By Paul Holston, Editor-in-Chief, and Brittany Webb, Sports Editor
Posted 2:00 PM EST, Weds., Nov. 23, 2016
Updated 11:15 AM EST, Mon., Nov. 28, 2016
The Thanksgiving holiday became bittersweet for the Howard University football team. While players were heading home to celebrate with their families, the head coach of their team was being released from his position.
In an official announcement made by the Office of the President, Head Football Coach Gary Harrell’s tenure with Howard University will conclude when his contract ends this month. The announcement comes after the football team gained a victory against Delaware State University 26-21 at home during Senior Day, Saturday, Nov. 19. The team concluded its 2016-2017 season with a 2-9 record.
“This was a very difficult decision given that my relationship with Coach Harrell extends back to my days as an undergraduate student,” said Howard President Wayne A.I. Frederick. “We extend our very best wishes and a profound thank you to Coach Harrell for his dedication and hard work with the University’s football program.”
Harrell, also known as “The Flea,” took on the position of head coach in January of 2011, leading the team for six seasons. Prior to his coaching career at Howard, Harrell is a 1994 graduate of Howard with a degree in marketing and was a starter for the Howard football team who went undefeated in 1993, winning the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championship. He was also inducted into the Howard University Hall of Fame in November 2005.
To his success, Harrell was a wide receiver for the New York Giants (1995), Frankfurt Galaxy (WLAF-1996) and the Montreal Alouettes (CFL-1996). Before becoming the head football coach at Howard, Harrell was a football coach at Texas Southern University, Florida A&M University, Morgan State University and Bowie State University.
Upon hearing the announcement, while surprised in hearing the departure of their coach through email, Howard Bison players praised him for his invaluable mentorship.
“I was shocked,” said senior offensive lineman Toree Boyd. “I feel that President Frederick handled the situation the wrong way. He didn’t allow Coach Harrell to meet with his players to let us know what was going on himself and in-person.”
“I feel Coach Flea was a great, well-minded coach that pushed us a lot to be great on- and off-the-field,” senior defensive back Travon Hunt said. “He was teaching us to be men in the real world, whenever it would come for us.”
“Flea motivated us a lot and would also try to do things outside of football to get us exposure, like mini photo shoots and interviews from people.”
Under Harrell’s leadership, the football team ranked in the MEAC Conference fourth in 2011, second in 2012, seventh in 2014, eighth in 2015 and tenth in 2016.
“Coach Flea is a great man who came to work everyday with an unwavering passion for what he did,” said junior offensive lineman Janer Reyes. “He tried to turn boys into men and give young men the opportunity to be more than their past. He gave me a shot and helped me financially when I walked onto the team.
“He might not have gotten results on the W column, but players were graduating and staying in school at a much higher than before,” Reyes said. “His football players were moving on from football to great jobs and different graduate opportunities.”
Although the team hasn’t seen a successful season in a while, Boyd, who has played under Harrell for four years, doesn’t believe that Harrell should solely take the hit for the outcome.
“The last two seasons were rough for the players and coach,” Boyd said. “We put in the work, but we didn’t get the results we expected. He was doing things to try to help turn the program around; everybody just needed to play their part.”
Harrell expressed to the Howard community his gratefulness for the opportunity to be the head football coach for Howard through his Twitter account.
“It was a great experience and thrill!,” he said.
According to the Office of the President, during the next couple of weeks, the Department of Athletics will announce a process for selecting the next head football coach. Harrell leaves Howard with an overall coaching record of 20-36.