Heritage Academy football coach Sean Harrison led the Patriots to the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) Class AAA, District 2 title en route to a 10-3 finish. Photo by: Dispatch File Photo
December 22, 2018 10:55:33 PM
"Laid back" and "locked in" are two of the terms Tobias Smith uses to describe Sean Harrison.
Smith said the laid-back side to the Heritage Academy football coach can be seen in the hallways at the school, when Harrison talks to players and students.
The locked-in side comes more on Friday nights or after school at practice, when Harrison is trying to make a point or to get his players' attention.
Smith, who joined the football team's coaching staff prior to the 2018 season after coaching at Columbus High School, said Harrison's ability to balance the two approaches helps makes him successful.
"I have seen him get fired up on the sideline when things aren't going right, and I have seen him get fired up when things are going really well," Smith said. "He is a really good guy, and everybody around the program really respects him."
Heritage Academy went 4-0 to win the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) Class AAA, District 2 title en route to a 10-3 finish. It lost to eventual state champion Adams County Christian School 28-10 in the third round.
For his accomplishments, Harrison is The Dispatch's Small Schools All-Area Football Team Coach of the Year.
"It goes back to how fortunate I have been with teams," Harrison said. "I inherited a group my first year that was a great group of seniors -- a big class. Last year, we had a really young group, but a group that loved football, wanted to play, and wanted to get better each week. This year, they continued to build on that.
"I try to have a good relationship with my guys as far as I am a big proponent that football is the greatest game in the world because it can put you in adverse situations that no other sport or situation can before you go in the real world and face them, but I think it is important it is a high school game that is to be enjoyed. If you're not having fun doing it, why are you doing it? Life is too short to do something that makes you miserable, so we try to balance that and teaching adversity and hard work and work ethic and not making it their life and them understanding this is a very short time period and only a select few of them are going to get a chance to play after high school."
Smith said Harrison's ability to build trust with his players comes from the fact he shows them he cares. It might sound simple, but Smith, who played on the offensive line at Columbus High and at Mississippi State, said Harrison has helped instill a work ethic in his players that allowed the program to have one of its most successful seasons in recent memory.
"He talks to the guys from the time they walk in the door," Smith said. "He will say good morning to them or yell out the door good morning. He will tell them when they leave, 'I will see you later. Have a good night. That goes a long way with players because when you go home they may not be getting that. Coach Harrison always provides that, I think it pays dividends."
Heritage Academy senior Moak Griffin also praised Harrison's ability to balance his intensity and his desire to keep the game fun.
"I think he's a really good coach," Griffin said. "He's taught me a lot about the game of football.
"I think he's able to connect with his players and have relationships with them, and (he is) able to get his players to play for each other and lay it on the line."
Harrison said he felt he was tougher on the 2018 team than the 2017 squad because it was more experienced. He said he needs to keep changing because the program still hasn't reached the ultimate goal of winning a state title.
One of those changes was bringing on Tony Phinisey as an assistant coach. Phinisey helped with the Patriots' conditioning.
Harrison said another way he changed was to step back and to give his assistants more room to coach.
"This year probably my biggest change was letting my coaches coach and getting out of their way," Harrison said. "It was neat to see. I think the board and Dr. Carlyle and the administration have bee really good to me to allow me to bring these guys in. I think continuing to do that and to building on what we have started and finishing it (is the next step)."
Regardless of what happens in the future, Harrison will remain humble. He routinely credits opponents and opposing players leading up to and after games. He also has a self-deprecating sense of humor that shows he knows football has its place, even if he remains an intense coach who wants to win just as much as the rah-rah coach who slams clipboards and constantly honks his whistle at practice.
Harrison uses a different approach. He is more apt to put his arm around a player and talk to them about a play and offer encouragement or a piece of advice that will help produce a better result the next time. If needed, though, he will flip the switch and do what need to be done to motivate or to get his players back into line.
"I tell people all of the time I was 5-16 before I came here," Harrison said. "I didn't get here and figure out how to coach. I got a staff. I had some great guys down at Wayne, but they were on a pretty bad streak and I was a young coach. It better be my way or the highway because somebody has got to fix it, and that has definitely changed. Our Sundays no longer consist of me saying what we're going to do. It is me asking what do they want to do. The biggest change is having this quality staff around me and being able to step back."
"I think I became a better coach because my players were more ready physically and mentally," Harrison said. "I think the offseason program was huge. I think these kids buying in and showing up on Sundays when they're not told to. We didn't miss practice this year. We didn't complain at practice this year. I don't have a point of this year I can point to it was a really bad practice and we drew a line. I didn't have that. That has nothing to do with me as a coach. It has to do with this group. If you want to call me a better coach it is because of these kids and this staff."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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