MERIDIAN — Never in his life has Boise State football coach Bryan Harsin been told not to work for two weeks.
Not only that, he won’t get paid.
Harsin, most of his assistant coaches and others in the athletic department including men’s basketball coach Leon Rice and women’s basketball coach Gordy Presnell will be forced to take 10 unpaid furlough days before July 31 as part of a university-wide plan to cover budget shortfalls stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Speaking at a Crush the Curve Idaho event in Meridian, Harsin addressed the furloughs for the first time since Boise State president Dr. Marlene Tromp announced last week that all full-time faculty and staff would be required to take anywhere from 4-10 furlough days this summer, depending on their salary.
“It’s new,” Harsin said. “It took me a minute. I had to go back to my business class days and look up furlough and remember exactly what that was. But it’s part of it. You see reductions, cuts, other things like that, and it’s what we felt like we had to do as a university.
“I wasn’t part of the decisions and that’s for the people that look at the entire budget and our university and what we have to do, but if this helps us, then we’re all about it.”
Harsin is the highest-paid state employee with a base salary of 1,596,154. His weekly pay breaks down to $30,695.26, which means he’ll be out more than $60,000 for the two unpaid weeks.
The other assistant coaches, depending on their salaries, will lose about $10,000 for 10 furlough days.
“Every one of our coaches, when we talked to them, they understood it,” Harsin said. “You don’t always have to agree when you are on a team, but you understand it and you go forward like that decision was your very own. That’s how our guys have operated so far.”
Not only do they lose pay, employees are not allowed to work or communicate on work-related matters with other employees while on furlough. That makes things particularly tough for coaches, who on a typical vacation would still be in communication with players, other coaches or recruits.
Harsin said they’ve already mapped out a schedule for the next few months to make sure multiple coaches are still working at all times. When it’s time for his 10 days off, associate head coach and tight ends coach Kent Riddle will assume the head coaching duties.
“We’ll stagger the days so this coach is on, we’ll elevate graduate assistants for that particular time, they will be the running backs coach, coach Riddle will be the head coach,” Harsin said. “We’ll make it work for us and we’ll make it a positive. We always do. There’s a schedule where it’s staggered so we have a certain number of coaches always on or off.
“At the end of the day we’re not ever going to not talk with our guys or handle situations with our players if they need something. We have other guys on staff that can help do that. If something comes up we need to have it covered. It’s really hard. Brad Larrondo has worked hard to put the schedule together that works for everybody and we think it’s pretty sound and it works for us. We’ll handle it and we’ll take that time and maximize it and then get back to work.”
Harsin admitted the situation is not ideal from a competitive standpoint. Boise State’s coaches are currently the only FBS program nationally that will be forced to not work for two weeks each this summer. Others took pay cuts, but won’t have to reduce hours.
“At the end of the day it’s tough to say these days you have to choose to not be working,” Harsin said. “That’s a hard thing to tell a coach or somebody on your staff, ‘these are the days you aren’t working,’ but that’s how we’re going to operate. Get things done ahead of time.”
One benefit could be the rare time off, which Harsin hopes his coaches take advantage of to recharge their batteries for the 2020 season.
“If you do it the right way, that’s some personal time and you are coming back better,” Harsin said. “A lot of this time now with our families, we should be taking advantage of that. We’ll be back to our 80-, 90-hour work weeks when the season begins, so take advantage of your own development.”
Tromp wrote in an email to employees that the university was facing an immediate $10 million cash crunch due to canceled events on campus over the summer. The furloughs aren’t expected to come close to covering that total, but will help cut into it.
She also warned another round of furloughs could be necessary in the future, but was hopeful being proactive would keep them from having to do anything this drastic again.
“I know this, we support our university and it’s important to us,” Harsin said. “We know there are tough times right now and a lot of questions still ahead of us, so here we are. How do we get answers and more information and start making decisions so we don’t have to go through these things again.”
Boise State typically has players on campus for summer school and workouts during June and most of July. That likely won’t happen due to the social distancing guidelines in place, but coaches are still conducting virtual meetings and sessions with players on video platforms such as Zoom.
Fall camp would typically start around Aug. 1, and the season opener against Georgia Southern is currently set for Sept. 5 at Albertsons Stadium.