No clarity for Auburn coach Bryan Harsin after meeting with officials running investigation into football program, sources say

Auburn coach Bryan Harsin met with the officials running the school's inquiry into the football program on Wednesday night, sources told ESPN.

Upon Harsin's return to the country from his previously scheduled vacation on Wednesday, Harsin's meeting included speaking with Henry Gimenez, the lawyer specializing in the collegiate sports space from the Birmingham-based firm Lightfoot, Franklin and White. Sources have told ESPN that Gimenez has been a key part of the outside counsel assisting Auburn's inquiry.

The meeting, according to sources, was relatively benign and included questions about staff and players who have left the program. No clarity was given at the conclusion of the meeting, other than Harsin carrying on his duties as coach and attending Thursday morning's annual in-person SEC head coach meetings in Birmingham.

Harsin declined comment at the meetings, as ambiguity continues to hang over his tenure and the program's future. Nearly one week has passed since outgoing Auburn president Jay Gogue declared that the school was attempting to "separate fact from fiction" in the football program and would make the "appropriate decision" about the program's future.

Harsin carrying on as Auburn's coach in a formal capacity leaves Auburn's university leadership and board of trustees at an awkward crossroads. So far, nothing has arisen publicly that would appear to give Auburn reason to fire Harsin for cause. The decision on Harsin's future, ESPN has learned, will not come from the school's athletic department, and board members have become increasingly frustrated that nothing has emerged from the inquiry and that the limbo the football program has been stuck in has persisted this long without a resolution.

That leaves Auburn with difficult options. It has to either fire Harsin and pay him $18.3 million in buyout money or risk the program diving into a downward spiral induced by the administration publicly undercutting Harsin's tenure the past week.

If Harsin is to return -- his vehement preference in an ESPN interview last week -- there are numerous obstacles awaiting from this inquiry. Harsin would potentially struggle to fill out his coaching staff, including an open offensive coordinator job. Higher-level administrators would not sign off on Harsin offering any new contracts to assistants before he left on vacation, sources told ESPN. It would also be difficult to recruit, as the administration's inquiry has cast Harsin's future as tenuous.

The choice for Auburn officials is to eat the money and further embarrassment or sputter through the next few months and still owe Harsin nearly $15 million if they decide to fire him in the fall. That would likely mean months of recruiting atrophy and the program sliding further behind rivals like Alabama and Georgia.