Farmington Hills — John Herrington became the winningest coach in state history Friday, earning win No. 431 with Farmington Hills Harrison’s 39-0 victory over Berkley at the sports complex named in his honor to make the Homecoming game a special night.
The win was even more special than the record for Herrington since it clinched a state playoff appearance for Harrison (6-2) after his team missed postseason play a year ago.
Herrington, 76, entered the game tied with legendary Birmingham Brother Rice coach Al Fracassa, who had 430 wins before retiring following the 2013 season and three consecutive Division 2 state championships.
“It feels great and now that it’s done maybe we can concentrate on the team now,” Herrington said. “I thought about it, no question about it. Somebody’s been calling me every hour on the hour. Drew Stanton called me, people like that so I’ve thought about it. It’s nice to have it done.
“When I get home I’ll think about it (record) and get emotional. It’s fantastic when you see all the guys back, guys from the ‘70s over there. I think we’ll have a lot of fun tonight.”
After a rough start — interception on first series, fumble on second — Harrison regrouped to take a 32-0 halftime lead.
First, Rapana Filemu tackled a Berkley running back for a loss on third and 2, then Berkley’s punter fumbled bobbled the snap, giving Harrison a short field to work with at the 14. Roderick Heard scored on a 14-yard run on the first play and a 2-point conversion gave Harrison an 8-0 lead.
Quarterback Noah Hendricks scored on a 73-yard run to open a 15-0 lead with 8:13 left in the second quarter, and then Heard took over, scoring on a 17-yard run, then a 26-yard interception return within 1 minute, 5 seconds for a 29-0 cushion with 3:12 left in the half.
Herrington beamed when the topic of clinching the playoffs came up.
“That was awesome. A couple of weeks ago we weren’t sure if we’d make the playoffs and now we’re rolling into them and we think we can do some damage in the playoffs so I’m excited.”
Herrington got the game ball from Notre Dame-bound linebacker Ovie Oghoufo after the game.
“It’s beautiful, we just had to do it for him,” Oghoufo said. “He’s such a great guy and we just love him so much so I’m so happy that he got this. We got the shutout, too.”
Running back/defensive back Roderick Heard was on crutches following the game due to a right middle foot sprain, but said he would be back for next week’s game against Clarkston.
“It was a great win, big crowd, big atmosphere, shut them out and did what we wanted to do and did it all for Coach Herrington.”
Harrison will be closing its doors following the 2018-19 school year, but Herrington plans to add memories before that happens, including a share of the Oakland Activities Association White Division championship this season with a 6-1 record.
Herrington enjoyed his meeting with Fracassa last week.
“Al and I had a great confab, very nice and he (Fracassa) said all records are made to be broken and I said, ‘I don’t know if anyone’s going to coach 55 years again, but they may,’” Herrington joked.
It would take a long time for Herrington’s record to be broken, if ever. The lone coach currently capable of being in the conversation is 68-year-old Herb Brogan (337-83) of Jackson Lumen Christi, if he wouldn’t mind coaching for another decade.
Former players were thrilled to hear of Herrington’s record, including Arizona Cardinals quarterback Drew Stanton and John Miller.
Stanton played for Harrison when the program was in the midst of its longest winning streak (36) in program history (1999-2002), also at the same time Herrington’s wife, Fran, passed away in 2001.
Stanton’s generous donation led to a monument put in place at the stadium in Fran’s honor.
It would be safe to say that no player knew Herrington better than Miller, who was a ball boy at Harrison at age 7 in the mid-1970s and played all four years for Harrison in the early to mid-1980s before becoming an All-Big Ten first-team defensive back for the Spartans.
Miller and his three older brothers were all captains for Harrison.
“You know I can’t limit it to five,” Herrington said earlier this summer when asked to name the top five players that had played for him, “but Mill (Coleman), Drew and John Miller definitely are the top three. John Miller is probably one of the greatest man that I ever coached.”
Harrison has won 13 state championships in Herrington’s 48 years as head coach, the last coming in 2010 with Devin Funchess — now a receiver for the Carolina Panthers — on the team.
Miller played on Harrison’s first two state championship teams in 1981 and 1982 before moving on to Michigan State where he led the Spartans to a 17-11 victory over Michigan in 1987 with four interceptions and then to a Rose Bowl victory over Southern California.
And, Stanton played on Harrison’s state championship teams in 2000 and 2001 before moving on to play for the Spartans.
“It was great to be a part of the organization, I mean I was the ball boy growing up, and we became great family friends,” said Miller. “He was great friends with my mom and dad and as we matured through that, he became a big influence in my life and we’re talking outside of football. He spent a lot of time with us, whether it be in the summers on vacation or whether it be the classroom (where Herrington was a history teacher), it didn’t matter.
“He was a teacher for me personally. When I got there as a freshman, I can’t tell you the number of times he put his arm around me and said, ‘Listen you’re going to be on the varsity as a freshman. I know it can be stressful, it can be difficult, but I wouldn’t do that to you if I didn’t think you could handle it.’ That’s the type of person he was.
“He cared not about you as a football player first. He cared about you as an individual and that’s something that’s really resonated with me as I raise my kids and as they go through their foundation in terms of going into adulthood, and those are the things that John Herrington did for me. He took me from a 7-year-old boy and I think by the time I left high school I was a man and a lot of that is owed to Coach Herrington.”
Stanton knew he was prepared to play college ball for the Spartans after his days at Harrison. He played during Harrison’s glory days when the team won a record five straight state titles from 1997-2001.
“I think obviously the record speaks for itself, but really the program that he’s established since those doors opened in 1970, it’s something that special, that every person knows what Hawk Pride means and is so proud to be a part of that rich history and it feels like we’re a part of that record,” Stanton said.
“Even when I came in as a junior, not really knowing what to expect, just the tradition that already existed there, you kind of fell in line, and everybody was held accountable. Everybody was treated as equal and that was so great about that place, we all head to earn respect. The culture that he had created there was really a rarity in high school football.
“I know when I got to Michigan State I felt so much more prepared than the vast majority of the kids that I came in with because I had been playing for a marked target at Farmington Hills Harrison and we knew what it was to carry that torch on because of the people that came before us and the precedent that had been set.”
When asked what he thought the record would mean to Herrington, Stanton replied: “He’ll downplay it but when it’s all said in done, he’ll have that record and it’s well-deserved. He has devoted his life to Harrison High School and a lot of people have. He is in the position that he is because he not only did a great job coaching, but he surrounded himself with unbelievable people, Coach (Bob) Sutter and Billy Slobin and guys like that. It wasn’t by mistake that we stepped on the football field and felt like we were going to win every single time we took the field.”
And don’t forget Fran Herrington’s input during John’s run to the record.
“I came in as a junior and just saw this unbelievable football family that had already existed at that time for 30 years, which is a rarity in and of itself, and really the backbone of the program was Fran,” Stanton said. “I came to know that, came to understand that and when we lost her the program felt that. It was a difficult time and coach had to overcome that. You could see how much that really did wear on him, but at the same time the support system that was in place for him to handle it was unprecedented.”