Harbison Welcomes Chance To Assist State

A few days into the new job and Charlie Harbison still isn't certain—or at least still isn't saying—what his title will be. But this new Mississippi State assistant is very sure and entirely clear on what his immediate task is with Coach Sylvester Croom's staff. "We'll get through recruiting and he'll do all that later. Right now it's important to get the players and go on from there."

Judging by reported results State did get through their recruiting weekend very well, which must leave the coaches feeling both encouraged and relieved. Particularly the newest names on the mentor roster, Pat Washington (see previous feature) and Harbison. Barely arrived on campus both were thrust right into the courting of prospects, committed and undecided alike. But that's no big deal or new issue for this old SEC hand.

"The first thing is recruiting, jumping in where I can help," says Harbison, who has worked stints at Alabama—twice, in fact—and LSU, along with tours at Clemson, UTEP, and his alma mater Gardner-Webb. Not to mention both arena football and the World league. So the 47-year-old is used to changing addresses and coaching shirts instantly, without changing his fundamental identity.

"You've got a job and you go out to win," Harbison says. "Right now the Lord blessed me to be here and I work as unto the Lord and not as to man. I'm going to make sure I do my best for this University, Coach Croom and these kids."

And, the kids Croom hopes to add to the 2007 roster next month. Unlike fellow staff-rookie Washington, who spent the last year away from the SEC, Harbison does have assigned areas of recruiting emphasis. Not surprisingly after spending the last four years at the University of Alabama, he is working the north half of that state. "I got here Thursday and then I was on the road recruiting." He also will hit the Tampa area, and like all other MSU aides make other trips as needed.

"And I help out wherever we need, we do a lot of tag-teaming this time of year. After signing everything will be re-structured, right now I'm just jumping in and helping where I can." It seems a safe guess that Harbison's talents courting prep players will be spread around in the future. He also has experience prowling his new ‘home' state.

"I have recruited Mississippi, when I was at Alabama in the Mike Dubose era. And when I was at LSU I recruited this area. When you're in the SEC you pretty much recruit everywhere. I didn't have this area with Coach (Mike) Shula, but I know this: we had a couple of kids over there the past couple of years, and we can't let any more kids go over there. Not now!"

Which means Harbison has to help prevent the very acts he used to encourage, i.e., the luring of Mississippi talent across state lines. Having recruited against this program for years, he has a rather unique perspective on the process. And, what can be done to change things for the Bulldog-better.

"Bottom line, recruiting is recruiting. It's a lot of factors, number-one you've got to win and we're going to do that. We've got a great leader." Which is how Harbison has found himself adding maroon-and-white to his career stockpile of coaching gear. Yes, he says, like most of the 2006 Alabama staff he too was looking for work this winter.

"But you're trying to find the right chemistry. When I had an opportunity to come here with Coach Croom, that's a no-brainer. He's a blessing, a man who loves the Lord, he loves the kids. And he loves the University. With the staff he has, I'm blessed to be a part of it. I didn't really know him, I knew of him. A lot of people who've been associated with him, I know. And coaching against him at Alabama I could see his class, how he handled himself and his team and his coaching staff. Also, his brother pastured a church in Alabama and I attended there off-and-on."

Now that Harbison is a full-time member of this Croom's congregation he plans to help with the revival of Bulldog football. Exactly how he isn't telling, not yet. Most believe Harbison will be assigned to defensive backs, which is what he has coached most of his career. But he points to other experience on the opposite side of the game, coaching wide receivers in a couple of job-stops including the most recent one at Alabama.

"I coach athletes! Receivers, DBs, I coach athletes. Wherever I'm needed that's where I'm going to go. It's been about 50/50, and in Arena ball I coached both!" He'll wait for the boss to make all 2007 assignments public after signing season ends. Harbison isn't so hesitant to state that State has some athletes to coach. He observed those on the varsity in action and earning victory in Tuscaloosa last November, after all.

"They have talent, and they attack. And they play fast. I liked what I saw when I was at the other school. They play fast and they're aggressive. Faster than I thought."

Velocity is a priority for Harbison's athletes. Yet there is much more to the game than sheer speed, such as good feet and knack for changing directions. "And angles, as a receiver or DB," he adds, which is where talent meets coaching to produce a player. "You know you're competition level and who you're going up against. The places I've been, the things I've learned, I'm going to apply them here and try to be the best I can be for this University, Coach Croom, and these kids."

Harbison has four kids of his own, scattered across the country. "My wife (Glorida) went home to be with the Lord in 2003 so I've been by myself. My oldest son is in Texas, my daughter is in South Carolina, Charlie is in Manhattan and my baby is in South Carolina. He'll turn 18 next month." The family tries to get together when possible, and Harbison expects them to come see him on this new job this season. They've gotten used to having Dad change addresses abruptly.

"It's not difficult, it's part of the business and you get used to it. My family supports me, and they know my profession. My oldest son is in the military, at Ft. Hood, and he moves around a lot. It's been good."

And this is a good move for Harbison, who brings both a professional reputation and an old nickname. ‘Cheese' they call him. "That's a long story!" he laughs. Not that he'd mind telling it, but it would put more attention on him than Harbison prefers. "I'm just a simple guy, down-to-earth, I go about my job. It's about the kids, not about me." He also realizes that such comments naturally raise questions in this hyper-suspicious world, but Harbison stresses that he is just one part of this team-process. "I'm a humble guy. It's one thing to say it but I try to walk that way. It's not about me."

It's about making the most of what Mississippi State can be. Harbison has been ‘recruited' to this team and has bought into the gameplan. "Whatever his goals are, that's what my goals are. If you have two visions you have division, and a house divided won't stand." He says Croom has made both the team and the University a personal project and Harbison is glad to be a part of it all.

"I've been fortunate, and I'm going to do whatever I can to get them to produce one day at a time. That's us, the Lord blessed me to do this and to be a part of this game of football."

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