By Phil Anastasia
It wasn't the wins, all those big games on all those Saturday mornings on the field that always felt so familiar under his feet.
It wasn't the division titles and it wasn't the playoff success.
"It was the relationships," Gloucester's Leon Harris said of the best memories of his long and accomplished coaching career.
Harris, a Gloucester graduate and the school's athletic director, has decided to retire after 26 seasons as the football coach.
His retirement will be accepted by the Gloucester Board of Education on Tuesday night.
"I was very blessed," said Harris, who plans to continue as the school's athletic director. "Over 26 years, I was able to build relationships with student athletes, coaches and a lot of good administrators."
Harris was a star quarterback during perhaps the most successful era in Gloucester football, from the late 1960s through the early 1970s. He graduated in 1972 and played football at the University of Maryland.
He became the head coach at his alma mater in 1987. His teams went 180-85-2 and made the post-season tournament 20 times.
Harris' teams reached the sectional finals five times between 1990 and 2001 -- making the South Jersey Group 1 title game in 1990, 1995 and 2001 and the South Jersey Group 2 title game in 1997 and 1998.
His 2012 team went 7-3 and won the Tri-County Conference's Classic Division, beating Pennsville by 48-42 to clinch the title on Nov. 3.
"This is a special place," Harris said of Gloucester. "I just feel like I've been so fortunate to be associated with so many great people. It was such a neat thing to be part of the coaching fraternity, to make friends with so many coaches and officials and people in the press corps."
Harris is held in high regard by his peers in the coaching community.
"Leon is a first-rate human being," Pennsville coach Ryan Wood said. "He's a class act. And when it comes to coaching football, there's nobody better."
Said Glassboro coach Mark Maccarone: "It stings to think of him not being out there. He's 100 percent a class act."
Harris, 59, said he decided to retire from coaching in part because of the strain of the dual demands related to his position as athletic director.
"I did both for 19 years," Harris said. "That was kind of difficult to do."
Harris said he will meet soon with Gloucester superintendent Joe Rafferty as well as principal Jack Don to form a search committee to find the Lions' next head coach.
Contact Phil Anastasia at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @PhilAnastasia on Twitter.