OXFORD To the surprise of no one, Pat Harrison was announced as the new head baseball coach for the Ole Miss Rebels. Harrison, 49, was joined by wife Beverly, Athletic Director Pete Boone and Chancellor Robert Khayat in Wednesday's news conference.
"We were looking for a man with character, integrity and the right values. These are required traits at Ole Miss," Boone said during the introduction. "And, of course, winning championships."
Harrison, who began his career as an assistant coach at Southern California in 1973, has been associated with multiple conference and regional championships throughout his career. He comes to Ole Miss just one year removed from winning the West Coast Conference championship at Pepperdine.
Previously, his assistant coaching stops included championship teams at Oral Roberts, Washington State and Oklahoma. Harrison has served, as a player or assistant coach, on three national championship teams guided by Larry Cochell or Rod Dedeaux.
Harrison replaces Don Kessinger, who resigned to take an administrative position within the athletic department. Kessinger, who was instrumental in the hiring process, was present for the news conference, as were many members of the athletic department.
Harrison always hoped to end up at Ole Miss
"It's a dream come true," said Harrison, who holds an honors degree in English Literature and has extensive seminary training. "I've put in the years to be in a position for an opportunity like this and this is a great opportunity.
"A few years ago, I asked (Oklahoma head coach) Larry (Cochell) that if the Ole Miss job ever opened up, would he make a call to recommend me? Obviously, that happened. In fact, he's been so helpful, it's getting to be a little embarrassing."
Boone confirmed Cochell's strong endorsement of Harrison. The duo coached together for 23 seasons, winning more than 900 games and accounting for the development of many prominent major leaguers.
Cochell, in a telephone interview, said, "I don't know if there is a better coach in the country than Pat Harrison. But beyond that, he's a man of character and depth. He will represent Ole Miss in the way Ole Miss people would love to be represented."
As for the on-the-field situation, Harrison smilingly admitted, "(Former head coach) Donnie (Kessinger) and his staff did such a good job of recruiting, they're all high draft choices and they're all signing with the pros.
"I admit I don't know a lot about the present personnel. I know they lost some outstanding signees and some good juniors."
Fundamentals will be a Rebel priority
Kessinger said, "Pat is a coach, when it comes to championships, has 'been there, done that'. He's an outstanding talent evaluator. He knows what it's going to take to play on the highest level. I feel great about him being here."
Harrison said his style "will emphasize the fundamentals. I believe in fundamental baseball, good defense and pitchers who throw strikes. Offensively, I like to have a blend of power, with at least two strong power hitters for protection and speed."
The present coaching staff, which includes Tupelo native Steve Thomason, doesn't figure to be retained. Harrison said, "I'm not definite yet, but I have two assistant coaches in mind. We're in the process of working things out. I should know within a week."
While salary terms were not disclosed, Boone admitted Harrison will receive a slight increase in base pay from last year's budget. Last year, Kessinger's base salary was $50,000, not including endorsements or radio contracts.
Harrison family wanted a return to roots
Family ties were a key theme in the aftermath of the news conference. Beverly Harrison said, "I grew up in Memphis, but my mother (the late Jewel Baker) is from Tupelo and my maternal grandmother was a Coker from Sherman in Union County.
"The paternal side of the family is still in Carrollton. So as far as I'm concerned, I'm a native Mississippian. I'm thrilled to be back home and Pat has always been in love with the South, especially with the lifestyle and values."
Harrison's family, which includes daughter Colleen and son J.T., never moved from Oklahoma to Pepperdine, even though "Malibu and the Pepperdine campus is where they shoot (television show) Baywatch," Harrison said. "It's a beautiful place, but it's not our kind of lifestyle."
Harrison's son, J.T., joined his father this season and started at third base for the Waves as a freshman. He will transfer to Ole Miss or Michigan, which is coached by one of Harrison's former players.
"It will be J.T.'s choice," Harrison said. "There are pluses and minuses to playing for your father and he's had a year of that. Whatever he wants to do, we'll support him in his choice."