Loran Smith: Bob Harrison quietly preached what he practiced

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Loran Smith: Bob Harrison quietly preached what he practiced

Loran Smith
Loran Smith

In one’s lifetime, many interesting people come your way, and for
those who are special, there are many positive adjectives that define
them. Perhaps, the most resounding trait of the good men you come to
know is that they are genuine.

There are plusses and minuses in the makeup of all mortals, but
when a man is truly genuine, that is, perhaps, the quality that is most
defining. Genuine men are good men. Genuine men are honest men.
Genuine men are giving and forgiving. Genuine men are selfless and
moved to extend a helping hand.

 

 

 

 

Bob Harrison, the longtime Bulldog assistant coach who ended his
career as a scout with the Atlanta Falcons was all of the above and more.
Dating back to the fifties, I have observed many Georgia assistant coaches
ply their trade and can remember those who were extraordinary and a few
who left no memory of consequence.

That genuineness that characterized Bob Harrison, who died last week, enabled him to teach kids the classic rudiments of the game of football, but, perhaps it paid off more consequentially when he went on the road recruiting. Two noteworthy examples of that came with visits with two former players who likely would not have enrolled at Georgia had they not been recruited by Harrison, who gave priority to getting to know them and their families.

With an annual trip to New York when Rodney Hampton played for
the Giants, I would find my way to Hampton’s locker after practices and
games. He volunteered that Harrison’s straight talk and honest demeanor
gave him confidence that he would enjoy running back opportunity without
any issues if he signed with UGA.

In 1987, Hampton gained 227 yards on 34 carries against Ole Miss in
Oxford and caught two passes, including one for a touchdown leading the
Bulldogs to a 31-14 victory. Ole Miss fought hard, but Hampton was the
difference. In the locker room following the game, someone commented
about the turning point in the game which prompted Coach Vince Dooley to
note that the turning point came “when Coach Harrison signed Hampton.”
Following his NFL career, Andre Hastings settled in Phoenix, and I
met him at his upscale condominium one sunny afternoon in late February.

 

 

 

 

The conversation was as pleasant as the weather. As soon as I turned on
my tape recorder, Hastings wanted to know if I ever saw Harrison. An affirmative response brought about a lengthy tribute—heartfelt emotion from player to coach—as genuine as the finest Italian leather.
At one point, Hastings dropped his head momentarily in reverential
tribute to the man whose sage advice and friendship had meant much to
him in his transcendent years—from high school to college.

Harrison had an insightful perspective about the game he loved. He
was a prescient coach whose analytical ability served him well wherever he
coached. For example, he, with wide exposure, enjoyed the beauty and
big play value of the passing game, but knew the significance of being able
to run the football.

His opinion of Vince Dooley and Dooley’s affection for running the
football was abundantly positive. It was a sound, fundamental concept that
featured many plusses, most of all that there was minimal risk and Dooley
ball never created stress for the defense.

“It doesn’t matter if you underscore the run or the pass,” Harrison
once said. “What matters is that you give priority to the fundamentals of
the game.” Most of all, he appreciated Dooley’s character. If the former
Bulldog head coach gave you his word, you could take it to the bank.

For years, I sat by Harrison in the Sanford Stadium press box for
Bulldog home games. He was as measured in conversation as a seasoned
professor whose expertise had been honed and practiced for a career.
Harrison’s economy of words, and his succinct analysis reflected studied
preparation and attention to detail. He appreciated the percentages of the
game of football—he never would have identified with a riverboat gambler
when game planning.

His memory will always bring about a lift in emotions when I think of
him. His football credentials were exceptional and so was his treatment of
the players who came his way.

Bob Harrison was a good man who did right by others because he
quietly preached what he practiced.

 

 

 

 

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Greg is closing in on 11 years writing about and photographing UGA sports. While often wrong and/or out of focus, it has been a long, strange trip full of fun and new friends.