin of victory in any bowl game. Ever.

In five seasons as Boise State’s offensive coordinator, Harsin helped guide the Bronco-program to a 61-5 record. In 2009 he was named as a finalist for the Broyles Award as a candidate for the national assistant coach of the year.

Serving as Arkansas State’s Head Coach in his final stop before taking over at Boise State, Harsin lead the Red Wolves to a share of the Sun Belt Conference Championship.

He’s won nine conference championships as a member of Boise State’s coaching staff.

(YT Screengrab)




Overall Success

In no uncertain-terms: Bryan Harsin is a very good Head Coach. He has the handsome if-slightly-weathered-face of a hard-working, supremely-accomplished man. And while he’s absolutely fallen short of his stated-goal (and underperformed what his capabilities and talents allow in my mind) of winning the Mountain West Conference Championship in two of his three seasons as Head Coach, I adamantly believe he has the requisite skill and personality traits to become a great one.

He’s a brilliant football-mind, with great people-skills in some respect, with an uncanny ability to get high school kids that he covets to buy-in to what he offers them as a mentor. His talent as a recruiter may be unmatched in Boise State Football’s storied-history.

As the Bronco’s Head Coach he has compiled a 31-9 overall record with an 18-6 mark in Mountain West-play. During the ninth week of last season Boise State was poised to enter the top-10 in the coming weeks before they fell to Wyoming. This is all very good. I know Harsin can do better and I feel he may admit as much.




Struggles vs Mountain Division

I would like to point out that irrespective of my admiration for Bryan Harsin-the man and my acknowledgement of his many successes, I am not reserved when intending to respectfully-critique any person in the public-eye if I feel it justified. This isn’t to say that my critiques are impervious to rebuke themselves, simply that I will posit them (with respect, hopefully) when I feel it is justifiable to do so.

Having known Bryan Harsin as a kid, in however a limited-capacity that was (quite-limited), in some sense I am disappointed when he falls short of his massive potential. I want to see him conquer his craft.

Harsin is 4-5 in his last nine games versus the Mountain Division. Prior to those defeats Boise State had never, not once in program-history at the FBS-level, lost to any one of Air Force, Colorado State, New Mexico, Utah State or Wyoming. Those programs aren’t world-beaters by any stretch of the imagination and are all certainly-inferior to the more-prominent schools that Harsin routinely dismantles. And one more point to those defending Boise State football to the death against any from of critique or criticism: Those same Mountian Division programs have recorded exactly zero victories against anybody else in Bryan Harsin’s or Boise State’s stratosphere over that time.

I’m not going to pretend I know anything about coaching football but I will say there is a problem and it is this: Mountain Division teams no longer fear the Broncos.

Harsin needs to fix that, and I am confident that he is quite-capable of doing so.

Football




Success vs Power 5

Had Harsin defeated the Baylor Bears in last year’s Cactus Bowl he would have been the first Head Coach in Boise State Football history to defeat three Power 5 conference programs and BYU in the same season (or four Power 5 schools in the same season if you classify BYU as a Power 5 program, as the B1G, SEC, and ACC do for scheduling purposes).

He had a five game winning-streak against Power 5 competition before the Cactus Bowl-defeat last December and currently has a two-game home-winning-streak against the “Big Boys” (and a 3-game home-winning-streak against such competition if you include BYU). He’s never lost at home to those teams.

Harsin’s notched a 5-2 record against Power 5 schools in three seasons and a 7-3 record if you include the Cougars.

While it may be the case that Mountain Division teams do not fear Boise State presently, Power 5 teams certainly do. And frankly, that’s one of the stranger dichotomies I’ve ever come across.

Photo by Pam Davis




Bottom Line

There’s a lot to say about the patriarch of Bronco Nation.

Bryan Harsin is quite the polarizing-figure. For all the greatness of Boise State’s Head Football Coach, he draws a lot of criticism. That’s the nature of the beast in the world he enhabits.

Go get ’em, neighbor!

Follow me on Twitter @RobertJPfeifer.