Steeped in years of history and tradition, the Loudon High School football program has seen its fair share of players and coaches that made a mark.

Current head coach Jeff Harig boasts a unique place as a coach who forged a legacy before and is on his way to creating another one.

Humble Beginnings

Harig was born and raised in Massillon, Ohio, where football was a lifestyle.

“I was fortunate to grow up enough in a town that claims to be the high school football capital of the world,” Harig said. “The football program there is the top two or three all-time winningest high school program. I was immersed in football from a very early age. My dad played for the high school program, I was raised around and, ultimately, played there. It was a family thing. I was taught from a very early age the value and convention of high school sports, so our family valued that from a very early age.”

Harig attended his first high school football game when he was 7 and it instantly became his passion.

“It was kind of one of those last-minute, come-from-behind victories and I was hooked from there,” he said. “My uncle was involved in the program at the time and I remember getting a program at the time. He took it to the high school players and had all their autographs. To this day, I have a scrapbook that has that program and all those autographs on it.”

Growing up in Ohio, one of Harig’s lifelong goals was to play for the National Football League’s Cleveland Browns, but he began to realize that dream was exactly that — a dream.

“I quickly realized as I began to grown and enter high school, the market for an average speed, average size white guy was not going to be great,” Harig said.

Throughout high school he started to focus more on what his future really looked like and began to realize his true calling was on the sideline.

“Ultimately, I decided that I can’t see a life without being around high school football,” he said. “I knew when I was a sophomore in high school that I wanted to be a teacher and a football coach. My playing career was one of a classic overachiever. I was voted captain, but I was always that guy that was a few inches too short or a step too slow. I thought I was a player that maxed out my ability. You get those recognitions of being all-region and being voted a captain, but I think I was more of a program player.”

Harig attended Ohio Wesleyan University after graduation, where his interest in coaching football grew.

“It was just right outside Columbus in the shadow of Ohio State University,” he said. “It was kind of like the relationship between the University of Tennessee and Maryville College. When I was going through college, I took an interest in working within the athletic program. Eventually, I became a recruiting host for the Ohio Wesleyan football program. I didn’t really enjoy the recruiting aspect of it, but I kind of enjoyed being dealt the cards that I have at a place, taking the talent you’re given and molding into the best possible outcome that you can have.”

Movi

ng to Loudon

After graduation, Harig became a substitute teacher and helped coach a middle school football and girls basketball team in the area. His break came soon after when he received a call from Tim Daniels in 1994.

“Tim and I got to know each other because he was the high school coach at my hometown high school,” Harig said. “He got the job down here at Loudon and called me right before school started with a job offer. At that time, I was looking at year two out of college and didn’t have a permanent job secured yet. He called me on Friday, I loaded my stuff up on Sunday and we started school on Monday.”

Daniels took over a struggling Loudon program in 1994 after the Redskins combined to go 4-36 the previous four seasons. He led the team to seven consecutive playoff appearances in Class 3A, followed by two more trips in 1999 and 2000 when Loudon made the switch to 2A.

Following the 2001 season, Daniels accepted the head coaching position at Red Bank High School in Chattanooga. Many believed Harig was next in line, but LHS decided to hire Eric Swenson.

“The true story is I interviewed when Tim left and the administration picked a guy named Eric Swenson, who is the current head coach at Huntingdon High School,” Harig said. “He officially accepted the job. I was willing to work for him, but he called back the next morning. Even though he officially accepted it, his wife decided it wasn’t in their best interest to come and he declined. I was the second choice. I don’t know if I had the aspirations of being the head coach because I was fine being the second man in charge. I knew to take that opportunity, you have to do what it takes to handle all the responsibilities.”

Harig had the support of the coaching staff, including former offensive coordinator and current athletic director Ronnie Roberts.

“Over the years, our relationship had grown because we spent so much time together,” Roberts said. “His enthusiasm and energy were the first things that I saw that stuck out to me as a young coach. Coach Daniels had been very successful and our talent level had fallen off a little bit, so we went through some tough years in Jeff’s first three or four.”

In fact, in his first three years at the helm, the Redskins went 9-21. But 2005 was different.

From that point on, Harig helped build the Redskin program into a regular contender and reached the playoffs eight times in 10 years, including a run to the Class 3A state semifinals in 2014.

“Those first three years, I’ll admit it took me a long time to transition to be a head coach,” he said. “It took me three years to truly understand that whatever I do, I set the standard for the program. In 2005, we went 11-2 and it gave me the confidence that I could set the standard that kids would follow. We went on a six-year run where we were as good as anybody. We lost to Alcoa four times in the quarterfinals and in two of those years it was a one-touchdown game going into the fourth quarter.

“Being in Loudon, you have to coach them athletically, academically and spiritually,” he added. “You knew 2014 was coming and you could see those kids progressing. I started tracking those guys. You could see that was a special group from the time they played their first season up in the Loudon Quarterback Club. As a coach, that’s a season that will last a lifetime.”

Taki

ng the next step

Immediately following the 2014 season, Harig faced the decision to remain at Loudon or move on to a new challenge.

“I think the media values success on the field and that’s how they judge coaches,” he said. “The work it takes to put a productive product on the field from a January to a November perspective, I mean, it’s not an easy job here at Loudon High School. You can’t just say, ‘Hey, come to the weight room when you want to.’ There’s got to be standards and there’s got to be accountability. That’s tough on a coach and it takes a toll. We went through some of the most successful years and still finished second to Alcoa many times. When you lose games 66-7 in those years, it just tells you how far you’re still behind.”

After self-reflection, Harig believed it was time for a new challenge. On Feb. 13, 2015, he was named the head football coach at Knox West High School.

“Tennessee high school football is an urban-based state in that the best teams come from urban areas,” Harig said. “I felt like if I was ever going to be recognized, personally as a great coach, I was going to have to get to an urban area. Knoxville West was coming off a state championship year. Conventional wisdom says you never follow a coach who won a state championship.”

The decision to move from Loudon wasn’t easy for Harig and his family.

“I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about my family,” he said. “My wife supported me way back in 2002 to become the head football coach. We had our son Jamison and soon after, Keaton, my youngest son, was born. They were very disappointed to leave. All they had ever known was Loudon football. What it became about at that time was they had dedicated a lot of time and supported me being a head football coach at Loudon High School, so they grew up loving Loudon.”

Two months later, Loudon tabbed a new head coach in Midway High School’s Joe Campbell, who struggled to find success and combined to go 3-18 in two seasons.

“When Jeff left, he was doing the best thing for his career,” Roberts said. “When any coach does that, I’m not going to sit here and hold that against him. The coaching profession is kind of a fickle thing. Sometimes people leave in some way and then they’ll come back or they won’t stay more than three years. It was different, obviously. The biggest thing that was different was that core staff had been together for so long, but it kind of changed then. I think that was the thing that was different around here.”

Harig believed he had potential at West, but faced a completely different culture.

“I felt like when I got into the program, there were several things that I couldn’t do, culture-wise, to make the program better and more like what we had done at Loudon,” he said. “I felt like Loudon was an overachieving program. I felt like if I could go to West and get the most out of that program, then we could be somebody that could take on Maryville or Fulton.”

The Rebels went 9-3 in his first season and made the second round of the Class 5A playoffs. However, he followed that up with a 4-6 season in 2016.

“Ultimately, it didn’t work out,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of places in East Tennessee and the culture is set. They’re looking for those kinds of things and for that reason, I was not able to effect the culture in the way that I would’ve liked to. It didn’t work out and that’s OK. It’s grown me to appreciate Loudon even more than what I did before I left.”

Returning home

The Redskins decided to move on from Campbell after a 1-9 season in 2016.

Signs were pointing to Harig making a return.

“Going back to my family, Jamison played two years at West and it didn’t harp,” Harig said. “He wanted to be a Loudon Redskin. Quickly after my second year, we talked about whether I became the coach at Loudon or not so that they could experience Loudon football and that Jamison could graduate a Loudon Redskin. The focus was on bringing them back, regardless of what I coached or taught.”

As soon as there was an opening, Roberts knew who he wanted.

“There was never any doubt in my mind that Jeff couldn’t coach the game,” Roberts said. “Sometimes when somebody leaves, there might be a faction of people that doesn’t want them to come back. My job was to bring in who I thought would do the best job. You can sit through interviews and all this stuff, but I knew what Jeff brought as a football coach because I’ve been with him so much. If I have that known commodity, I’d rather go with that than with someone I’m not really sure about. I think he does a good job with kids. Sometimes it’s tough love, but the kids respond to him and respect him.”

Harig was hired back at Loudon on April 18, 2017, and was welcomed with a full auditorium of players, students and fans.

{div class=”subscriber-only”}“Twenty-six months ago I stood back there ... and I did one of the hardest professional things I’ve ever had to do, and that’s say goodbye,” Harig said to the team in his return speech. “And so for me, my heart was left right back there. I went to West and I coached with my physical body and I coached with my mind, but I didn’t coach with my heart, because I left it. It’s great today to say that I’ve got my heart back and I’m looking forward to being your coach again.”

In just his first season back, Harig led the Redskins to an 8-4 record and the first playoff berth in three years. He credits much of that success to effort and a healthy roster.

“Coach Campbell’s students had some tough years, but the one thing he would say, is we had the talent to compete, but there were some injuries,” Harig said. “Our first thing coming back was to be extremely hard working and push yourself to the best of your abilities. If you train in that way in the entire offseason, Loudon football will have enough talent every single year to be competitive. For my first year coming back, I wanted to get back to what I’d known as a player. I was an overachieving, hard-working player. I wanted them to buy into that concept and they did.”

Expectations were hopeful heading into 2018, but injuries mounted early. The Redskins lost several key players for the season or the majority of the year, including quarterback Drew Jackson and wide receiver Mark Ridenour.

“We felt like we had a chance to be pretty good, but we needed to stay healthy,” Harig said. “Ultimately, we had a whole lot of injuries that really affected our product. We got some of those kids back and I felt like they played some pretty good football, but it was one of those years where if something can go wrong, it goes wrong. I hate it for the seniors, but for me as a coach, that was year 17. It’s easier for me to flush it and move forward. We’re working right now to make sure our kids are in a position to stay healthy and give their best effort.”

Harig is fully aware of the challenges that lie before him. Regardless, he expects the Redskins to rise again and compete for championships on a regular basis.

“I think my long-term vision started last year in the offseason,” he said. “You have to visualize Loudon like an old fashioned city-state like in the Spartan days. We’re raising kids in football, through the Quarterback Club, into middle school and onto the high school. Ultimately, we’re trying to build them to where when they get to the high school, they’re ready to give their best effort. Loudon is a small town and you have those kids that play football for life.”

He also wants to make a meaningful impact on players in a way that transcends the game.

“My goal is to promote the program at all levels,” he said. “My overall vision, though, is we’re going to graduate great future fathers, future husbands and be hard workers. All the while, we’ve got great memories of putting forth our best efforts against our rivals and against other programs throughout East Tennessee.”{/div}