Jim Harris said he hopes the turmoil of the last several weeks is over; that his days of being a controversial figure are behind him.
“I’d just as soon lead the life of a high school basketball coach again,” he said as he stood in the Ocean View High School gym Tuesday afternoon after learning he had been reinstated as the school’s varsity basketball coach.
John Myers, the Ocean View principal who had relieved Harris of his coaching duties on March 27, announced Tuesday that he reconsidered and that Harris will return as coach for the 1985-86 season.
News of the decision spread as fast on the Huntington Beach school’s campus as the announcement of Harris’ dismissal seven weeks ago. Reaction at Ocean View--where students had staged mass protests and parents had flocked to school board meetings and signed petitions on Harris’ behalf--was predictably positive.
“There were a lot of hugs,” Harris said. “I think everyone’s just happy that this is concluded.
“The bottom line is that we can go on with the program. There might be some people who are unhappy about this decision. Who knows? All I know is I’m back as head coach, and I’m very happy about it.”
Ocean View players contacted also expressed their approval. Said Dave Straight, a starter for Harris this past season: “Everybody knows it was right. Justice is a good word, I guess. Justice was done.
“I didn’t think it would turn out this way this fast. I thought there was a lot more bureaucracy and red tape it would have to go through to come to this. I’m glad it worked out the way it did, though. He didn’t deserve to go through all this.”
Ricky Butler was relieved. Butler was Harris’ starting center and a central figure in the circumstances which led to Harris’ dismissal.
Butler and reserve forward Desi Hazely, both sophomore transfers from Lynwood, were declared ineligible following a three-month investigation by the Huntington Beach Union High School District office, which determined that Harris had used “undue influence” to “retain them at the school.” Both Butler and Hazely live with Harris and his family in El Toro.
Butler said he suspected some kind of announcement would be made Tuesday regarding Harris’ fate.
“I asked him about it earlier, and he said to just wait a few minutes,” Butler said. “Then, Mr. Myers came (into the gym) and read us the press release (announcing the decision). I looked around and saw the smiles on all the players’ faces.
“It was awesome. Everyone was in here playing today like old times. It was much more fun today.”
Said Ocean View Athletic Director Tim Mennealy, one of Harris’ assistants: “I think everybody’s pretty relieved and anxious to get things going again. I think this was everybody’s desire from the start.”
Reaction elsewhere was mixed. Two of Harris’ rival coaches in the Sunset League declined to comment. Edison Coach Jon Borchert said it would be easier to form an opinion if the complete results of the district investigation had been made public. “As coaches, we really don’t know what to think because we don’t know what was in that report.
“If Jim is innocent of the charges, he deserves to be reinstated. (But) we never got to see what was in that report.”
Gary McKnight, the Mater Dei coach who was a former Harris assistant, called the decision “a great move” on the part of the Ocean View administration. McKnight, who coached against Harris in the Southern Section 5-A championship game in March, said he disapproved of the earlier decision to relieve Harris of his coaching duties.
“It caused a real fine person to go through a lot of grief and frustration, as well as the basketball players at Ocean View,” McKnight said.
“Jim Harris would never do anything intentionally to break any rule. I’ve been with him. I know him.”
Harris expressed gratitude for the support he has received from students and parents, and said he hoped that the commotion at Ocean View will finally subside. He said he is anxious for his professional life to return to normal.
“You can have an impact coaching and working with kids,” he said. “But it’s supposed to be real quiet. It’s supposed to be a real subtle impact.”
For Harris, the past seven weeks have been anything but quiet.