Bryan Harsin had been to Auburn before he was introduced as the football program’s 28th coach on Thursday. Before he replaced Gus Malzahn with the Tigers, Harsin replaced him as coach at Arkansas State. He coached the Red Wolves at Jordan-Hare Stadium in 2013.
But that’s not his only connection to Auburn. In April 2019, about 20 months before he would even begin thinking about becoming the coach of the Tigers, he met Bo Jackson.
In Boise, Idaho, of all places.
Harsin was the coach at Boise State for seven seasons, leading the Broncos to a 69-19 record, six division titles and three Mountain West championships. He got word from his running backs coach, Lee Marks, that the Auburn legend was in town on business.
“He said, ‘Hey if Bo Jackson could come in here and talk to our team, you think we should do that?’” Harsin said. “I said, ‘If you can do that we’ll talk about what’s next for you.’”
Marks made it happen. It was April 8, 2019. Harsin remembers it because he’ll never forget it – he had a picture of Jackson in a Raiders uniform on his screen in the Boise State football facility. They met in Harsin’s office and spoke for 15-20 minutes before heading toward the team room.
Harsin said they first showed players of many of Jackson’s incredible highlights – college and pro, football and baseball – before turning the lights on so they could see he was standing in front of them.
“They knew exactly who Bo Jackson was,” Harsin said, “and he had their attention.”
Jackson began with a little small talk, then pulled out his wallet. He asked the Broncos players, “Who’s the fastest guy in the room?” John Hightower, now a wide receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles, raised his hand. Jackson told him, “I can beat you.”
“You could have heard a pin drop in there,” Harsin said. “Because I believed him. And John’s up there, like, you might beat me, you know, and, and then he put it back. He put his wallet away there and said he’s just kidding.”
Harsin said he thought Jackson might talk to the team for 20 minutes. He was there for about 80, and it was “one of the most incredible experiences that our players have had with a guest speaker coming in.”
When he was done talking, Jackson went to the white board behind him and wrote, “Do something better today than you did yesterday.” Harsin wrote, “Do not erase” next to it. He referenced it in every team meeting from then on.
Boise State went 12-1 the next season.
“It was very simple,” Harsin said. “It was concise, it was to the point. And he made it very clear if you’re not the ultimate competitor, and this is not what you want to be, probably not the place you need to be. So I didn’t know it then. But I know it now.”
Josh Vitale is the Auburn beat writer for the Montgomery Advertiser. You can follow him on Twitter at @JoshVitale. To reach him by email, click here.