Harsin Is An Enigma, A Riddle, But Mostly A Success Story


HENDERSON, Nev. — In 42 days, Boise State football coach Bryan Harsin will not celebrate the 20-year anniversary of the only touchdown pass he threw as a backup quarterback for the Broncos.

It’s not his style.

What is Harsin’s style?

What’s it like inside Harsin’s head?

Who exactly is Bryan Harsin, a proud Boise native and the state’s highest paid employee, and what makes him tick to the tune of at least $1.55 million a year?

Nearly 20 years after that TD pass against UCLA in the Rose Bowl, we’re still getting to know a man, a local prep star who joined the local university football team, who grew up to be loved by many, questioned by others and ignored by a few.

Loved by many … such as senior left guard John Molchon, who has 29 career starts at Boise State, the most of anyone on the team.

“He’s just the type of guy who likes to handle his business, and likes to have people aligned a certain way, with a certain winning culture, and that’s why I’m on board,’’ Molchon said Wednesday at Mountain West Media Days outside Las Vegas. “He makes it really simple and really precise. He’s focused, he wakes up and has an intent for every minute of the day.’’

Questioned by others … mostly social media goons and wacked-out fans with unrealistic Chris Petersen expectations … despite winning 52 games in five years — after following the legendary Petersen.

Ignored by a few … such as league media and Mountain West coaches who collectively have never given Harsin coach of the year honors, despite those 52 wins, a Fiesta Bowl title and two league championships.

So, back to the basic questions of the day …

Who is Bryan Harsin: “I’m really, to the core, just a blue-collar person,’’ he said Wednesday.

What’s inside his head: “That sounds dangerous.’’

And what about never winning that coach of the year award: “I don’t know, and to be honest with you, I really don’t care,’’ he said, gruffly noting that his issue is with the voting process and the award should be given to the coach who wins the league championship. Right now, voting takes place before the final game.

So, based on that logic, he should have won it twice, right?

“Absolutely, absolutely,’’ he said with a smile.

Yes, Harsin’s style includes a nice touch of healthy ego, which helps when it comes to dealing with the naysayers, those vocal minorities who still question his success, the way he conducts his business, the way he loses to the wrong teams or doesn’t qualify for the right bowl game.

“I understand expectations and I understand that people have opinions. I have opinions and that’s the beauty of society, we all have opinions,’’ he said.

Mostly, though, while chasing Harsin around for multiple Media Days interviews, I was curious as to what makes the man tick.

The answer is simple, he said: good people, strong motivating leaders and coaches who have touched his life — Dan Hawkins, Dirk Koetter, Mark Helfrich, Petersen, Mack Brown, Dabo Swinney, not to mention numerous assistant coaches, his wife and three children.

“One thing about him, he’s really selfless and he does a really good job of collecting information from people who have done things in this profession. It’s impressive to watch,’’ Molchon said.

As Harsin scurries to conduct his daily business, he said one of the critical details he’s learned from mentors is to slow down and take some extra time, especially when it comes to players. That’s how you build a culture, he believes, by developing relationships and connecting with people.

Winning isn’t always about Xs and Os.

“There are times during the day where you’re going, going, going, and you have a lot on your plate, and there’s a player outside your office hovering,’’ Harsin said. “You know they want to talk to you about something. You can sit down, say ‘What do you got, let’s hurry this thing up,’ or you can slow down and sit back because that might be the most important conversation that you and that person ever have. And it can change everything.

“I don’t take that for granted and I try to think about that with the position I’m in now because I think about myself as a player 20 years ago, and as a coach, and I think about our players right now.’’

The kid from Capital High has grown up to sit on the other side of the desk, and 20 years after that TD pass in the Rose Bowl, the now-42-year-old Harsin is proud to be the leader of Boise State football. It’s a dream job, an important job, but he also still thinks of himself as a player, another endearing quality. As a former quarterback, he’s been known to show up at practice with a compression sleeve on his right throwing arm, just so he can chuck the ball around The Blue.

“He wears that shooter’s sleeve, but I’m not going to say he can’t throw the football,’’ Molchon jokes.

Said Harsin: “I wear the sleeve not because I want to, but because my arm actually hurts. That’s not the funny part — he’s going to find that out when he gets older.’’

Harsin also runs decks at Albertsons Stadium — he flew back from Vegas late Wednesday night and had a deck session planned with players first thing Thursday morning. And he obviously hits the weightroom, and admits he might be stronger now than when he was a backup quarterback.

“As a former player, you’re getting older, but you never lose that competitive side. That never changes,’’ he said.

Bottom line: Harsin has grown into a man, all in the public spotlight, and has engineered himself a nice, successful career. Because of his blue-collar style, he’s a strong fit for this community and for this football program.

Harsin speaks of changes, but like him or not, one detail may never change as he enters his sixth season as head coach of the Broncos: Don’t be surprised if he sticks at Boise State for life.

Inside Harsin’s head, that could very well be his style.

Mike Prater is the Idaho Press sports columnist and co-hosts Idaho Sports Talk on KTIK 93.1 FM The Ticket every Monday-Friday from 3-6 p.m. He can be found on Twitter @MikeFPrater and can be reached at mikefprater@gmail.com. Prater’s opinions are his own.