Benji Harrison is learning the ropes of what it takes to be a head coach. Harrison, the first-year football coach at Jackson County High, understands that being the man in charge is just as much organizational leadership as it is designing a winning gameday strategy.
He knows his new job will be a challenge. Jackson County hasn’t posted a winning record or reached the playoffs since 1992.
However, it’s a program that Harrison feels has a bright future. Last week, Harrison, who was an assistant coach at Flowery Branch the past four seasons, spoke to The Times about the influences that led him to coaching, the main priorities for the program during the summer and expectations for the team in 2012.
Question: How hectic has this first summer as a head football coach been?
Answer: It’s just been a busy summer. Getting things started the way you want them is always a challenge. It’s been a whirlwind of a summer with a lot going on. Every day, just from general program setup to actually training our players has been really busy, but also a lot of fun.
Q: Do you anticipate the hours you have to put in changing greatly now that you’re the head coach?
A: Well, it’s definitely going to be more time. As a coach, even as an assistant, we put in a lot of hours. I see it being more. You have to be available more as the head coach. Regardless, as a football coach there is a lot of time away from your own family and with other peoples’ kids. But we love what we do.
Q: What made you want to get into coaching after college?
A: I always knew I wanted to coach. Since I was little, I’ve been involved in sports. I played in high school (at Stephens County High) and really enjoyed it. I knew when I went to college and played, I knew it was going to be something I was going to stay around. I knew there wasn’t really any doubt when I went to college I was going to go into education and coach. I love the game and to be able to impact the kids outside of football. Getting to coach football gives you the best of both worlds: You get to stay around the game that meant so much to you, and at the same time, have an impact on the kids.
Q: Was there a coach who influenced you most along the way?
A: Yeah, there are so many coaches that influence you along the way. When you go back to high school, I think of (offensive line) coach (Brian) Johnson. He was just a guy that it meant so much to him. He’s still at Stephens County today. You knew he cared about you outside of football, and he’s always been someone I respected and looked up to a lot. I saw he always did it the right way. Coach (Jay) Russell (Stephens County) always had an impact on me and I still stay in touch with him. I had a lot of coaches in college that had an impact on me. It’s just been a lot of guys. You see how much time they poured into me, and hopefully I can have that impact on others.
Q: You were at Flowery Branch for some good seasons. What do you remember most about your time there?
A: Well, it was just a great experience. It was really special to get to coach for (former Falcons) coach (Lee) Shaw. I actually got to play for him my senior year of high school at Stephens County when he came with coach Russell and that staff. To coach with him meant a lot to me. He took a program from the ground up and turned it into something special. I learned a lot from him. He let me in on a lot of stuff and how to coach kids and get them all to buy in. I think that was huge for me. He let me in on a lot of stuff because he knew my goal was to be a head coach.
Q: What is your personality like in working with football players?
A: My personality is what the situation calls for. I feel like when I need to have a calm demeanor, I can do that. But when it’s time to get fired up and get the kids motivated, I can do that, too. I feel like I’m approachable with the kids and they are going to know that I care about them. For them to play for you in order to be successful, they have to know you care about them as an individual. I tell the kids that winning games is the business side of things, and everyone wants to see a winner. But on the other side, it’s about pouring into those kids personally, and hopefully when they leave the program, they’ll be better sons and better husbands or brothers when they leave. Obviously, we want the success. We preach and harp on that, and winning is always a goal. But at the end of the day, it’s got to be about more than that, or you’ve missed a great opportunity that we have as coaches to impact players.
Q: What interested you most in going after the job at Jackson County?
A: I think it’s the challenge of it. I think there are a lot of things in place that can lead to success. I talked to a lot of people. Obviously, the tradition is not where people would like it to be. But it’s the kind of place that if you do it the right way and get the kids sold out in believing, that it’s a place that was hungry for success and I think that with myself, the guys I brought with me and the guys that are already in place, that there’s a lot of potential. But potential doesn’t mean a lot unless you get out and work hard every day. To me, it was a great challenge and a great opportunity to change the way maybe they’ve done things. Not because the way they did things in the past were bad, or good, but do things in a way that I’ve learned from a good program and other programs I’ve had to hopefully put things in place that lead to success.
Q: Since you’ve spent 12 years as an assistant coach, what’s been the highlight of that time?
A: Well, obviously all of them have had their highlights along the way. Obviously, the run at Flowery Branch (2008) to the state title game my first year (at the school), and every year feeling like we were contenders to go deep into the playoffs. Going to the state championship was a very special year. There’s been a lot of things at Flowery Branch. Just being a part of a program where you felt the excitement in the community, school building and players. We played in a lot of big ball games and (were) able to win a lot of them. Those years at Flowery Branch really influenced me, and (it was) really important to go there and see a side where there was a lot of success, and see the things that build success there and hopefully bring them here.