In consecutive seasons, the Red Wolves have lost Hugh Freeze, Gus Malzahn, and now Harsin. Each time, the coach got a big raise and returned to a program where he had previously served as an assistant. And each time, he has bolted for those greener pastures as the team was preparing for the GoDaddy.com Bowl.
(The GoDaddy.com Bowl is cursed. This is the sixth consecutive season one of the teams involved lost its coach before the game.)
There are, presumably, a number of coaches with big-time dreams lining up to interview with the Red Wolves. Freeze parlayed a 10-2 regular season into the Ole Miss job. Malzahn went 9-3 before heading to Auburn, where he's now preparing to coach a BCS Title Game. Harsin's team was "only" 7-5, which is maybe why he couldn't land an SEC gig.
Don't think folks at Arkansas State haven't noticed the trend. Upon Harsin's hire, athletic director Terry Mohajir said it was important to find someone who would stick around for more than a single season. Words are nice, but binding contract language is nicer. From last December:
Mohajir was asked if Harsin's buyout was bigger than Malzahn's.
"Yes," Mohajir swiftly said with a smile.
"His reps tried to negotiate, but it wasn't negotiable," Mohajir happily stated.
This was actually a profitable little transaction for the school. Harsin's contract was to pay him $700,000 annually for five years. His early buyout? $1.75 million. Harsin essentially paid Arkansas State a million dollars for the right to coach one season. Not a bad business model for a non-AQ powerhouse.
For coaches, the Red Wolves job is like an unpaid internship. It'll cost you money in the short term, but just think of it as an audition for the job you actually want.