ATLANTA -- Auburn coach Bryan Harsin opened his SEC media days news conference Thursday in part by addressing the investigation into the Tigers football program from February.
"There was an inquiry," Harsin said. "It was uncomfortable. It was unfounded. It presented an opportunity for people to personally attack me, my family and also our program. And it didn't work."
The university investigated the football program after an exodus of players and assistant coaches. The defections came after Auburn started the 2021 season 6-2 before dropping their last five games of the season to finish 6-7. Harsin was hired at Auburn in December 2020 after seven years at Boise State. He replaced Gus Malzahn, who was fired after the 2020 season and received a buyout of $21.45 million.
"I mean, you go back, and I don't think even in our own division we weren't the team that lost the most players," Harsin said. "That's not mentioned, whether that's relevant or not, just, it is what it is. Coaching changes happen, and we brought in new players."
Harsin added that he felt people underestimated the challenge of coming into the job during the COVID-19 pandemic, which he says made the transition more difficult.
"The first team meeting was in the indoor facility with the swamp coolers on 6 feet apart, everybody wearing masks and nobody could hear anything," he said. "And you're trying to bring this energy and enthusiasm, and it was a bad environment. And we had to meet over in the business building, and there was a lot of things that didn't allow us to come in right away and establish."
Auburn tight end John Samuel Shenker said, "When he came in, he has one way of doing things, [and] he was successful where he was before. So when you have a guy that's that successful, it's just buy in and see what lies on the other side. And last year we didn't fully buy in.
"We had guys that were very singular, individual, and those guys are gone now. And now we have a lot of guys that are bought in to what we are doing and what Coach Harsin wants us to do. And I think that's all that matters."
Current and former Auburn players took to social media in early February 2021 to both defend and criticize Harsin, prompting the university to say in a statement: "We do not make institutional decisions based on social media posts or media headlines."
"It was a week," Harsin said. "And like I said, it was something that nobody wants to go through and they were able to open the doors and attack me and our players and everybody else and our program, and it didn't work.
"So at the end of the day, let's move on. What do we got to do to help these guys get better? Because they have a short amount of time to achieve their goals and dreams."
The program's culture has changed from two years ago to now, Shenker said. "Last year was kind of a wall, it's in the middle, but now it's really changed in a way that is so much better for Auburn that you can't really explain it really well," he said. You have to kind of see it day-to-day to understand that."
Auburn opens the 2022 season at home against Mercer on Sept. 3.