SMITH COLUMN: Remembering Bob Harrison

Published 9:30 am Tuesday, May 3, 2022

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