- The Washington Times - Friday, March 30, 2001

Joe Harrington was coaxing his alma mater, trying to urge it on from 3,000 miles away to a victory over Stanford in the NCAA West Region championship, pulling hard not just for his school but for his close friend and former teammate, Maryland coach Gary Williams.
The Terrapins won. Maryland is in the Final Four, finally, and Joe Harrington, who roomed with Williams when both were starting out as coaches, hung around and helped Lefty Driesell launch the program into the big time before becoming a head coach himself, was soaking it all up.
Well, some of it. Actually, he was kind of distracted. As interested as he was in the Terps, Harrington had something else going on that required even more attention. It was Clark's birthday.
Clark is Joe and Patsy Harrington's son, a bright, bouncy lad of 2. The party overlapped with Maryland-Stanford, and Harrington was shuttling back and forth from the backyard to the house.
"The thought crossed my mind that Gary's coaching for the Final Four," he said, "and there's me, watching my son blow out his birthday candles."
A couple of days earlier, seated at the kitchen table a few hours before Maryland defeated Georgetown in the regional semifinal and watching Clark multitask with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, Harrington said, "I think this is Gary's year."
Who would have believed it? No, not the part about Gary Williams. The part about Joe Harrington.
After a college and professional career that spanned 30 years, including a decade as a Maryland assistant and seven years as head coach at George Mason, Harrington is a stay-at-home dad living in Reston. His roster has been trimmed to three: Patsy, Clark and Ava, who will be 1 in May. Harrington is 55, with a daughter younger than Gary Williams' grandson.
There are lots of men who raised kids, divorced and started over again with a second family. Not Harrington. He's a first-timer. And because the coaching part of his life is finished, at least for now, he is also a full-timer. Rather than read defenses, he reads a book called "Miss Mary Mack" out loud. A road trip means an excursion to the supermarket. Weight training, no. Potty training, yes.
"When you have kids late in life, I think you really take time to enjoy them," he said with a New England accent, a remnant of growing up in Maine.
Tall and lean at 6-foot-5 1/2, still close to his playing weight with hardly any gray invading his maddeningly full shock of sandy hair, Harrington doesn't look his age. He seems to have found some sort of youth tonic and bottled it. Together with the long-haired Patsy, who just turned 35, and the kids, blond and cute and already spilling over with smiles and personality, this is a strikingly attractive family.
Yesterday Harrington kissed them all good-bye and flew to Minneapolis for the Final Four to attend the coaches' convention and lend moral support to Williams. They became pals at Maryland, meeting as freshmen in 1963, rooming together as neophyte assistants to freshman coach Tom Davis, a pair of young, cocky, good-looking hotshots. Pressed for details on the swath he and Williams cut through College Park back then, Harrington laughed and said, "Some things are better left unsaid."
Williams went with Davis to Lafayette and then American University and eventually became the coach at AU. Harrington stayed at Maryland, remaining even after Driesell replaced Frank Fellows in 1969 and cleaned house. Why did Harrington get to stay? Well, it seems that another of his good friends was former Terp Jay McMillen, who had a kid brother, Tom, back in Mansfield, Pa., who happened to be the best high school player in the country and who became one of Driesell's big-time recruits.
But Harrington demonstrated an ability to coach beyond knowing the right people, remaining with Driesell for 10 years. Then he became the coach at Hofstra, then George Mason, Long Beach State and Colorado 17 years in all, a career mark of 251-219. Then he was an assistant in the NBA with the Toronto Raptors for two years. If ever there was a lifer, Joe Harrington was it or so it seemed.
"I had tunnel vision, and I was so driven to be the best coach," said Harrington, who, at Colorado, was dubbed "Crazy Joe" by one of his players for his intensity. "Not because I wanted to, but that's the nature of being a head coach at the college level."
The thought of home and family, of Patsy, a marketing consultant for builders who works mainly at home, and of Clark and Ava especially, might have seemed like someone else's life to Harrington not that long ago. But after achieving success everywhere he worked, there were problems at Colorado, a football school lacking in basketball tradition. One day in January 1996, in his sixth season in Boulder, Harrington avoided the lynch mob waiting for him and suddenly resigned. Saying at the time he "felt things slipping away," Harrington said he quit so one of his assistants could get the job (Ricardo Patton was promoted and remains head coach). But also, for the first time, Harrington needed to step away.
"I don't think I was burned out," he said, "I just think I needed a change. I think it would be good if coaches could take a sabbatical for a year, kind of like professors do. Get recharged… . The focus on winning, on doing everything correctly by the NCAA rules, the demands to be successful and making money, Title IX, it all has an effect. People want results."
Harrington's first marriage, to a successful lawyer (Anne Harrington is now a Montgomery County circuit court judge) had ended years before due to divergent career paths and distance. He was a bachelor for a long time and was not uncomfortable with that (dating, among others, a woman who appeared on "American Gladiators."). He took up golf. After returning home to Northern Virginia to plan his next move, he was introduced to Patsy. It was a brief conversation, but she was immediately taken with Harrington, who told her he was a coach of some sort. Armed only with his name, she combed the Internet to see at which high school this Joe Harrington fellow worked. Eventually, she figured it out.
For his part, Harrington seemed less interested. At least that's what Patsy thought at first. She never heard from him. Then a few months later, one of her friends said there was a guy she should meet. Guess who?
"It's just a big game," she said. "A big ploy with these boys. Joe knew all along I wanted to go out with him. And he wanted to go out with me. But he was so standoffish. It was crazy."
On their first date, Patsy said, Joe told her he wanted to get married and start a family. Yeah, right. "I thought it was a line," she said. "How many guys say that. Ninety percent?"
But Harrington wasn't kidding. He had composed a list of personal goals, and riding the daddy track was pretty high up. Free of his coaching restraints, he believed he was ready to devote the necessary time and attention. "I just wanted more out of life," he said. "I'm not one to believe coaching is in your blood. People say that, but I don't believe it. I think if it's in your blood, you're so narrow-minded you're missing what life's about."
And yet, Harrington still felt the tug. He enjoyed working with players. He liked to teach. College was out, but maybe the NBA. In 1998, Raptors coach Butch Carter, to whom Harrington had given his first coaching job, added Harrington to his staff. A few months later, he and Patsy were married.
Patsy commuted between Virginia and Toronto, every other week. After she got pregnant with Clark, the traveling stopped at the 7-month mark. Clark was born in March 1999. During the 1999-2000 season, Harrington went nearly six weeks without seeing his family and hated that. Then Ava was born. It wasn't great news for Harrington when Lenny Wilkens replaced Carter after the season and the staff was let go, but now he was ready to start something else.
"In the NBA, I was traveling all the time," he said. "Always on the move, always on the go. And in college, your life is set for you. Your life is programmed. Now you're home every night. And every day. Your life revolves around your kids.
"It's totally different. Totally different. But I really enjoy it. It takes a lot of patience. You can't lose your cool. If you do, I think it hurts the development of your kids. You've got to be patient. It's like basketball. If you lose it during a timeout or a game, it only hurts you. And I've lost it at times. Now I've got a family, two young kids. I think the patience you learn from coaching helps you raise your kids."
"He's a fantastic father," Patsy said. "He truly is. I knew he would be a great father and a great husband, but he turned out to be a fantastic father. I didn't think he'd be able to put his golf game aside as much as he did. He used to play 18 or 36 holes and then play poker with the boys. Now they can't even get him stay around for a soda. He can't wait to see the kids."
Can those who know Harrington envision him cooking dinner for the family? Doing the shopping? Splashing in the puddles with Clark? Changing diapers? Yes and no.
Ricardo Patton said Harrington was "tremendous" with his two sons at Colorado. "You could see that he always loved kids," Patton said. "I think this has had a great calming effect on him. When you're in this profession, you're described as being wound too tight. The profession kind of promotes that. But I can see where Coach Harrington is more relaxed and enjoying life more."
Helped by a full-time nanny, Harrington works at home for a marketing firm owned by Carter. He still runs a summer basketball camp. He misses the game, of course, misses the competition, working with the players. He hasn't ruled out getting back in, perhaps as a consultant or even as a high school coach, or maybe, just maybe, he'll end up working with Gary Williams again. Whatever Harrington does, it will be on his terms and fit his new lifestyle.
With the Raptors, Harrington worked with Tracy McGrady and Vince Carter. Now his star pupil is Clark, who already knows how to shoot a basketball and even swing a golf club. "I'm not going to push him," Harrington said. Spoiling him is another matter. The lower level of the house looks like a Toys R Us outlet.
"I just get a thrill out of watching the kids do things, watching them grow up," Harrington said. "I'm starting to potty-train Clark right now. That's a thrill. He's so excited about, you know, little things. Hitting a golf ball or seeing a worm on a sidewalk or seeing a squirrel eat something out on the deck."
As Gary Williams was getting ready for Duke this week, the Terps in the spotlight, Joe Harrington was driving the kids to music class.
"There are different degrees of happiness," he said. "You always want things to be perfect, and they never can be, just like coaching. There are always obstacles. But I like my life right now. I have a great wife and two beautiful kids. Life is good, as they say."


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