For the past two years, Coach Brad Harris has helped transform the Benton Panther football program. As defensive coordinator, it was a natural progression for him to move into the head coaching position. With their recent strides, Harris said the Panthers will be the team to beat this year. “We have the opportunity to be very competitive this year and in the mix
of winners,” he said.
Harris replaces Scott Neathery, who is now Benton’s athletic director. Neathery led the Panthers to a 6A south conference championship, a trip to the 6A state finals in 2014 and a trip to the 6A state semi-finals last season.
Harris came to Benton from Lincoln High School in Northwest Arkansas, where he led them to the first playoff win in the school’s history. In 2013, the Wolves made the 4A state quarterfinals while winning 11 games.
“Coach Harris has been successful everywhere he’s coached,” Neathery said. “Most notably, he did an outstanding job of turning the Lincoln football program around as their head coach. Brad made an immediate impact with the Panther defense when he was hired as our defensive coordinator two years ago. He changed our mentality on defense, resulting in turnovers, sacks and big plays that made huge impacts on the game.”
Originally from Gurdon, Harris’s first football coaching stint started in 1998 at Arkadelphia Junior High School. He then moved on to the high school team as defensive coordinator. From Arkadelphia he took the job at Lincoln High School. Growing up, he played football himself as well as baseball and played college football at Henderson State University for a year before having to take a break because of family issues. He eventually went back to the university and graduated with a degree in education with emphasis on physical education and health.
Moving to Benton was a good family decision, Harris said, noting he and his wife wanted to live closer to family. “And Coach Neathery and I have known each other since college. It’s been a great move for our family,” he said. Their son, Drew, plays football nearby at Ouachita Baptist College in Arkadelphia, and their younger son, Brayden, is the middle linebacker for the Panthers.
Harris said he can’t imagine doing anything else. “I’ve always loved athletics and the game,” he said. “I’ve never thought about quitting. I love what I do and feel like I’ve never worked a day in my life.”
“Every year is a different year with different players and talent,” Harris noted. “Last year there were high expectations coming off the state finals. The challenge as a head coach is to work with the changes each year to help transform kids and make them work hard,” he said, adding he’s confident this season will be a good one.
In addition to his Lincoln High School success, Harris was a Hootens Coach of the Year finalist. He also was named Coach of the Year by Channel 5 News out of Fort Smith for his efforts at Lincoln. When he became head coach there, the team had a 20-game losing streak.
Harris’s motivation is simple. It stems from the kids he coaches. “I enjoy getting out there on the field and guiding them. I enjoy my job and love coming to work. It keeps me young.”
The upcoming Salt Bowl isn’t Harris’s first, but he said he looks forward to approaching the popular rival game against the Bryant Hornets in his new capacity. “It’s the biggest game in the state of Arkansas and an awesome game to start the season,” he said. “We’re going in to win. For years, we’ve played the little brother card and it’s time to upset big brother.”
The Hornets also have a new coach – Jerry “Buck” James. Harris said he first knew James when he was at Arkadelphia and James was coaching at Camden Fairview High School. “I have no doubt both teams will be ready for this game. And if you can’t get excited about this game then you have a problem.”