AUBURN, Ala. — Charlie Harbison's title now reads "interim defensive coordinator." As these situations always dictate, that means Harbison has been tasked with merely holding down the fort until the Outback Bowl concludes.
This means any Auburn fan hoping to see the unit undergo wholesale changes by the time the Tigers take the field Jan. 1 will be bitterly disappointed. For at least one more game, Ellis Johnson's much-maligned 4-2-5 scheme will be used.
If nothing else, it has made things easier for the players.
"They’re a simple offense, so you want to keep it simple," junior cornerback Jonathan Jones said of Wisconsin's offense. "It’s a bowl game, so you have to expect different things from them. So you want to keep (defensive formations as) simple as you can.”
Harbison's steady hand helps in this regard.
"He’s been here, everybody knows him," Jones said. "It’s not like anything different. It’s just same old, same old.”
Of course, that's not what those who support the program want to hear. "Same old, same old" implies there won't be much difference with a unit that was shredded in the second half of the season, allowing 30-plus points in its final six conference contests.
Johnathan Ford assures things will be different by the time New Year's Day arrives, though. As evidence, he points to the past week of practices.
"We're picking up and just making sure we get our assignments right and get lined up," the sophomore safety said. "We picked up our intensity a whole lot."
Though he's now wearing the "interim" tag, Harbison had "defensive coordinator" beside his name well before Johnson was fired Nov. 30. In addition to coaching the Tigers' safeties, he was also listed as the "co-defensive coordinator" along with Johnson.
Whether he'll be back next year is still uncertain. In a post-practice interview Friday, coach Gus Malzahn said he hasn't sat down with newly-hired coordinator Will Muschamp to discuss the future of the defensive staff.
"We're just trying to give these guys the best plan to win the bowl game," Malzahn said. "We'll talk about that at a later date."
Players felt the same way. All that matters right now is winning the bowl game. And the option that gives them the best chance at beating the Badgers, the team believes, is sticking with the 4-2-5 for one more game.
Aside from the newfound energy that has come with Muschamp keeping a close watch on practice, and Kris Frost said everything else is business as usual.
As the junior linebacker tells it, a casual observer would hardly know Harbison was now in charge of the defense instead of his predecessor and good friend.
"It's really not much different at all, to be honest. The intensity and the urgency of practice is higher, because obviously we have a new coordinator. Just the feel of practice is quicker, more intense," he said. "But other than that, it's pretty much the same stuff. We're going into this game just polishing things up, making sure that we do everything we can to have everyone in line when it comes time to play."