Auburn University acknowledged Monday that the school is making expanded inquiries into the tenure of football coach Bryan Harsin.
In a statement that doesn't mention Harsin by name, the university said it is "collecting information from a variety of perspectives, including our student-athletes."
This extends the awkward limbo of Harsin's future at Auburn, three days after the outgoing school president, Jay Gogue, acknowledged the school was preparing to make the "appropriate decision" on Harsin's future.
Since then, both sides in this most unusual faceoff appear to be digging in. Auburn's inquiries have included questions as to why 20 players and five coaches have left the program after Harsin went 6-7 in his first season.
Harsin has characterized any attacks on his character to ESPN as "bulls---." His acknowledgement that he plans to return to his job is a window into where he stands.
Harsin is out of the country on a previously scheduled vacation and slated to return Wednesday. SEC head coaches are slated to meet in person in Birmingham, Alabama, on Thursday, which would potentially be Harsin's first formal public appearance upon return from his vacation.
The player interviews mentioned in the statement appear to be the latest step in Auburn's inquiry into Harsin, as Gogue has said the school is trying to separate fact from fiction.
Auburn has also been interviewing current assistant coaches and staffers about Harsin, sources have told ESPN. Some of those interviews took place Sunday and others were expected to spill over into Monday. The coaches and staffers were asked about some alleged issues that have arisen during Harsin's tenure, with the idea of drilling in on what's factual, per sources.
Auburn has used outside legal counsel in at least some of these interviews, which includes an outside firm Auburn has used previously, Lightfoot, Franklin & White, and an attorney there, Henry Gimenez, who specializes in collegiate sports.
The inquiry into Harsin is being run by university administration outside of the school's athletic department, as this is being viewed as an overall institutional decision and not one under the purview of the athletic department.
Current and former Auburn players have taken to social media to alternately defend and criticize Harsin. The school said in the statement: "We do not make institutional decisions based on social media posts or media headlines."
Harsin's statements to ESPN have been resolute in his defense, and he has lashed back at what he has viewed as attacks on his character.
What's at stake is both Harsin's immediate coaching future at Auburn and, potentially, the $18.3 million owed to him for the five years remaining on his contract. Harsin would be owed $9.15 million within the next month, and the rest to be paid out in quarterly payments starting on July 15 over the following year.
The more time that passes, the more difficult it is to envision a seamless return for Harsin. He's struggled with getting clarity from school officials about staff salaries, including for the open offensive coordinator position. The longer the school looks into Harsin and leaves him in limbo, the more difficult both recruiting and staff hires will become.
Among the five coaches who've left Harsin's staff are veteran offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, who was fired; defensive coordinator Derek Mason, who left for Oklahoma State; and new offensive coordinator Austin Davis resigning for "personal reasons" nearly six weeks after being hired in December to replace Bobo. Mason chose to go to Oklahoma State despite taking a $400,000 drop in salary, a source told ESPN, confirming a report by the Oklahoma State student newspaper.
Harsin, 45, went 69-19 over seven seasons at Boise State before taking the Auburn job in December 2020. The Tigers started the season 6-2 before a five-game losing streak to close the season.
ESPN's Chris Low contributed to this report.