Unlike the previous hires of Auburn women’s basketball head coaches since the sport has been played at the SEC and NCAA level, Johnnie Harris takes over the program without any experience as a head coach. Whether that proves to be an issue remains to be seen, but without a doubt she has experience in solving what is the program’s number one issue.
If Auburn is going to be competitive in the Southeastern Conference, the Tigers need to sign better players and do a better job of retaining them. That was a real issue with Terri Williams-Flournoy’s program and a major factor in why the team didn’t win a single league game this past season, the first time that has ever happened to the Tigers in women’s hoops.
On the plus side of the hire, Harris has a well-deserved reputation of identifying and being able to sign high-level prospects. She was involved in recruiting and coaching the players on Texas A&M’s roster who won a national championship.
Additionally, she was an integral part of Mississippi State’s program going from one of the bottom teams in the SEC to one of the most successful in the country while assisting Vic Schaefer. Harris and Schaefer made the move to the University of Texas for the 2020-21 season and led the Longhorns to a surprisingly good finish with a trip to the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight.
Another plus is her extensive experience in the SEC. Harris was an assistant coach at Arkansas from 2004-07 and at Texas A&M from 2007-12. Before becoming associate head coach at Texas, she held the same title at Mississippi State from 2012-20, helping the Bulldogs reach two Final Fours.
There will be no learning curve for Harris to navigate when it comes to preparing her team to play in the league. After talking to her on that subject, I have little doubt she knows what it will take to be successful as a head coach in the SEC.
From the notebook
• Early in the outdoor track and field season another Auburn distance runner is performing well, following in the footsteps of record-setting junior Joyce Kimeli’s indoor season performances. Competing at the Florida Relays, Presley Weems set AU records in the 800 meters as well as the 1500. The senior from Hoover High is the daughter of former Auburn basketball star Lance Weems.
• Ten members of Auburn’s No. 1 ranked equestrian team have received either first team or second team All-American honors heading into next week’s national meet at Waco, Texas. The group combined for a dozen All-American awards, which equals last year’s total to tie for the second most ever by a team behind the 19 won by the 2019 Auburn national championship squad.
• One of the pleasant surprises for the 2020 Auburn football team was that freshman Jeremiah Wright did a solid job at defensive tackle despite being signed to play on the offensive line. Unfortunately for the new coaching staff, the sophomore from Selma High suffered the first major injury (ACL) of the Bryan Harsin era, something that will hamper the depth on the defensive line this season.
• On the health front, baseball starting pitcher Jack Owen was finally able to make his first start of the season and was impressive vs. Arkansas. If the Tigers are going to put themselves in position to make a return trip to the NCAA Tournament, getting the senior lefty performing at a high level will likely be a key part of making that happen.
Mark Murphy is the editor of Inside the Auburn Tigers magazine and newsletter.