When Jonathan Jackson decided to resign from his head football coaching position at Harrison High School earlier this month after just one season, it left the Blue Tide in the lurch.
Jackson, who went back to his native Bayonne to become an assistant under new coach Dwayne Williams, handed in his resignation papers just one month before the Blue Tide was scheduled to open their 2021 season against Bogota.
Needless to say, it left athletic director Kim Huaranga in a bind to find a replacement.
At the same time, four women inside a home in Harrison approached the lone male in the household.
Cecy Lucas and her three daughters did the hard sell to Ray Lucas, the best athlete to ever grace Harrison High.
Lucas, the former Blue Tide standout who went on to have a great college career at Rutgers and later played in the National Football League with the New England Patriots, New York Jets and Miami Dolphins, has been the executive director of the Harrison Housing Authority for the last two years. Lucas has never turned his back on his native hometown and always been willing to lend a helping hand.
But the Lucas girls wanted Ray to take over the Harrison program.
“My wife and kids first came after me,” Lucas said. “They started with me just three days after he (Jackson) resigned. Then someone said, ‘Why would you want to take over the team that no one wanted?’ That line angered me. I was once the kid nobody wanted. I want all the kids that nobody wants.”
So sure enough, Lucas has decided to become the head coach of the Blue Tide, the 10th head coach Harrison has employed over the last 17 seasons.
Lucas has no head coaching experience, but that should not deter the fact that he is taking on the challenge of trying to lead a program that has had a revolving door in the coaching ranks. After all, Lucas is the best athlete Harrison has ever produced. If he can’t get the most out of Harrison athletes, no one can.
“It means so much to me,” Lucas said. “Harrison kids shouldn’t have nothing to look forward to. I’m running practices and loving it.”
Lucas has also encouraged his long-time friend Nick Landy to serve as an assistant coach. Nick Landy was an assistant coach when his brother, Mike, was the head coach in the early 2000s and has been the head boys’ volleyball coach since the program started a decade ago.
The two have worked together at the Camp Fatima for handicapped youngsters for the past six years.
“I told Nick Landy that it was time for a change with the football team,” Lucas said. “I cornered Nick at Camp Fatima and told him I wanted him to coach with me and he said yes. I was completely ecstatic.”
Mike Gregory, another former Blue Tide standout, also agreed to join Lucas’ staff.
“It’s my first coaching job, so I needed to have a good staff around me,” Lucas said. “I have a wealth of knowledge in football that I can call upon, playing for guys like Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick in the NFL, guys like Doug Graber at Rutgers. I’ve played for some great coaches, even here in Harrison.”
One of those was the immortal Ralph Borgess, the late, great coach who is a member of five different Halls of Fame in New Jersey.
Another Rutgers coach also played in Lucas’ decision to take over the Blue Tide.
“Greg Schiano was a success at Rutgers, went to the NFL, but came back to New Jersey and Rutgers last year,” said Lucas, who has been the radio analyst for Rutgers football broadcasts for the last nine years. “What Greg has done at Rutgers helped with my decision.”
Lucas knows that taking over the Blue Tide represents a gigantic challenge.
“I think everyone is sick of Harrison being a doormat,” Lucas said. “I want the kids to have the hunger that I had when I played. I want to be able to help take these boys and make them into men. The kids I have right now are tremendous. They are working so hard. I know that we’re going to do things the right way.”
Not only have the Blue Tide struggled to hold onto a head coach over the last 16 seasons – each of the last seven coaches have lasted just two seasons or less, the last three (Dan Hicks, Brian Capriola and Jackson) all were on board for just one season – they have also failed to be successful. The Blue Tide qualified for the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group II state playoffs just once during that span, the only year that they owned a winning record.
In 2016, under the tutelage of head coach Mike Hinchcliffe, the Blue Tide made the state playoffs with a 5-4 record. The Blue Tide reached the .500 mark twice, in 2018 under Hicks and in 2003 under Mike Landy. They were 1-6 last season in Jackson’s lone year.
Lucas didn’t want to know the gory details of the Blue Tide’s past.
“The kids have to have the winner’s mentality,” Lucas said. “We have to change the way these young men think. I’m a no-nonsense kind of guy. This is a challenge that I’ve never had, but I know I’m not leaving these kids. I see these kids every day and they want to learn. I’ve only had a limited time to get them ready.”
The Blue Tide open their season Sept. 11 against Bogota and return home Sept. 17 against Emerson Borough.
“But I’m encouraged with the strides these kids have made in just five days,” Lucas said. “These kids are buying in. I think all of these kids are willing to change everyone’s perception of Harrison football.”
Lucas said that he wasn’t bothered by a reporter’s simple question. Why would he want to take over the Harrison program at this stage of his life? He has nothing to prove to anyone. He’s been a success on radio with Rutgers and television with both SNY and the Big 10 Network. And he’s done an excellent job heading the Harrison Housing Authority. So why?
Lucas knew that there were rumors that the program might be dropped, considering the participation numbers are low.
“I think it’s the logical question to ask,” Lucas said. “But Cecy and my kids said that it’s time. And I got angry when someone said that I was taking the team that nobody wanted. I really don’t care when the first game is. I know I’m getting this team ready to play.”
So is Lucas ready?
“To be honest, at first, I was frightened by it,” Lucas said. “The first day of practice, I was scared to death. But it is something that I always wanted to do. I told the kids that I’m going to here for them. But being from Harrison and being someone who played here, it’s something I had to do. I’m not going to turn things around in a day. I just want to take them from being boys to men.”
Lucas has never let the town of Harrison down before – and he’s certainly not going to do so now. The program desperately needed a strong man to take over the program this time and there’s no one better than the school’s best athlete of all time. It’s certainly a great story, the native son coming back to lead the program he once led to its best heights, the athlete with the Hall of Fame resume. Ray Lucas has to be the one.