Co-Offensive Coordinator Bryan Harsin Leaves for Arkansas State

Texas Football fans should take it as no surprise that the coaching carousel has once again claimed one of our own. This time it’s Bryan Harsin, co-offensive coordinator, who’s leaving UT to fill the head coaching vacancy at Arkansas State.

The departure ends a short-lived relationship. Harsin was brought over to help replace Greg Davis after the 2010 season, when Texas fans were up in arms after a dismal, bowl-less 5-7 finish. Harsin came from his alma mater Boise State, where in five years as offensive coordinator he helped lead the Broncos to a 61-5 record that included two undefeated seasons. Longhorn fans were salivating at the hire: if he could accomplish all of that with Boise State’s recruiting classes, imagine what he was going to do at Texas!

But it wasn’t all rainbows and gumdrops. In fact, Harsin helped accrue as many losses in his first season at Texas as he’d earned in his entire five-year stint as Boise State’s OC. Even so, he was afforded plenty of wiggle room, and it appeared to be paying off. Despite sputtering in a few key games down the stretch and an (ongoing) late-season quarterback controversy, Harsin and his offense were downright lethal at times this year, managing to mostly avoid the negative spotlight (which was more frequently focused on Manny Diaz and Texas’ defensive shortcomings).

The coaching carousel is constantly turning, and although Mack Brown has been the undisputed cornerstone of Texas Football since ’98, Texas’ assistant coaches have not been exempt from relocation–either voluntary or forced. When Will Muschamp left, many fans were heartbroken. But at least it was understandable. While he may have been the heir apparent to Mack Brown, who could blame him for taking a head coaching gig at high-profile Florida? (For those of you who have banished it from your memory, Muschamp is now in his second year at the University of Florida… and darnit, he’s doing a pretty good job.)

Harsin is a bit different. Although he had yet to re-create the success he’d experienced at Boise State, Harsin did show flashes of that old creative brilliance throughout his time here: double-reverses, wide receiver passes and sweeps, and of course the DKR memorial wishbone play (with a distinctly Harsin twist) to start the Iowa State game. Still, there just wasn’t enough substance to get Texas’s offense entirely back on track. Last year, Texas finished a pretty lousy 50th in the FBS for total yards. This year, not including the upcoming bowl games, Texas only made a small hop to 38th.

It wasn’t all bad though, either–let’s not forget the role he played in David Ash’s early-season success. Although it may seem ridiculous to Texas fans now, there was a time earlier this very season when Ash was being compared to the likes of Landry Jones and Geno Smith. His name was even dropped in the Heisman discussion (who cares if it was in Week 6?). Ash was looking like Texas’ guy: he threw for 17 touchdowns this season, as compared to his meager four TDs last year, and his completion percentage jumped from 57 to 68. Now that we know exactly what Ash is (and isn’t) capable of, it’s fair to give some of that credit to Harsin’s play-calling. It was just starting to click.

All the more reason that Harsin’s departure blindsided ‘Horns fans, who are struggling to understand just why he would leave Texas for Arkansas State. Perhaps Harsin mistakenly thought he was interviewing for the Arkansas job. Maybe that’s wishful thinking. Maybe it’s just a coping mechanism. The truth is, if he were leaving for a marquee job, it’d make this bitter pill a little bit easier to swallow.

The only consolation is the fact that former Texas quarterback and fan favorite Major Applewhite will take up the mantle of play-caller. Applewhite was Harsin’s co-coordinator during his two years at UT, and with Harsin’s exit, the gradual process of handing Applewhite the offensive reins appears to be complete. Wide receivers coach Darrell Wyatt will be elevated to co-offensive coordinator, but Applewhite will be the one calling the plays, beginning with the Valero Alamo Bowl on Dec. 29.

Most will be sad to see Harsin go so soon, but such is the nature of the beast. Worthy assistant coaches rarely stay with one program for too long, and Harsin was clearly eager to break into “head coach land.” Texas fans are just a bit bewildered at the move because he wasn’t exactly phenomenal here (not to mention, he’s leaving for the Sun Belt Conference).

Mack Brown, for his part, was  appreciative and congratulatory. “Bryan has done a tremendous job for us, and we appreciate all the energy he’s poured into our program the past two seasons,” Brown said in a prepared statement. “He’s a bright young coach with great enthusiasm and passion for the kids and the game. He’ll do a tremendous job at Arkansas State.”

So Coach Brown is taking it well, but some of his fans still aren’t. Whether you feel relieved or betrayed that Harsin is leaving, the one simple, incontrovertible truth is that he was just the next assistant coach in line to move on to another job… and now he’s gone. All we can do is trudge forward, put our faith in Major Applewhite, and hope that he can help Mack Brown right this ship that is Texas Football.

Photo courtesy of UT Athletics


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