Harrison's John Herrington goes for the all-time coaching record Friday against Berkley
Farmington Hills – Spend a day around the Farmington Hills Harrison football team and coach John Herrington and this week will seem like any other game week that Herrington has taken part in in his 48 years of coaching.
But this week is far from ordinary for the Hawks and their legendary head coach.
On Friday night Herrington will be in search of his 431st career win, which would make him the winningest coach in Michigan High School Athletic Association history, passing Birmingham Brother Rice’s Al Fracassa.
Harrison (5-2) will host Berkley (1-6) in an Oakland Activities Association White Division game at 7 p.m.
But even as Herrington is on the verge of making history, his mentality remains the same as it’s ever been, focusing on the fact that Friday’s game would secure the Hawks their sixth win of the season and a playoff berth.
“That’s the way we’ve always been,” he said. “All of the coaches contribute to all of this success and I’m getting all of these accolades, it’s kind of embarrassing sometimes to tell you the truth. It’s nice and everything, but we’re looking at this season and where we can go and we think we have a team that can make a run at the playoffs.”
While Herrington is not focusing too much on closing in on the all-time wins record, his players have been driven all season in their attempt to get their head coach to win No. 431.
Harrison star linebacker-receiver and senior captain Ovie Oghoufo admitted that he thinks he and his teammates will be even more excited than Herrington will be when he breaks the record. He also said that the players were moved after Herrington’s record tying win last Friday night.
“It would be nice,” he said. “I think we would even take it more than he’ll take it. When they gave him the tying banner, we took it to heart a lot more than they did.”
John O’Connor, another senior captain, agreed with Oghoufo sand added that he and his teammates not only want to get their coach the milestone win, but they also want to be a part of his legacy as well.
“The players want to get it for him for how much he does for us,” he said. “We want to be the team that gets the win record for him, we want to be that team, so that would be cool thing too.”
When Herrington first arrived at Harrison in 1970, the Hawks suffered losing seasons in two out of the program’s first three. Harrison has had just three losing seasons since.
Herrington’s overall record is 430-107-1 and he’s guided the Hawks to 17 state finals and a Michigan High School Athletic Association record 13 state championships. That’s three more than Detroit Catholic Central's Tom Mach and four more than Fracassa won at Brother Rice.
Herrington, 76, said that he never would have imagined having the success nor the longevity that he’s had coaching high school football.
“I would have said no way,” Herrington said with a laugh. “Our first (Pontiac) Silverdome appearance that we made, we got in in ’76, and I told my dad we got to the state finals and we lost and I said that if every team gets their chance, we won’t be there for another 50 years and we got there 16 or 17 times. I never had any expectations, back then I was just looking to win the Western Six that we were in, trying to win the league.”
Before tying Fracassa’s record last week, Herrington had the opportunity to sit down and talk with his longtime friend and the coach he said he looked up to in the early stages of his coaching career.
Herrington said that he enjoyed having the opportunity to speak with Fracassa about the game that the two coaches achieved so much success in during their careers. He said that he and the legendary Brother Rice coach discussed the fact that their passion for coaching goes beyond wins and losses.
“It was great. Al and I have been friends since we coached in the All-Star game together back in 1980,” he said. “He’s a little older than me, so when I was a young coach, I looked up to him and everything with the way he ran his program and I just told him that it’s not really about the wins, it’s about what the kids think of you and his kids have always thought of him as a great father figure – I know it’s a cliché and all of that, but that’s what makes you feel good. He said all records are made to be broken, so there’s no animosity about it, but I did tell him that we would have broken it a long time ago if we hadn’t lost to him six out of eight times.”
That mentality that both coaches had throughout their illustrious careers is what made them so beloved by their players over the years and why the Harrison players are so driven to get their coach that record-breaking win, which could happen soon.
“It really just shows his selflessness. He puts his ego aside for us,” Harrison senior captain Chris Rexroth said. “Just what they’ve done for us, they’ve always put us first and we know he’s saying that stuff to keep us motivated for the season, but deep down, he wants it. But he loves us and we love him back for that.”
Though Herrington is considered one of the all-time great high school coaches in history, the impact he has made on his players and those around him goes beyond football.
“Personally, what I got out of him was not even football,” Oghoufo said. “Throughout his years at Harrison, he showed determination, he instilled in me determination. He could have gone to so many different places throughout his career here and he turned it down just to continue to build this high school program. That’s something that I want to do later on in life is continue to be determined in what I love and not be affected by the outside sources.”
Harrison is scheduled to close following the 2018-19 school year and Herrington will finish his tenure at Harrison as the school’s first and only football coach. In addition to the record, state titles and wins, Herrington’s legacy will include the positive impact he’s made on his players, assistant coaches and others associated with the school.
Though the next milestone draws nearer, Herrington anticipates that this Friday will be like hundreds of others.
“It’ll be like every Friday, I guess,” Herrington said. “My routine will be the same and we’ll come in and I don’t think much will change, we’ll just try to beat Berkley. It won’t be any different, I don’t think too much about the other things around it. We all have little jobs that we do and we all do the same thing on game day.”