JONESBORO — Arkansas State has its man.
And the foundation for the Boise State plan has been poured.
Bryan Harsin, one of the architects for one of the nation’s most successful college football programs over the past decade, was introduced as the new Arkansas State football coach in front of a packed crowd during a press conference at the Convocation Center on Wednesday afternoon.
Harsin spent a decade as a player and assistant coach at Boise State, helping build the Broncos into a Bowl Championship Series program that captured the nation’s attention. He spent the last two seasons at the University of Texas as co-offensive coordinator, where his duties included play calling and coached quarterbacks.
Now, Harsin is Arkansas State’s new boss at a time when the program is poised to capitalize on the momentum of back-to-back Sun Belt Conference championships. The idea is to duplicate Boise State’s success, and there’s no one better than a Boise State guy to do.
Harsin appeared more than comfortable as ASU’s new and 29th football coach, taking the podium and repeating a phrase that brought a standing ovation from those in attendance.
“Let me just say this first: Howl yes!” Harsin said. “What a tremendous honor it is to be the head football coach at Arkansas State. I feel like this is an opportunity that I have prepared myself for a long, long time. And, I didn’t know it was going to feel this good.”
Harsin was a finalist for the 2009 Broyles Award which honors the nation’s top assistant coach, the same award that departing ASU coach Gus Malzahn won in 2010. He has been tutored, molded and shaped by two of the most respected names in college football: Boise State coach Chris Petersen and Texas coach Mack Brown.
In all, he brings seven seasons as an offensive coordinator from Boise State and Texas to a school that has been an offensive powerhouse in the Sun Belt two years running.
It’s that Boise State pedigree that he says has shaped him. It’s that pedigree he plans to employ into ASU’s program.
“Having spent the amount of time at Boise State, I understand the blueprint that we used there,” Harsin said. “That’s part of my fabric and growing as a coach and, really, the beliefs that I’ve developed over time in my coaching philosophy come from Boise State.”
Arkansas State System President Chuck Welch, Chancellor Dr. Tim Hudson and Athletic Director Terry Mohajir conducted the search over seven days after Malzahn bolted for Auburn on Dec. 4. Mojahir was the leader of the search, and conducted three in-person interviews and more than 20 phone interviews during the process.
But a meeting in Austin, Texas, with Harsin at an executive airport produced the gut feeling among all three that Harsin was the right person to lead Arkansas State into the future — a future they hope produces Top 25 rankings, more postseason play, bigger bowls and appearances in BCS bowls as well.
The things Harsin shared during their conversations — his past with Boise State, his mentoring by Petersen and Brown, and his idea for what Arkansas State can become — sold the ASU brass he was their man.
“We’ve talked about finding people that can build programs. I wanted to find a guy that’s been to the top and I wanted to find a guy that knows how to build,” Mohajir said. “Our coach has seen the top of the mountain, but he’s also seen the way up to the mountain. And, believe me, the view from the climb, or the way up, is a lot more rewarding.”
Harnis signed a letter of agreement for a 5-year deal on Tuesday night.
He’ll earn $700,000 annually in all, which includes the state line-item maximum of approximately $160,000 with the remainder supplemented by the Red Wolf Club personal service contract. One of the extras the school will provide is housing owned and maintained by the university.
Harsin becomes the fourth coach in four years and third new hire in three at ASU, a turnover unheard of in college football.
It was that kind of upheaval that had Arkansas State officials concerned most about whom to hire when entering their search. They don’t seem to have any worries now.
“One of the things that we like about Brian Harsin is his commitment to long-term development, and we’re pretty confident that we’ve got the right guy at the right time,” Hudson said.
A buyout clause, much stiffer than previous contacts with former ASU coaches Hugh Freeze or Malzahn, begins at $1.75 million after the first year and reduces in subsequent years to $1 million, $500,000, $300,000 and $100,000, respectively.
As focal point of the search committee was the group wanted a coach that would promise stability and offer the chance to sustain its momentum of success. Freeze bolted after one year on the job for Ole Miss and Malzahn was gone after one year for Auburn after each won SBC titles.
When asked about one-and-done coaches that seek big dollars over long-term stability, Harsin settled the nerves of administrators and supporters. He appears committed in a different way than his predecessors.
“You can look at my track record at Boise State and you can see there were opportunities,” Harsin said. “I think my track record speaks for itself, number one. Number two, I am all about the process and I am all about the opportunity to build and continue the success and have a chance to sustain that and be a part of something.”