Farmington Hills Harrison coach John Herrington speaks from the podium during the OAA media day Aug. 3 at Rochester High. Boasting 435 total victories and 13 state titles, Herrington will coach his final season, as Harrison is set to close after the school year.

Farmington Hills Harrison coach John Herrington speaks from the podium during the OAA media day Aug. 3 at Rochester High. Boasting 435 total victories and 13 state titles, Herrington will coach his final season, as Harrison is set to close after the school year.

Photo by Erin Sanchez

Host of head coaches hail Herrington

By: Timothy Pontzer | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published August 9, 2018


FARMINGTON HILLS — Like most, John Herrington only has 10 fingers.

This presents a problem. The owner of a state-best 13 state championship rings, Herrington can’t showcase all the success he’s had in his career.

This isn’t an issue for Herrington. Notoriously humble despite rewriting the record books during a half-century on the sidelines, the longtime Farmington Hills Harrison football coach tends to downplay his accomplishments.

Instead, his fellow coaches praised the first and only coach in Hawks history.

One by one, they shared stories and accolades from the podium of the Oakland Activities Association media day Aug. 3 at Rochester High. Many lamented the fact that Harrison will close its doors at the end of the school year, sending students to nearby North Farmington and Farmington High.

“It’s a little embarrassing, to be honest. One or two coaches say something, so I think they all felt like they had to say something,” Herrington said. “They certainly didn’t have to do that, but I do appreciate it.”

West Bloomfield coach Ron Bellamy quoted a Chicago legend to describe the coaching legend.

“Walter Payton said, ‘When you’re good at something, you’ll tell everyone. When you’re great at something, they’ll tell you.’ That is Coach Herrington exactly,” Bellamy said. “He’s such a humble guy. He doesn’t talk much about the success he’s had. I haven’t met a better man in the coaching ranks than him.”

Now in his 10th year leading the Lakers, Bellamy credited Herrington with his initial start in the OAA.

“When I got into this, he was the very first person I reached out to. I knew he had a wealth of knowledge,” Bellamy said. “I’ve always heard how he was willing to help new coaches. He did that so much and more. He invited me out to practices, and I’ve had many dinners with him, just picking his brain. He has meant so much to me.”

Troy High coach Chris Frasier referenced the practice invites as a perfect example of Herrington’s willingness to aid coaches.

“(Former Troy) coach (Gary) Griffith is really good friends with him. I was on Griffith’s staff and knew (Herrington) through Griffith,” Frasier said. “He would invite us out to practices, especially when we weren’t in the playoffs. He always was willing to teach, no matter who you are. Even if you’re some little guy from Troy, he was willing to talk and genuinely wants to help. That’s rare.”

North Farmington coach Robert Chiesa recalled a unique first meeting with Herrington where he was also offered aid.

“I ran into him at a Staples one day when I was an assistant,” Chiesa said. “He told me that anytime I wanted to sit down and talk football, he’d give me his playbook. He’s one of a kind.”

Birmingham Seaholm coach Jim DeWald said the same thing.

“He’s a very humble man that’s willing to help and just lend his ear to anybody,” DeWald said. “The state and all of high school football is going to sorely miss him.”

Auburn Hills Avondale coach Ed Couturier has known Herrington for four decades.

“I met him 40 years ago, and what’s incredible is that he hasn’t changed a bit,” Couturier said. “The success hasn’t affected him. He’s in this for the right reasons. He preaches the right things in terms of discipline and behavior, and his kids always show that. A lot of us just try to emulate him with what he stands for.”

Rochester Adams coach Tony Patritto echoed that thought.

“A guy that’s won 13 state championships could be a much different kind of person,” Patritto said. “He’s never changed despite all of those wins. His level of humility has always been the same, and I think that’s important for the kids to see.”

Birmingham Groves coach Brendan Flaherty agreed.

“Herrington is the best,” Flaherty said. “It’s nice when you have a legend in the state that’s at a public school. He’s just such a good, humble man. As much as he’s successful, he’s just a great guy.”

Rochester High coach Erik Vernon believes Herrington sets the standard for the entire OAA.

“First of all, he’s a class act. As a young coach trying to figure out how I want my program to be looked at, he’s the standard bearer, without question,” Vernon said. “His kids play hard and the right way. He’s always helping other coaches, and he sets the tone for the league. He knows he’s good, but he carries himself in a way that doesn’t boast. I’ve been very blessed to know him.”

Herrington’s legacy crosses over league lines. Helming one of the top squads in the Macomb Area Conference, Utica Eisenhower skipper Chris Smith regrets that he never earned an opportunity to coach against Herrington.

Smith’s only battle with Herrington came as a player at Clinton Township Clintondale in a 1990 playoff affair. Smith’s junior season ended as Harrison won in the final minute.    

“I remember that even back then, we knew we were facing a force. That was close to 30 years ago, and by then he was already well-known,” Smith said. “Since then, he has certainly added to that. But you can’t find a nicer guy. He would go and help anybody. He’s all about building the sport of football. It’s a shame that the school is closing with all that he’s done and built there.”

Some of the top coaches in the Catholic High School League also shared their sentiments.

“Coach Herrington is a very good man. His presence and leadership is unparalleled,” Birmingham Brother Rice coach Adam Korzeniewski said during the Catholic League media day July 31. “I know a lot of people that have played for him, and they absolutely love him. That’s all I need to know about him. I’m sorry the school is closing, but I wish him the best of luck. What he’s accomplished there is legendary.”

Warren De La Salle coach Mike Giannone shared a story off the gridiron that he believes showcases the greatness of Herrington.

“I was at a softball clinic at Wayne State that was put on by Alan Trammell and Lance Parrish. In walks Herrington and he asks for the ball,” Giannone said. “He just starts bringing it. We’re all amazed, but apparently he was a great fast-pitch guy back in the day. He had a rise, drop, change and curve, and nobody could hit him. He’s just a coach; he doesn’t care what the sport is. That’s what I love about him the most.”

Giannone also praised the way Herrington treats his staff.    

“The way he is with his assistants is unbelievable. They would do anything for him,” Giannone said. “At the same time, a lot of times when a coach sticks around that long, many will say he’s just a figurehead and the assistants are calling the plays. Absolutely not the case with him. He knows everything that’s going on. I’ve asked him about specific plays before. At practices he’s demonstrating what blocks to use and how to properly run something. What is he, 74? That’s incredible. He’s a legend who deserves the attention, but never demands it.”

Herrington is actually 77. He’s cognizant of this when he considers the age of some of his initial players.

“I started coaching over at North Farmington when I was 21. Some of the kids were 17 or 18, so now some of my players are running around at 75. That’s scary,” Herrington said with a laugh.

After leaving his JV post at North Farmington for the varsity gig at Harrison, Herrington’s 435 total victories rank first in the history of the state. His 18 state title game appearances also hold a record, with the 13 wins offering quite a collection of jewelry.

“You certainly can’t wear more than one at a time. I like to wear this one — it’s the most ostentatious and biggest one,” Herrington said while gesturing to a large ring earned after the 2010 Division 2 championship. “It’s perfect for when I play blackjack. People will ask if I won a Super Bowl and I’ll say yeah. Then I don’t have to tell them about all the other wins.”