Family and sports are at the top of the list for Larry Harrison.
He shined in athletics at Tooele High School, played college football at BYU, coached in the Tooele County School District for 30 years and now enjoys watching his grandchildren in their sports adventures.
“He always comes to everything,” said granddaughter Bailie Sandberg, who won a state championship last fall in second doubles for the Grantsville girls tennis team. “He tells you what you did good, and then tells you what you need to work on.”
Bailie’s brother Braden Sandberg, who plays on the GHS basketball and tennis teams, said his grandfather is always eager to offer advice. “After a basketball game we like to go up in the stands and he tells us the things we need to work on,” Braden said.
With all his coaching experience, the 74-year-old grandfather of 15 has the credentials to offer advice.
“We had a blue carpet in the living room and it became a bit of a tradition to have those blue-carpet talks after games with Rick and Scott (Larry’s sons). I would try to talk as positively as I could about the things they did well in games, and then talk about one or two things they could have done better,” Larry said. Apparently, some of those discussions became somewhat tense at times.
Rick remembers the blue-carpet treatments.
“I always got a lot of extra coaching, whether I wanted it or not. I got what was known as the “blue carpet” treatment after every game I ever played in high school,” Rick said. “My father could easily spend an hour or more after each and every game showing me in the living room all the things that I had done wrong in that afternoon or night’s game.
“Playing for my dad was not really that stressful, though. I think a lot of that was the guys I played with. They didn’t make a big deal out of it, so it wasn’t a big deal to me,” Rick said. “I think it stressed him out a lot more than it did me. It stressed my mother and grandmother out a lot more than it did either one of us.”
There still are post-game discussions with the grandchildren, but with added emphasis on the positive things.
Larry and Barbara Harrison’s daughters are Lori Colson and Paula Sandberg, and their children receive as much or more coaching than Rick and Scott’s children.
The Utah Sports Hall of Fame Foundation selected Larry as a Distinguished Service Honoree last March for his contribution to high school athletics.
As the head baseball coach at Grantsville High School, Larry coached two state championship teams and finished second once. As the GHS head football coach he reached the state finals twice.
A short biography for last year’s banquet stated that Harrison was a strong advocate of athletics and deeply involved in the Utah High School Activities Association.
Larry worked as the Tooele City Parks and Recreation director for a short time after working for the school district. He also made a comeback to coaching after retirement, assisting his son Rick who was the head football coach at Tooele High School. Larry describes that endeavor as “the most fun I’ve ever had as a coach.” Larry’s career-long goal was that his teams be known for exhibiting class on and off the field, the program read.
One photo displayed at Larry’s home in Grantsville shows him and his two sons after a trifecta in football region championships. That season Larry won the region title as head coach of the Tooele Buffaloes, Rick as the head coach at Dugway High School and Scott as a player for the Grantsville High School football team
Larry played football, basketball and baseball at Tooele High School. He then went on to play football at BYU from 1957-1960.
“That was back in the BL Era — Before LaVell Edwards,” Larry said. One year during that the stretch, the Cougars almost won the Skyline Conference, but lost the title game to Wyoming.
“I had the good fortune, or should I say misfortune, to play against some great players like Larry Wilson and Lee Groscup at Utah, Don Perkins at New Mexico and Merlin Olsen at Utah State along with several other top players at Utah State.”
During his first two years in college, Larry played offensive center and middle linebacker. His senior season he played tight end and defensive end. According to the rules, players were required to play both offense and defense.
Larry started out as a coach at White Pine County High School in Ely, Nev., and then moved to Grantsville High School where he was the head football and baseball coach for 18 years. He also was a basketball assistant for a few years.
Larry then moved on to Tooele High School where he coached the football team for four years and worked as an administrator for eight more years. After retirement came his two-year stint as an assistant coach with son Rick at THS.
“My father certainly influenced my decision to go into coaching,” Rick said. “Growing up in Grantsville at that time I thought being the high school coach was the best job around. I had great respect for all my coaches, my dad, coach Bob Williams, coach Dale Mohler, coach Don Wayne Nelson, coach Wayne Butler, coach Denny Painter and coach Rich Valdez all coached me and all contributed to my growth as a person and my love of sports and desire to be a coach”
Rick said that when his dad worked as an administrator at Tooele High School, his son Craig was the quarterback at GHS. Larry told the superintendent he would take the THS administration job only if he were allowed to attend all of his grandson’s football games at GHS.
“The thing I am most proud of is that no matter where I go in the state, my father is respected as a great gentleman of the game. At the end of the day it is not about how many games you win, but about how many lives you positively affect as coach. I believe my dad has affected a lot of people in a positive manner,” Rick said.
Larry said he believes sports teams are on the upswing at schools in Tooele County. He said teams are becoming more competitive and the players more disciplined.
Larry indicated he is disheartened that many of the coaches do not also work full-time at their respective high schools.
“There are so many coaches on the sideline that there isn’t enough room for all the players,” Harrison said. “My final year at Grantsville we had four coaches and we still were working with 85-100 football players. Now there are 17 or 18 coaches on the sideline — some of those only concerned about what their son is doing out on the field.”
He said it may be an “old school” notion, but coaches need to be at the school and around the athletes during the day. “Coaches almost have to act the role of a father to make sure kids understand what type of behavior is acceptable on-and-off the field. I don’t mind an athlete looking over his shoulder at school to find out where the coach is. The coach needs to set the tone for kids’ behavior,” Larry said. “If a kid does something wrong he has to know that the coach will want to discuss the incident with him.
“The most important thing is that the coaches need to make the game fun for the athletes. The kids will work harder if they enjoy it,” Larry said.
Larry’s grandson Craig plays football at Utah State University after having played at Snow College and Grantsville High School. Craig also played basketball and ran track at GHS.
Other Harrison grandchildren who have competed or are now competing for Grantsville High School include Cody Colson, who participated in football, basketball and track; Dylan Colson, basketball and golf; Josh Harrison, basketball, golf and track; Brandon Harrison, football, basketball and golf; Tyler Colson, football, basketball, and tennis; Braden Sandberg, basketball and tennis; Aaron Harrison, basketball and golf; Bailie Sandberg, basketball and tennis; Trevor Colson, football, basketball and baseball; and Hailee Harrison, tennis.