Herrington alone on top with win No. 431

By: Mike Moore | Farmington Press | Published October 17, 2017

 Moments after the win, John Herrington was presented with the game ball by his team in celebration for his 431st career victory.

Moments after the win, John Herrington was presented with the game ball by his team in celebration for his 431st career victory.

Photo by Donna Agusti

FARMINGTON HILLS — He entered the night as one of the best.

He exited as the greatest ever.

When the Farmington Hills Harrison football team pulled what some considered an upset of Oak Park High last weekend, Oct. 13 officially became a day that would live in MHSAA infamy.

Sure, nothing was guaranteed.

Yes, games are played on the field and not decided by a team’s record at any given moment.

But when John Herrington led his Hawks to a 17-14 victory over Oak Park on Oct. 6, this warm and clear Friday night in Farmington Hills became destined for the history books.

And by 9:15 p.m., without a hint of drama, a revision was made and a new name stood alone.

“It’s great,” Herrington said ever so simply after his team beat Berkley High at home 39-0. The win pushed Herrington’s career victory total to 431, one better than former Royal Oak Shrine and Birmingham Brother Rice legend Al Fracassa. “The best part is seeng all these guys back here to celebrate, guys from the ’70s and so on. It’s pretty special.”

“This is very special to be a part of,” senior quarterback Noah Hendricks said. “To know our 2017 team won it for him, it’s going to mean something to him, but it’s always going to mean something to us.”


The clincher

Everyone expected Harrison to roll past Berkley.

After all, the Bears were a team that snuck past Farmington High 28-23 in the opener, but then lost six straight by a combined 34-216 score.

Still, the game had to be played, and Harrison left no doubt.

Sure, the Hawks, now 6-2, started a little slow, turning the ball over on each of their first two possessions.

But when Berkley couldn’t take advantage of the unhinged door, Harrison blew the roof off.

Roderick Heard scored on a 14-yard run to break the scoreless tie, and in the second, Hendricks officially shifted the Hawks into overdrive, scoring on a 73-yard run for a 15-0 lead.

Heard scored on a 17-yard run and then picked off a Berkley pass and returned it 27 yards for a 29-0 advantage.

A short field goal with just seconds remaining served as the exclamation point and a 32-0 lead at the break.

Ben Williams added the only score of the third for Harrison, a 42-yard run that put the running clock in motion.


Climb to the top

The outcome Friday night was as predictable as the attention it garnered, with numerous media outlets on sight, alumni from years past on hand, and an overflow crowd that was forced to park on hills, sidewalks and medians.

But Herrington becoming the winningest coach ever, well, that would have been tough to foresee.

He was a Waterford Township High graduate who wasn’t sure where his coaching career was headed when it began many decades ago.

He started at North Farmington, cutting his teeth at the junior varsity level for seven years before becoming the first, and only, football coach at Harrison in 1970.

That team went 3-4-1. In fact, two of Herrington’s first three seasons with the Hawks ended with losing records, and he admitted he wasn’t sure coaching was really for him.

But in 1974, the tide started to shift. Harrison went 8-1 that fall, 7-2 the next and 10-1 in 1976, reaching the Class A final before falling to Midland Dow 36-27.

Herrington’s impact was in full force: The Hawks were officially a football power in the state of Michigan.

The rest, quite literally, is history.

Herrington’s résumé is a littered with wins, championships and accolades. Now 431-106-1 overall, he’s won 91 playoff games, a record 13 state championships, six Western Six Conference championships, 15 Western Lakes Activities Association titles and seven Oakland Activities Association division championships, including in 2017, as his guys earned a share of the White Division crown with the win.

“It was the perfect storm after we beat Oak Park,” Herrington said. “If we hadn’t beat them, we’d be playing to tie (the record) and still wouldn’t have made the playoffs.”

For good measure, he’s been a state runner-up four different times. He was inducted into the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association in 1986, long before any of his current players were even born.


Alone on top

When Fracassa retired from Rice a few years ago, he did so as a three-time reigning champ and alone atop the MHSAA wins total for any coach ever.

But records are made to be broken, and Fracassa knew his No. 1 seed wouldn’t be long-lived.

“Just like I did, John’s had some great players, and when you have that, you’re going to win a lot of games,” Fracassa said with a laugh earlier this week. “But I’m so happy for him. I’m glad it’s him (to top me). He deserves it. I’ll be second, and that’s fine with me.”

It should be noted, however, that if weren’t for Fracassa, Herrington would have had this party a long time ago.

The Hawks coach was 2-6 all-time against Fracassa and his Warriors.

“We had some good battles and some good rivalries,” Fracassa said. “But after every game, it was a smile and a handshake. That’s a great guy, a hardworking coach. He has kids that played for him and love him. That’s not something you can buy.”

“If he hadn’t beaten me so bad, we could have done this party last year,” Herrington joked.

There’s more to the man than wins,  though, even if that’s what was highlighted Friday night.

“He’s more than a coach,” Hendricks said. “He cares about us on and off the field. I’ll always remember the day we did something special for him, because he’s always done something special for us.”

Herrington is an educator, a mentor, a players coach, as so many people described him.

Always one to deflect the spotlight, he couldn’t help but embrace it this time.

He was presented with the game ball, with the No. 431 already written on it.

Balloons soared, the band played, and family, friends and past players stormed the field for hugs and pictures and a simple pat on the back.

He entered the night as one of the best.

He exited as the greatest ever.

Now, as he has 431 times before, he’ll prepare for one more.