Jeff Harbison’s last game as Sierra head football coach may have been a loss, but he’ll be remembered for the many firsts the Timberwolves celebrated under his guidance.
Athletic director Anthony Chapman announced Tuesday that Harbison has stepped down after 12 successful years that include eight postseason appearances, two Valley Oak League championships and the team’s unforgettable 2015 run to the CIF State Division IV-A championship.
Sierra (6-5) lost to Center 29-27 in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoffs on Nov. 10, marking the end of an era.
Harbison could not be reached for comment.
“Coach Harbison’s emphasis on academics, integrity and the need to represent our school and community in a positive manner are what clearly sets him apart from the rest,” Chapman said in a statement. “We are forever in debt to both Jeff and his family for the countless hours spent behind the scenes helping kids, providing guidance and leading our football program to both regional and state recognition and respect.
“He is not easily replaced, is highly respected amongst his peers and is revered by those he coaches.”
Chapman added that a search for Harbison’s replacement begins immediately.
Harbison is just the second football coach in school history. He replaced Greg Leland, who, along with then-principal Rick Arucan, hired Harbison soon after he was promoted as the school’s athletic director.
In Leland’s final year as head coach, he elevated Harbison — previously head coach of the sophomore squad for three seasons — to the varsity staff to serve as defensive coordinator.
The Timberwolves went 3-7 under the new regime in 2005, but Harbison since raised the program to unprecedented heights while bucking tradition along the way. He did away with coaching titles, insisting that game planning and play calling be more of a collaborative effort. He also installed the spread offense at a time when most VOL teams operated more traditional run-first attacks.
On top of compiling an 88-49 record, Harbison led Sierra to its first postseason appearance in 2008 and a share of its only VOL titles in 2009 and 2014.
The 2009 team reached the SJS Division III semifinals and finished with a program-best 11-2 record. Arguably Sierra’s best team, the 2014 Timberwolves won a school-record nine straight games to start the season before dropping two of their last three.
Sierra again went on a nine-game winning streak between 2015 and 16. The Timberwolves managed to make the playoffs in 2015 despite a 3-4 finish for fifth place in the highly-competitive VOL. Down 27-13 at halftime against district rival Weston Ranch, they came back to win 34-27 to secure their postseason berth in the regular-season finale.
Sierra didn’t look back since, mounting a Cinderella run for the ages. As the No. 3 seed in the SJS Division IV playoffs, the Timberwolves trounced Liberty Ranch 42-0 for their first section title. They then held off Sutter 17-13 in the CIF State Northern California Division IV-A Bowl Game before pulling off a thrilling 20-15 win for the state title at Chowchilla.