Two important happenings in California girls basketball relative to legendary Coach Brian Harrigan recently fell under the radar screen.
First, was his achieving the 700-win career coaching milestone this past season, and the second is Harrigan was let go on April 27 after guiding St. Francis-Mountain View to the semifinals of the CIF Northern Regional Division II playoffs before bowing out to eventual state champion Vanden-Fairfield.
The 2006 Cal-Hi Sports State Coach of the Year and 2009 National High School Coaches Association Girls Basketball Coach of the Year leaves St. Francis with a 703-241 career record. With little or no fanfare Harrigan got to the magic 700-win mark when the Lancers beat West Catholic Athletic League rival St. Ignatius 47-41 on January 31 at home.
According to the Cal-Hi Sports list of records Harrigan is only the third coach to ever record 700 wins. Joe Vaughan leads the list with 761 victories from 1976-2007 at Buena-Ventura. Kevin Kiernan of Mater Dei got there this past season and is now at 723 wins for his career.
Harrigan got his first head coaching job in 1982 as a 23-year old at St. Rose-San Francisco where he stayed until 1990 when the school had to close due to irreparable damage from the 1989 San Francisco earthquake that also halted the Bay Bridge World Series.
In 1990 Harrigan landed the head job at Sacred Heart Cathedral-San Francisco where he was a 1976 graduate, and the rest is history. In 18 years at the helm of the Irish he amassed 597 victories, six WCAL championships, 10 CIF Central Coast Section titles, and four state championships.
The first state title came in 1998 in Division III followed by a Division IV championship in 2006 and then back-to-back state crowns in 2007-2008 in Division III. Overall, Harrigan had six Northern Regional champions as his 2001 and 2003 teams were NorCal champions but lost in state title games. His 2008 team was named the Cal-Hi Sports State Team of the Year and was No. 1 in the nation in every major rankings service.
At the end of the 2009 season Harrigan decided to retire but did not rule out a return, and in 2011 he re-surfaced to take over a St. Francis team that had never been much of a factor in the West Catholic Athletic League.
His first year the Lancers were 18-10 and 6-6 in the ultra-tough WCAL. His 2012-13 team went 24-9 and 8-4 in league and was chosen for the Central Coast Section Open Division where they were the runners-up to Archbishop Mitty-San Jose. From there they went to Division II for the CIF state playoffs and won the Northern Regional Division II title with a victory over Lynbrook-San Jose before falling short in a state title game loss to Lynwood. Even so, it was the greatest season in St. Francis girls basketball history.
Unfortunately for Harrigan he was never able to duplicate the NorCal D2 title season, although only one of his teams during the next four years did not produce a winning record. The 2013-14 team was 16-12, in 2014-15 the Lancers were 14-15, they were 18-10 two years ago, and last season they finished 16-13.
Plus, his sometimes fiery coaching style didn’t seem to be as well received as when Harrigan started at St. Francis six years ago.
“I’m a little different, a fiery guy, and I think they realized who they were getting, but over the last couple of years it was insinuated that coaching styles are changing and I was asked to make adjustments,” Harrigan said.
“I felt I made some good steps,” Harrigan continued. “But I’m still going to bark sometimes to try to get the girls to play harder.”
Although no one seemed to know of Harrigan’s dismissal last week, a source that wishes to remain anonymous tipped off Prep2Prep. As a result, we contacted the school on Friday morning and Athletic Director Michael Pilawski confirmed the rumors.
“We appreciate everything Coach Harrigan has done for the school and the program the past six years but he will not be returning,” Pilawski said.
When Harrigan was contacted Thursday evening he did not readily return calls and texts. It turns out he was coaching girls basketball.
“I’m the assistant to the assistant on my goddaughter’s third-grade team at St. Gabriel (San Francisco),” Harrigan said with a chuckle.
“I’m a big boy. I’ll be 59 next week and it’s not my first rodeo,” Harrigan said.
“If I’m not your guy and you want to go in a different direction I understand about losing my job,” Harrigan continued. “But no, no, no, I’m not done at all. I’ve still got a passion to coach and I’m looking for the next experience, the next journey.”
With his resume it’s highly likely in the near future Harrigan will be doing more than being the assistant to the assistant on a third-grade parish school team. He will also continue to teach pre-school in the San Francisco Unified School District.
If his biggest rival is correct there’s no doubt Harrigan will be coaching somewhere again soon.
“Brian is a proven winner,” said Mitty Coach Sue Phillips. “His teams compete, his players are always prepared for game day and well schooled on the fundamentals. Brian is one of the most well respected coaches in the high school game.”
As for St. Francis additional rumors that they might be naming a new head coach on Friday were dispelled by Pilawski.
“Right now we’re not close to hiring a new coach,” Pilawski remarked. “But when we do we’ll put out a press release like we always do.”