After more than two decades of coaching multiple sports at Nutley High School, Bob Harbison decided it was time to take a step back.
Harbison, a 1984 Nutley graduate, recently announced he stepped down as the Maroon Raiders’ head baseball coach, a position he’s held since 2004. Harbison, who also stepped down as an assistant football coach, will remain the school’s head boys’ basketball coach.
“I do think coaching multiple sports starts to take away from the one you’re supposed to be doing,” Harbison said. “Sometimes you get a little worn down and the (transition) from basketball season to baseball, that was tough. There is no wind down. These kids were getting more excited about the season than I was and that’s not a good thing.”
This spring, Nutley went 14-11 and made it to the Greater Newark Tournament semifinals as well as the NJSIAA North Jersey, Section 2, Group 3 quarterfinals. It marked the 15th season out of 18 Harbison’s baseball team finished .500 or above, the majority of them coming in a Super Essex Conference American Division that is one of the most competitive divisions in the state.
“It was just fun winning big games,” said Harbison. “And you always had the ability with this group of kids to win big games and beat good baseball teams.
Harbison’s first year at the helm proved to be his team’s most accomplished as Nutley went 27-5, captured its third Greater Newark Tournament title in four seasons, and also won the NJSIAA North Jersey, Section 1, Group 3 tournament.
Over the course of his tenure, Harbison’s teams made the GNT final five more times (2005, 2009, 2012, 2016 and 2018), but came up short each time. Nutley also made the North Jersey, Section 2, Group 3 final in 2019, losing a nine-inning heartbreaker to West Morris, 2-1.
Despite going 288-195 for a .596 winning percentage at Nutley, the recent setbacks in tournament play left Harbison wondering if it was time for someone else to help the perennial contender take that next step.
“I couldn’t seem to get them to the next level. We were always good, we were never bad. I’ve had some teams that were better than others, I guess. I’m thinking that maybe someone else can get them to that (higher) level.
“We had the ability. I thought we did. I just wasn’t sure if it was me or something else, but we just couldn’t get to that next step on a consistent basis. We could beat Seton Hall Prep on a given day or Millburn. I don’t think we were ever not in the top five in Essex County since 2000. We were always there in the mix.”
As a player, Harbison was a standout in football, baseball and basketball in high school and later played baseball at Fairleigh Dickinson University. At FDU, Harbison was reunited with his former high school coach, Dennis Sasso, and was teammates with future rival coaches Brian Chapman (Millburn) and Dennis McCaffery (Cranford).
Harbison’s first head coaching job at Nutley was as the boys basketball coach, a position he’s held since the 1999-2000 season. Last season, Harbison’s team enjoyed its most successful season in more than a decade, winning 15 games and qualifying for the NJSIAA North Jersey, Section 2, Group 3 tournament before losing to eventual sectional champion Colonia.
Harbison, who remains a math teacher at Nutley High School, will also be able to spend this fall watching his son Matthew, a two-year starter at quarterback for the Raiders, begin his college football career at TCNJ.
The younger Harbison, who passed for 11 touchdowns and ran for 12 scores with his dad as an assistant coach, also played basketball for his father his sophomore and junior seasons.
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Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer
Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (nj.com, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)