Bryan Harsin and his program were well aware of the noise surrounding the program this offseason. At its peak, it was deafening.
But they believe it strengthened those who remained inside the building.
“From the outside looking in, you’d probably think the house was on fire,” said linebacker Owen Pappoe, a three-year starter who’s returning from an injury-plagued 2021 season. “But honestly, man, we’ve been fine. Just trying to control what we can control. Rumors are rumors. People will go online and say whatever, but all that matters is what we have going on inside.”
Defensive coordinator Derek Mason left for a pay cut to do the same job at Oklahoma State. Harsin fired offensive coordinator Mike Bobo after the season, and his replacement, Austin Davis, resigned after six weeks.
Around 20 players found their way into the transfer portal. Some former players criticized Harsin on social media just after the Tigers signed zero players on National Signing Day in February, with UCF-bound defensive tackle Lee Hunter saying Harsin treated players “like dogs” and NFL-bound defensive back Smoke Monday saying Harsin “don’t understand kids that come from nothing.”
Salacious rumors surfaced, and before spring began, Harsin’s job status was in doubt amid a university investigation.
“I always expected to continue. I never had any indication that I wouldn’t. I know there were a lot of things that played out on social media that were unfounded and really unfair. But that’s social media, right? And once that died down, the mob kind of moved on to their next victims, and that’s kind of how life is nowadays with some of those things,” Harsin said. “Unfortunately, our players had to go through that. The guys who came back and chose to be a part of our team, those dudes are working their ass off. They’re putting in the time and doing what they’re asked to do.”
While some former players criticized Harsin, others like Derick Hall, Eku Leota, Tank Bigsby, John Samuel Shenker, Chandler Wooten and Pappoe publicly came to Harsin’s defense, posting on social media in support of their head coach.
“Some of what took place, I wanted to make clear the players are doing what they can, and they knew it. That’s why they stood up. That’s why the support and the conviction for the things happening in this program were so powerful,” Harsin said. “I couldn’t be more proud of how our players handled it. When leadership is needed, provide it. You’re going to find out in times of adversity who steps up and who is able to do that, and our guys did that. That’s exactly what our guys did. They didn’t shy away from it. They know a lot of the information out there is inaccurate, it’s not true. We have good players, they work hard, care and want to be here. They got a taste of misinformation and how that type of stuff is unfounded. It was good to see our guys in those situations take advantage of the opportunity to stand up and lead.”