Auburn’s February investigation of football coach Bryan Harsin revived a generations-old issue: the school’s reputation for being heavily involved in athletics personnel decisions.
The most famous Auburn booster of this generation, Trustee Jimmy Rane, claims he played no role in the internal investigation that nearly fired Harsin after his first season, or in future decisions.
“Trustees don’t hire and fire football coaches. We hire presidents and fire them. So I’m not aware of any role that the trustees played in this,” Rane told the Montgomery Advertiser, before his foundation’s annual charity golf event kicked off at a Thursday night banquet in downtown Montgomery. “I think there were questions that the administration had, and (former Auburn President Jay Gogue) is the kind of president who wants facts. He will conduct thorough investigations. And that was providential management. Certainly not the trustees.”
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Beset by Auburn’s longstanding reputation, Rane dismissed the notion of boosters meddling in the affairs of the athletics department backstage.
“I don’t know how to help people with their perception,” he said. “All I know are facts. And there are enough rumors that people can make up anything they want to make up, but facts speak for themselves and that’s the way things are done.”
Rane serves on the Auburn Board of Trustees, representing District 3 of Alabama, the southeast corner. Nicknamed “Yella Fella” for the character he played in his timber company’s television commercials, he lives in Abbeville and has served on the board of directors of his alma mater since 1999. As of 2019, he was the richest man in Alabama with a net worth of $950 million.
The Trustees’ new presidential nominee, former engineering school dean Chris Roberts, began his term on Monday. He succeeds Gogue, who acknowledged during a February 4 board of trustees meeting that Auburn was trying to separate fact from fiction about Harsin. At the end of a week-long investigation, Gogue announced that Harsin had been detained.
The situation was widely viewed as an attempted coup to banish a coach who, according to ESPN and other reports, was never the preferred candidate outside of Auburn’s athletics department.
In the aftermath, Harsin is surrounded by scrutiny as he tries to recover from Auburn’s first losing season since 2012.
Rane, asked Thursday about his belief in Harsin’s future at Auburn, said: “I wish him all the success in the world. I hope he wins every game he plays. It’s a tough league. It’s a tough job for anyone but I certainly wish him the best.”
When spring exercises began in March, Harsin said he wasn’t bitter about almost being fired. The former Boise State coach was asked if there was more “treason” out there waiting for him: “I’m not looking for it,” he said.
The February inquest came as Gogue had a foot out and an uncertain future began to loom for athletics director Allen Greene, whose contract expires on January 31, 2023. Greene reportedly hired Harsin in 2020, despite an outside push for defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, and the AD’s voice was absent from the investigation process.
“Trustees don’t hire athletic directors either,” Rane said when asked about Greene’s future beyond the end of his contract. “…So that would be a decision that Chris Roberts would make, whether he wanted it or not — this is a brand new administration, and historically presidents hire their own cabinets. your own people. So I would say he has his choice of whether he chooses to keep Allen or whether he wants to make a new change… And that would be correct. It would be like a soccer coach hiring his own assistant coaches.