Although Mike Harrison graduated from Bloomington High School, his football roots took hold in the metro-east.
After an all-American career at McKendree, followed by two stints with the McKendree University coaching staff and two others as defensive coordinator at Lindenwood University-Belleville, Harrison feels he’s earned his own program.
Administrators at Belleville East think so, too, which is why they hired Harrison as the Lancers’ fifth head coach.
“It’s exciting and its a great opportunity. Obviously it’s one that I didn’t know was coming but its one that my family and I are looking forward to,” Harrison said. “Belleville East is a program with a lot of tradition going back to coaches Dean Renn and Mike McGinnis and including coach (Tim) Funk.
“East has always had a rich tradition in football and we have always been able to put a product out on the field that we can be proud of. I’m looking forward to and am excited about taking on the challenge of taking the program back to one that we can be proud of once again.”
Harrison was officially earned a stamp of approval during the Belleville School District 201 meeting on Monday. He takes over for Kris Stephens who resigned last month after four seasons.
Stephens led the Lancers to a 6-4 and a berth in the Class 8A playoffs in 2015 but struggled at 4-23 during the last three years.
The task of getting the Lancers back on track in the always competitive Southwestern Conference is an attractive challenge, Harrison said.
East athletic director Mark Larsen, a teammate of Harrison at McKendree, said the district received more than 25 resumes for the job.
“It’s impressive how he’s progressed through the coaching ranks at McKendree,” Larsen said. “I think there’s the familiarity there. Knowing Mike and his reputation, I can tell you he’s a standup guy, really top notch. His dad was an official. He’s been in athletics his whole life and was a great athlete both in high school and as an All-American at McKendree. He is a good get.”
Harrison has strong ties to the metro east. His parents both graduated from Assumption High School in East St. Louis and Harrison lived most of his formative years in the metro-east where he played baseball in the Jackie Robinson Khoury League and later attended Signal Hill School.
His family relocated to Decatur and eventually Bloomington where Harrison became an all-state football player and a standout in baseball.
Harrison was a member of the Bloomington High School Purple Raiders team which lost to Chicago Mount Carmel 31-0 in the 2002 Class 6A state title game. A 2003 BHS graduate, Harrison was recruited by then McKendree coach Carl Poelker.
Except for his two year stint at Lindenwood-Belleville, Harrison has been part of the Bearcats football family ever since. Harrison has been an associate head coach at McKendree for the past four years and served as defensive coordinator this past season.
Harrison began coaching at McKendree in 2007 when current Belleville West coach Cameron Pettus left the Bearcats staff to become a coach for the Maroons.
Harrison is familiar with the Lancers program and the Southwestern Conference from his years of recruiting for McKendree.
“It’s a large school conference with many very strong football programs. Obviously you have to bring your A-game and be ready to play every night,” Harrison said. “It’s true everywhere but I think even moreso in a league like the SWC, that on any given night anybody can beat anybody.”
Harrison plans to meet with his football team soon and, like most coaches, is concerned with keeping kids in the program who are willing to work in the offseason.
“I have the same concern that all high school coaches have these days. That is getting kids out, keep them involved and making sure they have fun playing this game safely,” Harrison said. “I think coaches nationwide are concerned with making sure their kids are playing this game safely in order to reap the benefits and get the rewards that come from playing this game that is like no other and teaches the life lessons like no other.”
Harrison also has high expectations for his football program.
“I can assure you that whatever goals, hopes or expectations people have for this football program that mine are even higher,” Harrison said. “But we’re not going to talk about winning this amount of games. Instead we’re going to talk about how we’re going to get it done.
“We’re going to develop a process to attack every single day, to get better every day and do the right things it takes to be successful. If we can get that process through to the guys, the wins and losses will take care of themselves.”
Harrison and his wife Lindsey have one daughter Amiya Jordan.