Jason Watkins retires after 20 years coaching Harrison
EVANSVILLE – Jason Watkins still remembers his introduction to high school soccer coaching.
He graduated from Indiana University in 1996 and returned to his home in Evansville. He wasn’t sure what his next career step would be, but figured he could help his alma mater. Watkins has scheduled a visit to speak with his former football coach, Bob Gaudin.
Except he couldn’t find it. It turns out that Harrison had moved his practices from Stockwell Park to Covert Avenue since he graduated. Watkins almost missed his opportunity due to a misunderstanding.
He never left the program in the 25 years since that encounter. On Wednesday, Watkins determined it was finally time for a change. He announced his retirement as the Harrison Boys’ Football Coach after his 20th season in charge.
“I had a great race and it was a great experience,” said Watkins. “I have been fortunate to be part of this program for the past 25 years. It meant the world to me, but having had such an impact on our student-athletes is what makes it worth it.
As a former Warriors player turned coach, Watkins has spent most of his life with the boys’ football program. The reasoning for pulling out now was simple. He wants to spend time with his family.
Watkins coached his two eldest sons at Harrison – Nicholas graduated last year and Luke is currently a senior. But her youngest, Will, is a freshman at Evansville Christian who also plays football. With the obvious scheduling conflicts that come with running a program, Watkins would have missed most of his career.
“The big part of it was being able to watch my youngest son play football in high school,” he said. “I didn’t want to miss anything. I owe him this and I want to make sure I follow through.
Watkins left his mark not only on Harrison’s football but in the city. He won 157 games in his 20 years as head coach, the most in program history, and two Southern Indiana Athletic Conference and City titles (2005, 2010).
The only thing that hinted at him was a sectional championship. Harrison went 8-8-1 this fall and lost in the sectional semifinals. It was a crazy 6-5 overtime loss to North that was probably among the best games Watkins has coached in his career.
Why stay with Harrison for 25 years? Watkins credits Gaudin, whom he keeps on par with Bill Vieth, for making Evansville football what it has become. He was a sophomore when Gaudin took over the program. These lessons learned over those three years are what prompted a comeback in 1996.
When Gaudin then moved to Texas, another conversation took place between the two about Watkins taking over. He felt ready thanks to his mentor.
“He changed everything for us at Harrison,” Watkins said of Gaudin. “He instilled in me so much about working hard, being a good teammate and making sure everyone understands their role. He was a huge influence on why I stayed there. owe you so much for giving me this opportunity.
These life lessons are what made it hard to walk away even though the reasoning was sound. Harrison’s football was a big part of Watkins’ life. The hope was that he made an impact like the others did.
“We always knew that we were teaching life lessons and shaping great young men to be responsible adults,” Watkins said. “For us, it was more important than wins and losses. Seeing some of these young men today is a true testimony to what was taught.
Follow Courier & Press sports reporter Kyle Sokeland on Twitter @kylesokeland.