TUCSON — Chad Harrison took his place at the starting line at Benson High School and crossed the finish line of his running career at Pima Community College. Now, in his 16th year coaching track and field, Chad has been named the interim head coach of the Aztecs men’s and women’s track and field teams.
Chad was offered the position in March after serving the Aztecs as an assistant coach for 12 years. The closing of college athletics due to COVID-19 ended his first season as the leader before the teams could compete. But it did not slow down his enthusiasm for his new coaching position.
“I have several goals as a head coach,” Chad said. “First to continue a successful track and field program and give all of our athletes the opportunities to succeed. Naturally I want to take the men’s and women’s regional titles but I also want to get our athletes to a higher lever – to get them the opportunity to compete at the Division 1 level.
“I want them to make it both academically and athletically and to reach their athletic goals and dreams.”
In his first 12 years at PCC he coached eight individual national champions in men’s and women’s high jump and long jump, 31 individual regional champions as well as 61 All-Americans (athletes who finished in the top 8 at the Junior College Nationals). Since taking on the position as the Aztecs’ head coach, Chad has filled the men’s and women’s rosters with over 86 of the top track and field athletes from around the state of Arizona and beyond, which is an increase from last year’s team of 36. He has also brought on four new coaches to his staff: Mark Bennett as the distance coach, Shonda Jones as the jumps and heptathlon coach, Alfred Shirley as the sprints and hurdles coach and Hector Espinoza as the throws coach.
Growing up in the small Southeastern Arizona town of Benson had many advantages for Chad. It was from these roots, activities and events in his early life that led him into coaching.
Chad was adopted by Vera and Cliff Harrison at 3-months-old and was welcomed into the Harrison family by his three sisters Vitra, Samone, and Jennifer as well as his two brothers Junior and Leon. His father taught him the importance of hard work while his mother taught him to be a strong and honorable man. But most importantly both taught him the importance of family, community, and helping others.
Chad’s early years were consumed by more than just athletics. He appeared in several movies as an extra, (including ‘Young Guns’, ‘Posse’, and ‘Young Riders’) and several commercials filmed in Southeastern Arizona. Later in life he would go into modeling as a member of the Ford Modeling Company, modeling for such brands as Saks 5th Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Mercedes and Vera Wang. But it was his love for athletics that led him to start competing in school sports.
While attending Benson High School, Chad competed in football, basketball and track and field. It was there he developed his passion for the long jump, triple jump, high jump, 4x100, and 4x400. Each sport gave Chad, his coaches and teammates success but he found the most success on the track. He represented the Bobcats at the track and field state meet each of his four years and medaled in every meet. He was also part of the 4x400 state championship team for Benson.
“My favorite track and field memory from high school was taking the state championship in the 4x400 with teammates Mike Estrella, Travis Fenn, and Richard Dimas,” Chad said. “We also tied our school record in the 4x100 when Mike, Travis, Stephen LaPointe, and I finished fourth at state our senior year. Lots of great memories of track and field, way too many to list.”
Their 4x100 time still stands tied for the school record.
College lifeChad knew he wanted to continue his track and field career after high school. After applying to Pima Community College, he was soon contacted by the coach and became a member of the Aztec team. He competed in the 4x100, the long jump, and the triple jump for the Aztecs, while working on his degree in general education and science. His hard work on the track paid off as he earned a trip to the junior college nationals both years in the long jump and the 4x100 with Buena High School football coach Joe Thomas as one of his relay teammates.
“I have known Chad since high school when we competed in athletics against each other,” Thomas said of his college teammate. “He was a very gifted and talented young man in track and field with his speed and his jumps. We both attended Pima Community College and after I finished playing football in the fall we ran track together in the Spring. Chad vouched for me as far as my speed to the head coach. It was nice to compete against Chad in high school and then with him in college.
“After college he started coaching Pima CC jumpers and I started coaching football. I’m very proud of the successes and accomplishments that Chad has had coaching his jumpers. I know that he will be a good head coach and do good things as a coach, a father, and a son in life.”
Following his years at PCC, Chad entered the University of Arizona to work on his bachelor’s’ degree. Needing teaching and coaching hours, he returned to his roots, Benson High School, and became a volunteer assistant coach for the long jump, triple jump, 800, 4x100, and 4x400. Enjoying his time as a coach at Benson, he stayed on for three more years to help his track and field alma mater.
It was at this point that Chad graduated from the University of Arizona with a degree in public health with a minor in physiology and biology. He would spend the next five years teaching science and physical education and coaching basketball and soccer at Alta Vista High School. During this time, he also began an accelerated program at the University of Arizona in nursing – followed by five years as a cardiac ICU nurse at Tucson Medical Center. He then went on to work for the Avanos Medical Group for four years before he transferred to Intuitive Surgical where he now works with da Vinci Robots, training and supporting medical staff in their use.
But it was his passion for track and field that brought him back to the sport he loved when he, as a teacher at Alta Vista, was offered a position with his former college as a part time assistant coach in charge of the jumps, relays, and sprints. Excited for this new adventure in his life, Chad became an Aztec coach – joining fellow Benson Bobcat track and field teammate Jared Saunders who was PCC’s throwing coach.
Chad admits that his life has come full circle since he competed in high school: from an athlete to a coach, from a student to a teacher, from a son to a father. Now, in addition to his career as an Intuitive Surgical representative and track and field coach, the most important priority in his life is his family, his girlfriend Lynn and their 2 1/2-year-old daughter Cienna.
“They have changed my life,” Chad said. “Now Cienna wants to come with me to every one of our track and field meets and I will take her. My priorities changed when she was born – being a parent puts your life into perspective.”
With the many facets of Chad’s life blending together and enhancing each other, he feels truly grateful. From his parents who adopted him and brought him into their family, to Lynn and Cienna who are his base, to his job with Intuitive and finally to his track and field athletes – he is always learning from the changes and successes in his life.
But there is one truth that will always stand strong in his life and he will be instilling in his athletes as their head coach.
“If you have someone who believes in you, you can do anything,” he said.