Farmington Hills Harrison’s only football coach, John Herrington, finished his time with the Hawks with state records in wins and state championships. Pictured, Herrington is surrounded by players after breaking the state record for victories last season.

Farmington Hills Harrison’s only football coach, John Herrington, finished his time with the Hawks with state records in wins and state championships. Pictured, Herrington is surrounded by players after breaking the state record for victories last season.

File photo by Donna Agusti

Herrington, local coaches reflect on legacy left by Harrison football

By: Zachary Manning | Farmington Press | Published December 6, 2018


FARMINGTON HILLS — John Herrington has been at Farmington Hills Harrison from beginning to end.

He was there when the first brick was put down and will watch the school close its doors after the 2018-19 academic year is completed.

Herrington was the only coach to lead the Hawks football program, and that means a lot to him. Over his 49-year career, Herrington collected 13 state championships and 443 wins, which are both state records.

“I was so happy, I just never wanted to leave,” Herrington said. “I got a lot of good coaches that came in and good athletes, and we were able to build the program and kept it consistent for all 49 years. It meant a lot to me. It is my life, and I really loved the experience of coaching at Harrison. Never had a desire to go anywhere else.”

Herrington is proud of his accomplishments, but wins and records aren’t what he’ll remember most. He always enjoyed watching players come through his program and seeing how they developed and grew into young men.

Since the program’s initial season in 1970, Herrington worked to build relationships and develop a consistent program. He is proud of the program he was able to build and will cherish the memories he made along the way.

“It means a lot to me to leave a legacy there and to have the relationships I have with not only the players that played for me, but their parents. Some of those parents have become my very best friends. I guess that means the most to me, having the kids come back and saying how much it meant to them to play at Harrison,” Herrington said.

With Harrison shutting its doors, Herrington has no desire to coach anywhere else. However, he would like to stay around the game of football.

One of his assistants, Jon Herstein, is looking for a head coaching position, and Herrington threw out the idea of being a consultant, scouting or working in the press box for a program.

“I’m not excited about retiring at all. I’d rather do something with football,” he said. “I definitely want to be connected with football. Maybe help youth football in Farmington or something of that nature.”

Along with building relationships within his program, Herrington also made an impact on the lives of many coaches.


Ron Bellamy, West Bloomfield High football coach
“Coach Herrington is a great man, and he did a lot of great things for not only Harrison, but Michigan high school football,” Bellamy said. “He’s the greatest of all time. … You see the (Michigan High School Athletic Association), the first thing you think of when it comes to football is John Herrington.”

Bellamy, who has been with West Bloomfield for 10 years, approached Herrington when he first started with the Lakers.

“When I first started, I looked at him and said, ‘How can I build a program like Harrison?’ I used to attend their practices, sit down with coach, hang out with coach, just pick his brain,” Bellamy said. “Football’s a lot different now than it was when he first started at Harrison, and the one thing he said that was consistent is, ‘Be good to people and be in it for the right reasons.’”


Jim Sparks, Clawson High football coach
Sparks is another veteran coach who approached Herrington when his coaching career began.

As a young coach, I was somewhat nervous to meet (Herrington), as his reputation as one of the all-time greats was well-established. As it turns out, I had nothing to worry about, as Coach Herrington is one of the nicest men you will ever meet,” Sparks said. “From day one, he treated me as a peer and did everything in his power to help me as I was just starting my coaching career.

“Since that time, I am fortunate to call him a friend, and his friendship is one of the things I value most in my role of football coach.”

Sparks noted that Herrington’s passion and love for the game is evident whenever he’s around him.

“It is a shame that Harrison is closing, because high school football in Michigan is clearly better with Coach Herrington as a part of it,” Sparks said.


Scott Merchant, Clinton Township Chippewa Valley football coach
Fresh off a Division 1 state championship, Merchant remembers the time when he was on Albion College’s coaching staff. Part of his duties were to recruit in the metro Detroit area, and he recalled how Herrington treated him.

“I was coming from a small Division III school, and here’s a guy who’s won all these championships, and he’s got kids going to Michigan, Michigan State, all these Division I places, and still, he treated me just as if I was a big-time college coach,” Merchant said.

Merchant described Herrington as someone with an “amazing sense of humor” who is “very, very humble.”

“From my standpoint, he was great for the game of football,” Merchant said. “He was great, not only for the players that he coached, all the kids at Harrison and (the) community, but also for those of us that coached in the state of Michigan, and the coaching fraternity, because he set a great example for all of us. It’s sad that we won’t have (him) there next year.”


Brendan Flaherty, Birmingham Groves football coach
Flaherty credits his program’s success, which includes two state semifinal appearances in the last four years, to beating Harrison in the 2015 playoffs.

“This is just an analogy and the credit is to them; it’s not about us. But it’s kind of like when the Pistons beat the Celtics — it took them to another level,” Flaherty said. “Groves, until we could get a win against Harrison, we just weren’t the team we could be.”

Flaherty called Herrington a role model and an icon “you can’t replace.”

“He’s such a good guy and a great coach, but it’s like, ‘Boy, I’d like to be more like him.’ He’s inspiring,” Flaherty said.


Billy Keenist Jr., Troy Athens football coach
Keenist was on the other sideline, coaching Berkley High, when Herrington set the record for most wins in state history in 2017.

“I guess I’ll always have that little part of history, that I was the other coach when John Herrington broke the record,” Keenist said. “But it was a unique experience. I think the thing I’ll remember from it is the amount of respect that other coaches have for (him). Being a young coach myself, I do a lot more listening than I do talking and different things. And I just listen to what people say about (him), and it’s pretty incredible stuff.”


Al Gulick, Warren Woods Tower football coach
Gulick said he met Herrington when he was a young JV coach.

“He has always been easy to talk to and gain ideas from. In 2006 and again (in 2017), we played (Harrison) in the playoffs,” Gulick said, as the Hawks won both meetings. “Coach Herrington was a class guy. He turned out great programs and outstanding athletes year after year. Him retiring is truly the end of an era.”

Sports Writers Jason Carmel Davis, Jacob Herbert and Mark Vest contributed to this story.