When looking back at his coaching career, Jerry Joe Harrison points his success to the guidance of those he worked with.
"When you look back at the coaches I worked with, it’s really a hall of fame lineup," Harrison said at Monday’s Arkansas Sports Club meeting at Ryan’s Steakhouse. "You look at Mike Malham Sr., C.W. Keopple, Raymond Bright, Bill Stancil, Rex Lovell, Ken Stephens and others.
"I think all of us are a product of our environment. I learned a lot from these guys."
Relationships with coaches and players is what Harrison said were the most meaningful part of his career, as he reflected on the past at the Sports Club. Those kinds of relationships began for Harrison, who is most notably known in this area for coaching at Conway High from 1977-1983.
"I’m the product of the Catholic schools in Little Rock," Harrison said. "I never had a lay teacher until high school, and those were my coaches. I was able to develop some special relationships then."
That all started during childhood with the anticipation of playing high school sports.
"We all went to the elementary schools, and everyone wanted to be a Rocket," Harrison said.
From there, the excitement carried over to Little Rock Catholic High School, under coach Mike Malham Sr. Harrison graduated from Catholic in 1961 and eventually made his way to Arkansas State Teachers College (now the University of Central Arkansas) after initially going to the University of Dallas, a private, Catholic liberal arts university.
"The best thing that ever happened to me was I came to (ASTC)," Harrison said. "... I’ll never forget the first week of two-a-days. It rained all week. I probably wouldn’t have made it if it wasn’t because that kind of cooled things off."
Harrison became a big part of the Bears’ defense from 1962-65 under Frank Koon. He earned All-Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference honors his final three years.
From there, Harrison launched his coaching career. He joined Malham’s staff at Catholic right after college.
"I bragged that I wasn’t going to teach anywhere for less than $5,000," Harrison quipped. "I started at $4,800."
Harrison also had coaching stints at Forrest Heights, Little Rock Hall, Fort Smith Northside and also as an assistant at UCA.
"In the first six years, I was at six different schools," Harrison said. "It wasn’t that I was a job-hopper. I just kept getting promoted."
Harrison later took his first head coaching job when he came on board at Conway in 1977, when he also became athletic director. In his first season with the Wampus Cats, Harrison went 11-1 and won the AAAA-West Conference. He also captured a conference title in 1982.
"After a scrimmage game I went to (then principal James Clark) and asked what he thought," Harrison said. "He told me, ‘I think you looked all right. You might win five games.’ I thought to myself ‘five games?’
"That kind of burst my bubble. We went on to win 11 in a row, though."
The only loss that season was to Benton in the state championship game. During the win streak, six of those victories came by three points or fewer.
Harrison remained the coach and AD until after the 1983 school year. He became the assistant principal in the fall of 1984, a position he held for five years before becoming principal.
Harrison eventually retired from administrative duties in 2005.
"One thing about retirement is it’s the best job I’ve ever had," Harrison said.
Harrison also said he had already been working on his "bucket list." He said the No. 1 thing was to go to a Notre Dame football game. No. 2 on that list was, being Catholic, going to visit Rome. Both of those have been accomplished, but one item remains.
"I didn’t want my list to end, so I added something to it," Harrison said. "I want to write a book. I haven’t started that yet, so I’ve still got a long way to go."
Even with those accomplishments and hopes, Harrison said the relationships he made during his career is what’s really stood out.
"That’s what I really appreciate," Harrison said. "That’s what I hold dear."
The next meeting of the Arkansas Sports Club is scheduled for Nov. 9. Former Greenbrier basketball coach Tommy Reed is slated as the guest speaker.