Missed catch by receiver

Wide receiver Ja'Varrius Johnson is unable to catch an overthrown pass against Georgia State

Auburn coach Bryan Harsin took bold action after the Tigers’ poor showing against Georgia State last weekend, firing wide receiver coach Cornelius Williams on Sunday, a surprising move just four games into his first season leading the team.

The receivers for the Tigers have shown struggles with getting open and dropping passes through the first four games of the season, which has been marked so far by inconsistency on offense.

“There was obviously a decision made that I felt like that was what we needed,” Harsin said. “And it's not ideal, I understand that. I don't take that lightly; you know, it impacts a lot of things."

Harsin also added that it was the first time that he has fired a coach this early 

into a season.

Williams was hired back in January to be a part of Harsin’s staff after spending the previous six years in the same position at Troy University. Now, just four games into the 2021 season, the receivers have struggled to get separation against defenders and catch passes. Saturday’s inept offensive output in the first half was the final straw.

“It was just what I felt like we needed to do over time that was going to be something that I feel like can help us as we move forward in that room and at that position,” said Harsin about the firing of Williams.

The lack of explosive and dynamic plays on the offensive side of the ball was evident on Saturday against Georgia State. Receivers were dropping passes or being overthrown all game. It took 59 minutes and 15 seconds for the Tigers to score an offensive touchdown in a game that saw touchdowns on both defense and special teams. Auburn should have routed the Panthers, instead it took a last-minute touchdown pass from T.J. Finley to complete the comeback win. 

Through four games, the Tigers' offense has only managed 11 passing plays of 20 or more yards and four of 30 or more yards.

As a replacement for Williams, Harsin has promoted a former assistant from his time at Boise State, with Eric Kiesau joining the coaching staff after serving as an offensive analyst to open the season. Kiesau was the offensive coordinator under Harsin in 2020 and has prior experience as a receivers coach as well, coaching the position from 2017-2019. 

“One of the things is he's a very good teacher,” Harsin said. “He understands what we want to do, he understands how we want to do it and he understands why we're doing what we're doing.”

Kiesau was hired back in February to be a part of Auburn’s support staff under Harsin. The new receivers coach has now coached the same position for 14 seasons at six different schools. The 48-year-old also won a national championship with Alabama in 2015 as an analyst. 

“I think he's a good technician, and he's a very good coach. He's very detailed,” Harsin said. “That would be the one thing I would describe him as — he's a very detailed coach. He has a plan, he has a vision, he has things that I know we’ll do at the wide receiver position that will help us improve.”

Harsin finished by saying how Williams was not fired as a means of sending a message to the rest of the team.

“It's about people, and you know it's about things that I felt like we needed to do,” Harsin said. But it's really about the whole idea that this program was built off of — it’s that we continue to get better.”

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