Longtime Danville coach Harp inducted in KHSAA Hall of Fame
Sam Harp isn’t coaching any more, but he hasn’t left football behind.
In his third season of retirement after 42 years of coaching high school football, Harp remains active in the game that has been part of his life since his youth.
Instead of calling the shots on the sidelines, however, as he did for 36 seasons, the coach who won seven state championships in 25 seasons at Danville now works behind the scenes to help his son prepare his team for games and spends his Friday nights in the bleachers.
He is enjoying retirement and his proximity to grandchildren, though he admits he misses the game and he misses Danville.
And he enjoyed the most recent honor to result from his decades of success in coaching when he was inducted into the Dawahares/Kentucky High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame earlier this summer.
“It’s kind of surreal, I guess you might say,” Harp said. “It’s the culminating event of the 42 years I was in coaching.”
Harp is one of 491 former high school coaches, athletes, officials, administrators and contributors to be honored by the KHSAA since its hall of fame was established in 1988.
He was honored July 24 in Lexington along with the 11 other members of the KHSAA hall’s class of 2020. Their selection was announced in October 2019, but the induction was delayed for more than a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s quite an honor to be selected, and then the group that was there that night was a pretty impressive group,” Harp said. “It’s just good to be a part of it. It’s a tribute to all the athletes who played for me and the coaches who coached for me.”
Those players and coaches helped Harp win 75 percent of his games as a head coach at Danville and two other Kentucky schools.
He was fifth on the KHSAA’s all-time wins list when he left Danville following the 2012 season to take the job at Lebanon (Tenn.), and he is currently ranked seventh with 326 victories in 32 seasons in the state.
In Tennessee, Harp was only minutes away from daughter Kila and her family. These days, he is in Brunswick, Ga., where he is close to his son Chase and his family.
Chase Harp is the offensive coordinator at Glynn Academy, a public school of more than 1,900 students in Brunswick.
“I work behind the scenes a little bit helping Chase,” Sam Harp said. “I break down the opponents’ film and scout their offense,” he said. “I stay one week ahead of the game. I’m looking at the people they play next week, and on Friday nights I’m up in the stands.
“It’s great to be able to help him. That’s what coaching is all about, helping people, and to help him makes it all the more special. At the same time, I can sit here at home and do it on my own time. And it keeps me in touch with the game.”
Harp, who turned 68 last month, said that’s important to him even though he isn’t coaching.
“The game of football is forever evolving,” he said. “I’ve been out of it for three years now, but I still study the game. I’m a member of several coaching sites, I talk to college coaches, I’ve got several coaches in Kentucky I call once or sometimes two or three times a week during the season.”
Harp still has strong ties to Kentucky. He visits his 86-year-old mother in Frankfort as often as he can, and one of his granddaughters just began her freshman year at Centre College, where she is on the women’s soccer team.
And he said he and wife Karen are enjoying themselves in the deep South.
“We’re going to enjoy it while we are here. I’ve probably got one more move in me,” he said. “I get up every day, walk my dogs, go work out and then come home and do whatever. I can be on the beach in 15 minutes.”
Still, he admits he misses coaching.
“I do miss it honestly,” he said. “I miss Danville, and I knew in time I would. When I left I felt like it was the right time. I felt like the program was getting a little stagnant with me there, and I probably was with it, too. I probably made a mistake leaving.”
Harp came to Danville in 1988 after seven seasons at Calloway County and Anderson County. He won a state championship in his second season and won four in his first seven years with the Admirals, and he was 277-66 at Danville and has a career record of 332-142.
Coaching high school football was all Harp wanted to do after he played for coach Harvey “Sonny” Adkins at Franklin County.
“I always thought after playing for ‘Sonny,’ ‘This is what I want to do when I got out of school,’” Harp said. “High school coaching was what I wanted. I didn’t think about college or professional or anything else.”
He said the greatest rewards he got from coaching didn’t come in the biggest moments.
“The biggest reward for me was the day-to-day, being with the kids and the coaches and the preparation,” he said. “The Friday nights were just icing on the cake. The wins, the championships were icing on the cake.
“I enjoyed the preparation, I enjoyed the players, I liked seeing them come in as freshmen and seeing them leave as young men. That’s what kept me in it.”
Harp has received numerous honors but never gave any thought to being part of the KHSAA Hall of Fame until 2008, when he attended the induction of former Danville track and field and cross country coach E.G. Plummer was inducted.
“No, very honestly, it’s something I never even thought about,” he said. “The only time it first came to mind was when I went to E.G.’s induction. It was a nice event, and I thought it would be nice if it was to happen one day, but after that I didn’t think about it.”
Harp said the induction was truly a memorable event.
“They do a great job with it. It’s all about the inductees,” he said. “It’s just a class act.
“It’s kind of numbing in a way, because it’s about you.”
Harp was nominated for the hall in 2015 by Mark Peach, who played for Harp at Anderson. Harp was an assistant coach on Peach’s staff at Anderson in 2017 and ’18.
Peach couldn’t have known in 2015 that he would someday follow in Harp’s footsteps at Danville, but Harp said he is happy that Peach got the job.
“I think Mark will do a great job,” Harp said. “He pays attention to detail coaching-wise, he’s meticulous, he accounts for every minute, every second in practice.
“He’ll be as well prepared as any coach going into a game, and he’ll have the kids as well prepared as he possibly can. Hopefully Danville will give him time to institute the things he believes in. If they’ll hang in there with him, then good things will come.”
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