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The VMI grad gave up a good-paying job to coach at his alma mater, where he now runs the defense.
Chuck Steenburgh | VMI
VMI defensive coordinator Greg Harris talks to his squad at the end of Saturday's scrimmage at Foster Stadium.
Saturday, April 27, 2013
LEXINGTON — While to outsiders it may sound like some sort of covert operation, Greg Harris has quietly assumed the role of main man in charge of the defense for VMI’s football team.
“Yeah, we try to keep things on the down low here,’’ said Harris, breaking into laughter following the Keydets’ final spring scrimmage Saturday at Foster Stadium.
In a move that never has been publicly announced by the school, Harris was named VMI’s defensive coordinator shortly after Jeff Farrington left the program to take the head coaching position at Division II North Greenville [S.C.] University on Feb. 7.
Harris is certainly no stranger to VMI. The former Keydet tight end was hired by ex-VMI head coach Jim Reid in 2007. Harris, 39, was retained by Reid’s successor, current boss Sparky Woods, in 2008 and has served the past five seasons as the team’s outside linebackers coach.
Defensive coordinator. It’s pretty strong stuff for a guy who never coached football before being brought on staff by Reid six years ago.
Despite making big money in the business world after graduating from VMI in 1997, Harris was bored with his construction parts sales job with Hughes Supply, Inc., which later was later bought out by Home Depot.
“I did underground utilities,’’ said Harris, whose new position — as of this moment — is no longer undercover to the vast majority. “It was boring compared to this, absolutely. I wouldn’t trade this. That’s one of the reasons I made the career change.
“At our level, I was certainly making a lot more money doing that. But if you’re not excited to get up in the morning and go to work, I think you’ve to look at yourself in the mirror and ask: ‘Are you doing the right thing?’
“That was important to me and my family. We couldn’t be happier here in Lexington and I love these kids and coaches. It’s a great school. It would be even better if we would win. But it’s a great school and we do have some special kids, and I think that’s why I probably enjoy it so much.’’
It was basically a no-brainer for Woods in the wake of Farrington bolting after one season.
“Greg has been here since I came,’’ Woods said. “And every time I’ve given him anything to do he’s done it really well. I have great respect for him and I know that nobody can be more of a tireless worker than he is. And he’s all about VMI. He’s one of the better recruiters we’ve got. He gave up a life outside of coaching to come here and pay to coach, really.”
Harris has been learning on the fly since he returned to post, where he was previously best known for being a three-year starter in Bill Stewart’s two-tight end alignment that helped running back Thomas Haskins set a new Division I-AA [now FCS] career rushing mark.
“It’s been a whirlwind experience, that’s for sure,’’ Harris said. “My wife [Lorrie] and I talked about it. We have two kids. About seven years ago, I decided I wanted to make a career change and I wanted to get into athletics. I looked at different avenues, thought about athletic directing, and in a roundabout way, I looked at football operations.
“What I found out was when I started applying for jobs was you’ve got to have coaching experience. And I thought, ‘well, I’m in my early 30s and where am I going to get coaching experience now?’”
When he heard that Reid had an opening, Harris applied. Though he had no experience, Reid hired him anyway.
“I thought what a better place — my wife is from Rockbridge County — and to come back to my alma mater,’’ Harris said. “I understood the time demands. I knew the crunch on a family so I wanted to make sure that we came here with my wife in a good situation with her family being in the area. And they would be a support system for her with the hours that we put in on this job.
“So I came here with Coach Reid. I looked at the situation and said, ‘well, he’s got a five-year contract and everything should be good.’ And then he left after my first year and I thought, ‘oh, what did I do?’ I had just sold my house, I quit my job and took this at restricted rates and coaches out there know what that payscale is.”
Now, he has the task of amping up a defense that allowed 31.9 points and 406.4 yards per game last season.
So far, so good. The players relate to a guy who went through all the rigors and demands of playing football at the military school.
“See he’s played here so he understands our whole team just as much as we do,’’ senior linebacker Wes Reber said. “He played on this field and everything. We’ve got the same defense pretty much, just changed the terminology.
“So we’ve been able to play real fast this whole spring and it’s been really good. We’ve put in a whole bunch of more stuff. We’re definitely more physical. We’re looking really, really good in the secondary. That side has really showed up, so has the D-line, everybody.”
When jokingly asked if he told Harris at some point that he was crazy cashing a high-dollar sales job to get into the coaching game, Woods smiled and replied: “We’ve got two or three engineers on our staff, so, yeah, we ain’t too smart. People like to coach football, love football, so. He had an opportunity to do that here with us and Greg is that way. He’s all about VMI. He’s been a perfect fit.”
A week after senior starting quarterback Eric Kordenbrock was 12-for-13 passing for 179 yards and two touchdowns, the defense was stronger in Saturday’s 60-play scrimmage. Alex James, Miller Williams and Michael Smith each had interceptions. Kordenbrock was 6-for-17 for 120 yards and an interception. Redshirt freshmen QBs Hayden Alford and John Burton were a combined 7-for-18 with two picks. ... Wideout James Rogers had four receptions for 100 yards. ... Linebacker William Hyman led the defense with 3 1⁄2 tackles, including a tackle for loss. ... VMI will close spring drills with practices on Monday and Wednesday.
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