By Miguel A. Melendez, Staff Writer
It’s easy to understand how Anthony Harris feels about becoming La Salle High School’s new athletic director.
“This is fate,” he said. “Like I was supposed to be here. This is a good fit, not only for myself, but for the school as well.”
The search for La Salle’s new athletic director was an exhaustive process and, after the school narrowed the field of more than 250 applicants to six finalists, Harris emerged as the “best choice to lead La Salle athletics into the future.”
“He is exactly who we need as athletic director, working to ensure that every Lancer team succeeds on the field and in the classroom, as well as making sure our programs operate with respect and integrity,” La Salle President Richard Gray said in a statement.
Harris, a former Muir football and track star, held the same position at Campbell Hall in North Hollywood for a decade and served as the school’s head football coach for seven years and head track coach for five.
Bob Kohorst, who serves on the board of trustees at La Salle and served as chairman of the athletic director’s search committee, said the school was amazed at the flood of quality applicants. Among them were current Division I athletic directors, a professional women’s basketball coach in New Zealand and a headmaster in Egypt, both of whom had Southern California ties.
“We were hopeful we’d have one or two quality candidates,” said Kohorst, a 1971 La Salle graduate who had two sons recently graduate from the school. “I think we had 10 to 15 very good candidates. The selection was very difficult.”
That the position became highly coveted was by design.
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“Our committee (made up of parents, alumni, faculty, staff and coaches) spent a year writing a strategic 20-page plan to increase the quality of athletics at La Salle,” Kohorst explained. “Candidates realized we were serious about the position, and the hiring was the culmination of all that work.”
Harris, 43, currently is serving as special assistant to the president for planning at La Salle before assuming the athletic director’s role July 1 after John Matheus steps down. Matheus, who served an administrative career at La Salle that spanned three decades, announced last September he would step down to pursue other administrative opportunities.
The chance to come back home to Pasadena, make an impact locally, and the school’s commitment to athletics is what attracted Harris to La Salle.
“They understand that athletics is really a great marketing tool, not only for alumni to come back and give back to school, but also to serve as a community presence,” said Harris, who earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Azusa Pacific University. “There’s a lot of competition out there now. Maranatha, Alemany, they have a lot of kids from Pasadena. I would like La Salle to be a household name.”
Under Harris, Campbell Hall won 50 league titles, seven CIF-Southern Section championships in four different sports, a state championship in basketball, and sent over 40 athletes to play college sports.
Jrue Holiday (UCLA, Philadelphia 76ers), Anthony Kim (PGA pro golfer) and John David Washington (actor Denzel Washington’s son who went on to break every rushing record at Moorhouse College and served a stint in the NFL) are just a few athletes whom Harris worked with while at Campbell Hall.
“It was participation-based when I got there and it was a well-known, competitive, championship program when I left,” said Harris, who is now responsible for raising the profile of a program that has 12 CIF-SS championships under its belt.
“That’s impressive to me for a school this size,” he said.
Harris, who has also served as head coach at Chaminade and coached defensive backs at Pasadena City College last year, said the highlight of his coaching career came in 2005 when he was selected to help coach the U.S. Army All-American Game in San Antonio, a team that featured current New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez.
In addition to serving as a special assistant, Harris said he’s set out a plan that includes definite changes.
“I have the opportunity to evaluate winter coaches,” he said. “I have a 90-day plan and I’m in my 30 days of that plan. I’m evaluating everything and everyone.
“I feel like I have a template that was successful where I was for 10 years, and I don’t see why I should change it.”
One change Harris won’t make is in football. Harris gave his full support to Antoine Peterson, who has compiled a 6-25 record in three seasons as head coach. Those numbers undoubtedly would make any coach at any level wonder about his job security, but not Peterson.
“We haven’t had a lot of success, but we’re getting ready to do something special,” Peterson said.
In addition, Harris will join Peterson’s staff as offensive coordinator.
“After looking at all 10 games (last year) it was obvious that that was something that really needed to be taken care of immediately,” Harris said. “And as an AD I didn’t want to disconnect myself from the kids. It gives me an opportunity to be with them.”
And that’s just the beginning. Peterson confirmed that the school is close to bringing “four to five new coaches” on staff, adding that he will no longer serve as defensive coordinator despite Harris suggesting he do so.
“I really didn’t want to do that,” Peterson said. “(Harris) understood where I was coming from. I really want to oversee the program. I don’t want to be tied down as far as calling the game because I have to take you back to last season. I was really never in the flow of the game. I like to oversee everything and run it the way it’s supposed to be run.”
Harris and Peterson have known each other since the sixth grade at Altadena Elementary School and played together under Jim Brownfield at Muir. Their close ties, however, had little to do with Harris supporting Peterson.
“As a new athletic director coming in I knew he was here,” Harris said. “but I didn’t want to be a part of the decision on whether Coach stayed or went, because I didn’t have an opportunity to evaluate him.
“Then when I met with him after getting the position I felt comfortable supporting him as the athletic director and helping the program as the offensive coordinator.
“I feel like I can mentor him. I feel like I can find a dynamite staff that’s going to help him take a step back from being defensive coordinator and focus on being a head coach, and getting quality guys as football coaches to really get it done for him.”
Harris was on a path that would one day lead him to become an administrator at the college level. But coming to La Salle proved even better.
“I feel like this position will allow me to make an impact I’d like to make in my hometown,” Harris said. “That’s gratifying to me, and I feel like I’ll be here for a long time.”