POCATELLO — Longtime Pocatello High football coach Tom Harrison resigned as head coach at the school earlier this month, and District 25 is saying little about his exit from the football program.
“It’s a personnel issue, and we don’t talk about personnel issues, do we?” School Board Chairwoman Janie Gebhardt said before abruptly ending a phone interview Friday.
Harrison said he notified the Pocatello/Chubbuck School District on Nov. 11 about his decision to leave Pocatello High’s football program.
During his tenure, Harrison managed to grow the Pocatello High football program and took the team to state playoffs four times. The Indians won
the state championship in 2006.
“We built a great program,” Harrison said. “This year, 130 players turned out.”
But Harrison was suspended in September after allegedly verbally abusing one of his players — a charge he denies.
Following the suspension, Harrison was barred from attending his team’s games or from talking to other Indians coaches and players — including his son-in-law Jason Palmer, the varsity cornerbacks and receivers coach; his son Jeb Harrison, the offensive coordinator for the Indians; and even his grandson Treyton Palmer, the Indians’ quarterback.
“The season ended and I was still on suspension and I decided I wasn’t going to do it anymore,” Harrison said. “It got to the point where this was just the right thing to do right now for me and my family.”
Harrison’s daughter, Heidi Palmer, told the Journal last month that the suspension stemmed from a meeting between Harrison and one of his players following Pocatello High’s 40-30 loss to Idaho Falls on Sept. 19. The player reported to Principal Lisa Delonas that he felt uncomfortable and bullied during the meeting with the coach, according to Palmer.
More than 100 comments, most in support of Harrison, were posted on the Journal’s Facebook page the day news of his suspension broke.
Harrison has denied verbally abusing any of his players and is still teaching physical education at Pocatello High School and said he plans to concentrate on doing that well.
Leaving the football program in Pocatello that he invested a decade of his life to was not an easy decision, but Harrison believes it was the best one.
“I’m keeping my options open, and we’ll just see what the future holds for me,” Harrison said. “I just want to thank all the players, the parents and the assistant coaches that supported me through the years. We have some outstanding memories during my tenure.”
Assistant coach Willie Walker stepped in as Pocatello High’s interim head coach and led the Indians to a 4-5 overall record and a 1-3 conference record. PHS Athletic Director Robert Parker said the district will now start looking for a replacement for Harrison.
Parker said change is always difficult, but the school will continue to grow the football program.
“We’ll open up the job, collect applications, do some interviews and hope for something positive to come out of it,” Parker said. “Tom has been there a long time, and he’s been a good coach.”
Harrison came to Pocatello High in 2003 after coaching the Snake River Panthers to a total of eight state football titles in their division and a couple of runner-up trophies. The year he arrived at PHS, the Indians had won two games total in the two previous seasons.