Jim Harris’ All-Access: Bryan Harsin Hasn’t Wavered From A-State Message Despite Start


First-year Arkansas State head football coach Bryan Harsin didn’t drop any bombshells and didn’t really provide a lot of tantalizing Twitter material during his session before the Little Rock Touchdown Club on Monday. Except for having to explain last Tuesday’s 23-7 home loss to Louisiana-Lafayette, the team’s first setback in Sun Belt Conference play, and a promise that everyone would see more from flashy Pulaski Academy product Fredi Knighten, it sounded an awful lot like what we heard form Harsin two months ago, before the Red Wolves began the season with a 62-11 trouncing of Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

There’s much to be excited about around A-State and Jonesboro, Harsin said, and the future looks bright physically around the ASU athletic plant with the work being done on a spacious new complex that was put into motion last year when Gus Malzahn was calling the football shots for the Red Wolves. A new $5 million press box will take the place of the ancient structure that has sat atop the west stands of ASU Stadium since it opened in 1971 1974, and Harsin said it would be something special — though some program insiders said there are no actual drawings in place for it yet.

We don’t even know what will be in place when national signing date comes around for Harsin and his program, though it’s clear from this season he needs more players both to operate his offensive style he learned at Boise State and to man the defensive side to slow down opponents.

That seems to be a standard refrain with a lot of Arkansas D-I programs these days.

ASU is 3-4 and is about to embark on a 5-game stretch over as many weeks, starting with a road trip to the familiar stadium in Mobile, Ala., home of South Alabama as well as the GoDaddy.com Bowl, where the Red Wolves have competed the past two years in the post-season. Harsin asknowledged the team currently may not control its destiny in the league race, but it can control the results of the next five games and finish an at-best 6-1 in the league. However, the up-and-down performance of the first two months probably doesn’t warrant such expectation.

Arkansas State hasn’t lost four games since Steve Roberts’ final season in Jonesboro, preceding the hiring of Hugh Freeze, who went 10-2 in the regular season. When Freeze immediately jumped to Ole Miss before the GoDaddy.com Bowl (which ASU lost), Gus Malzahn stepped in the next fall and repeated the Sun Belt Conference title run and won 9 games.

Then Malzahn was gone, too, before the bowl game, which this time the Red Wolves won. Both Malzahn, at Auburn, and Freeze with the Rebels have had terrific success for their surroundings early in their SEC head coaching careers after leaving Jonesboro.

It’s unfair to compare what ASU did the past two years with Harsin’s first season: His roster is the product of recruiting while the program changed head coaches four times. He also doesn’t have the experienced quarterbacking of Ryan Aplin, who was the two-time Sun Belt player of the year in those two league title-winning seasons.

Adam Kennedy has been serviceable, but he’s no Aplin. The offense hasn’t always kept the defense off the field, and last week provided the perfect example of what’s wrong with ASU when the Red Wolves punted from midfield, down 16 points, with more than 10 minutes left in the game against Louisiana and never touched the ball again.

Fans clamored last week for Knighten to enter the game and give some spark to the offense. Truth is, nobody is more popular in any team (unless it’s the current Arkansas Razorbacks) than the backup quarterback.

“I expect a lot from [Knighten] now,” Harsin promised the crowd, and he didn’t just mean taking some snaps at quarterback. Harsin said they would get the generously listed 5-foot-11, 189-pound Knighten involved somewhere, and they had to.

“He’s one of our top five guys that needs to touch the football,” Harsin said. “We have to figure out how.”

Later, Harsin opened up more when he met with several local media (print and TV) after the luncheon. He said he exchanges texts with his former boss, Texas head coach Mack Brown, each week, and Brown was quick to message his former offensive coordinator words of encouragement after last Tuesday’s home loss to Louisiana. Harsin who sung the praise of Brown both during the luncheon and afterward about what a “great gentleman” Brown is, said he was happy with the Big 12-leading Longhorns’ turnaround this season.

Harsin was also frank about the ASU defensive shortcomings. While noseguard Ryan Carrethers had an amazing 16 tackles against ULL, the Ragin’ Cajuns took advantage of ASU’s run-coverage deficiences on the outside at linebacker and in the secondary, and the tackling was not up to par.

Harsin acknowledged that Tuesday games aren’t ideal, but having any TV exposure is, and he understands why the Sun Belt has its exclusive ESPN2 slot. One positive is the additional time off it gave the players and coaches this past week; coaches took advantage to get out and see prospects.

South Alabama, which gave SEC opponent Tennessee a struggle before falling late, has “played everyone close,” Harsin said. He expects the same type of challenge from the Jaguars this weekend and hopes his club understands that USA will be in the ballgame for 60 minutes.

The Boise, Idaho-native got his first real taste of the fickle Arkansas fall weather Monday, and his plans to fly to Little Rock for the speaking engagement were scuttled by the fog that covered much of the area in the morning. So Harsin and a group of ASU athletic officials hopped in an SUV, with sports information director Jerry Scott behind the wheel, for the two-plus-hour drive, which included the coach having to call into a radio show. He said the trip “was like a National Lampoon movie. All that was missing was Chevy Chase.”

It was good to know the coach hadn’t lost his sense of humor despite the lack of consistency from his team on the field.

The entire media question and answer session is available below.

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