When Brian Harbin stepped away from high school coaching two years ago, his career path led to a familiar college destination.
Not only that, he didn’t have to wander far — or long — to get there.
A 1999 Franklin College graduate, Harbin — a former player at the school — is in his second season there as an assistant football coach.
He joined the Grizzlies’ staff last season as a defensive backs coach and was promoted this week to the defensive coordinator position.
As the new title indicates, Harbin has made an immediate impact on the Franklin program, an NCAA Division III power that has reached the national playoffs six times in the past seven years.
Although the former high school head coach downplays his contributions, Harbin doesn’t mask his delight at being back at his alma mater and having a hand in the Grizzlies’ success.
“It’s a little surreal going back to where you played football. It’s a special place for me,” said Harbin, who was a four-year wide receiver for the Grizzlies. “It’s a special place for me.”
Harbin, 37, arrived at the college shortly after resigning as head coach at Franklin Community High School following the 2012 season. He spent four seasons with the Grizzly Cubs, preceded by a one-year stint as head coach at Franklin Central High School. Before that, he spent eight years as an assistant coach at Center Grove High School.
It was at Center Grove where Harbin first cultivated a relationship with 12th-year Grizzlies head coach Mike Leonard, who occasionally visited the school on recruiting errands. They found they shared many of the same coaching philosophies and have been friends ever since.
Leonard invited Harbin to join his staff for the 2013 and regards it as a marquee hire.
“He’s a phenomenal teacher. You can tell he’s had a great teaching background,” Leonard said. “He’s done a great job wherever he’s taught, from Center Grove to Franklin Central to Franklin Community, and he’s one of the most respected defensive coaches in the area by a lot of high school coaches and now (by) college coaches.
“The players really like him.”
For his part, Harbin looks forward to the opportunity to further contribute to the Grizzlies’ bid to contend for a national championship.
Winners of four straight HCAC titles, the Grizzlies have advanced to the second round of the postseason three straight years and are ranked No. 12 in the Lindy Sports Division III preseason poll and are No. 25 in the D3football.com Top 25 preseason poll.
Franklin finished 8-4 last season after losing to eventual national champion Wisconsin-Whitewater in the second round of the national playoffs.
“You feel blessed and fortunate not only to be around a great program like this, but you’re around an outstanding group of coaches and players, starting with coach Leonard,” Harbin said. “I’m just one small piece of the puzzle, and we plan to work as hard as we possibly can to continue to build on the tradition.
“I’m just happy to be a part of it.”