The aim of this post is to highlight the similarities between the initial offseasons of Bryan Harsin and Andy Avalos when they were hired on Boise State. This is not a claim that one is better than the other or that Avalos’ tenure will be similar to that of Harsin’s, but instead just to explain this cycle has played out before and that the real difference between the two will play out on the field.
Harsin’s departure is similar to Pete leaving.
The similarities between Coach Harsin and Coach Avalos actually begin with the writing on the wall for the previous coach leaving. Both Chris Petersen in 2013 and Harsin in 2020 actually telegraphed their eventual departures in their last seasons at Boise State.
In Coach Petersen’s last season, in a fall camp press conference, he said something to the effect of “I used to think staying in one place and my son being able to go to the same school every year was something to be proud of. But on the other hand, maybe they need to move and learn new skills.” Boise State fans took that as Coach Pete wouldn’t be around forever, but they didn’t think it would be just a few months later. December came, and Petersen took the head coaching job at Washington.
Similarly, Coach Harsin alluded to his departure (whether intentionally or not) following the 2019 season. He was flirting was other jobs and came away with a healthy pay bump and a new contract. He made comments to the media to the effect of “I know Boise is a special place, and I am committed to being here as long as Boise State is committed to advancing the program and putting us in the best position to succeed.” Harsin’s comments were likely genuine, but also with a catch. The public emails between Coach Harsin and the university President and AD about being tired of being in the Mountain West and having to fight to honor scholarships and compete at the top of the conference in spending likely made it clear to Harsin that what he was looking for could not be given to him at Boise State any longer. So he left for Auburn this past December.
Winning the press conference
As for the similarities between Bryan Harsin and Andy Avalos after each coach was hired by Boise State, both of them started by winning the introductory press conference. Their ability to instill excitement and energy into the fanbase from day one is quite the skill they both possess.
Harsin: During his introductory press conference, he induced lots of laughs and rounds of applause as he praised his family and those close to him. He highlighted what makes Boise and Boise State special and highlights them as a national brand and how this is a big day for the program. He spoke about how he would link the past to the future with one of his catchphrases: we need to embrace the past and attack the future. Harsin spoke of treating every moment as 4th and 1, and the use of keywords and phrases rushed in a new and exciting era for the program.
Avalos: In his first public comments to the media after being hired, he was all smiles as he described how honored and humbled he was to be named head coach. He too mentioned the traditions and past success and more than once described how the football program is a brotherhood and a family that he wants to develop further. It was evident in every word he spoke how grateful he was for the opportunity and how relational he is with the people around him, and how genuinely he believes in developing better players and better people. The tone Avalos used conveyed both a return to the foundation of what makes Boise State special while leading the program forward.
Hype Videos in the offseason
Both coaches administered or oversaw the use of practice and workout clips that translated into hype videos. While this is used by many schools and is not necessarily something unique to either of them, it is something both of them used to inject life back into the program and the fanbase. At the end of disappointing seasons, both coaches left with either a deflated bowl game or passing on a bowl game altogether. Due to both of these situations, an emotional pick-me-up was needed. This was especially apparent in the transition from Petersen to Harsin, as social media was not used before Harsin got on campus.
A Strong recruiting presence
Both coaches had many months between their introduction and the first time they would take the field. One of the things both coaches did was fill that downtime with a dynamic presence on the recruiting trail.
Harin wasted no time at all, landing highly rated recruits in the class he inherited in 2014. After he was hired, Harsin and his staff secured commitments from four-stars Dylan Sumner-Gardner, Chase Blakley, and Jabril Frazier. While not all of them found success on the field, it was the start of a new era for Boise State, one where prized recruits were attainable. In Harsin’s first full class, he secured four-star QB Brett Rypien, demonstrating that their ability to recruit wasn’t just a flash in the pan.
Similarly, Avalos has made big splashes in recruiting in his first full class over the spring and summer. While he didn’t land the huge commits in the 2021 class, Avalos had landed some highly-rated recruits in the class of 2022. Avalos also landed a big-time QB commit in Katin Houser, although he couldn’t keep him as Houser decommitted. However, Houser committed in early April, which was the same timeframe that Rypien committed in his cycle (April 5th vs. April 1st). Despite not holding on to the four-star QB, Avalos had secured verbal pledges from high-profile recruits such as Kaeo Akana, Austin Terry, Zamondre Merriweather, Mason Graham, and Jayden Virgin. Thus far, Avalos has shown he can recruit at the same level Harsin was able to.
An exciting new offense
The last year (or two) or the Petersen era and the last season in the Harsin era both included stale, predictable offensive schemes. After losing two OCs in two straight years, Petersen turned to Robert Prince to lead the offense and transition to more of a no-huddle spread scheme. The result left a lot to be desired, as the personnel did not always fit the scheme and the play-calling was vanilla at best, which made it difficult to score against strong defenses. When Harsin came in, he brought Mike Sanford in as his OC, who was a bright young offensive mind at the time. Harsin and Sanford returned the offense to what fans were used to seeing; shifts and motions, wide-open receivers, and a healthy dose of trick plays. A new offense highlighted new life in a new era.
However, that new life did not last. While Harsin was a great offensive mind, the creativity did not last for the duration of his tenure. Part of it was likely due to having four different offensive coordinators in seven seasons (and five if co-OC Scott Huff is counted), and part of it may be growing complacent as the years went on. Against weaker teams, the play-calling was scaled back, possibly to limit scouting reports for future games. Against stronger teams, the offense tended to rely too much on star players, which made it easier for teams to defense. One of Avalos’ first hires was Tim Plough at his OC. Plough brings a dynamic offense from UC-Davis, one that is pass-heavy, spreads the ball, and is known for its quick tempo.
What does Boise State need to do to get back to its gold standard?
This is the question on the mind of every Boise State fan after a disappointing season in 2020. Here are a few things the Broncos need to do to return to form.
- Instill energy back into the way they play during games
- Be innovative on offense with excellent execution.
- Continue to raise the bar in recruiting but also prioritize player development with the players who are part of the program.
- Find a way to pay and keep top assistants rather than continue to lose them to other programs that pay better.
- Win the marquee games on the national stage that were staples of the Petersen era but seemed to elude the teams in the Harsin era.
What will this season and the Andy Avalos era look like? That is uncertain at this time. What is known is that the first off-season of the new coaching staff has followed a familiar blueprint.