“DP” Harris reflects on time at Saint Vincent, college searches for a new men’s basketball coach

By Zach D'Amico

Before most current Saint Vincent students were even born, Don Paul “DP” Harris joined the Bearcats’ basketball staff as assistant coach for the 1995/96 season.

Now, after 16 years as head coach, Harris has stepped down from the helm to accept a position at Saint Thomas University in Miami Gardens, Fla.

“I had been contacted a lot over the years by other schools and right now I just felt like it was the right time for me and wife because opportunities like this don’t come around many times,” Harris said.

Saint Vincent announced its search for a new head coach on March 7. The Bearcats ended the 2018/19 season with a 22-5 record overall and fell, 54-51, to Chatham University in the semifinals of the President’s Athletic Conference (PAC) playoffs. Harris was named PAC Coach of the Year.

Harris explained what drew him to accept the job as men’s basketball coach, assistant athletic director and director of development at Saint Thomas.

“It’s close to the beach, the weather, it’s a Catholic school...And they were able to offer some financial resources that Saint Vincent wasn’t able to. And that’s what it came down to. It had nothing to do with the people at Saint Vincent. They were great. [Saint Thomas] they don’t have the support that our student body has. Ours is second to none. But it came down to a financial decision. And I had to look out for the best interest of my family,” Harris said.

This past season, Harris captured his 300th win as head coach and finished his career at Saint Vincent with a record of 318-126. Harris also led the Bearcats to the NCAA Division III Tournament four times, earning four straight conference titles from 2013-16. He also earned two trips to the NAIA Sweet 16 as head coach.

Harris also coached seven All-American honorees and several players who have gone on to play professionally overseas—most recently Dillon Stith and Isaac Turner who currently play in Australia.

“My most memorable moment at Saint Vincent is probably the ‘Cram the Carey’ kids,” Harris said. “Cram the Carey” is the student section’s motto for gathering a large crowd in the Carey Center where the Bearcats play their home games.

He continued: “I’ve buried a lot of friends there [at Saint Vincent]. I went to a lot of funerals there, I went to a lot of weddings there and I went to a lot of gradations. At Saint Vincent, you find out real quick that you’re not just there. You are a friend for life and you walk through this together.”

After spending over 20 years as part of the Saint Vincent community, Harris wanted to leave a message to the student body.

“I think the biggest message is how close I got with every single student at Saint Vincent. I think I knew 90 percent of the students. Whether I went to church with them or just being able to go watch them play lacrosse or watch the women’s basketball team or have a cup of coffee with them. Every single kid to me at Saint Vincent was special. They were part of my family,” Harris said.

Harris described what he did for the college aside from his duties as head coach.

“I never wanted to be just a basketball coach at Saint Vincent. I wanted to be a role model for every single student at Saint Vincent and also an advocate to be someone they could come to as an adult to be a voice for them to the administration…I think at Saint Vincent I was a person who wasn’t scared to speak my mind on behalf of the students. So, a lot of times students would come to me and I hope I made it a better place,” he said.

Harris also spent time at the college working with the Institutional Advancement Office, assisting the college’s fundraising efforts.

“It was wonderful to fundraise at Saint Vincent. I started out popping popcorn at Saint Vincent and I ended up the number-two guy in the athletic department. So I’ve done it all,” he said.

Harris commented on Saint Vincent’s search for a new head coach.

“[The new coach] will have the best group of guys. Every guy who played with me was very cooperative...and our guys are high academic guys. So the academics are squared away and the team coming back is full of talent. But whoever gets the job has to be a Saint Vincent person,” he said.

It’s the first time in over a decade that the head coach position at Saint Vincent has been open. The college has had only one other head coach besides Harris since 1970 in Bernie Matthews who served as head coach for 33 years, amassing over 500 wins and is a member of the Pennsylvania Basketball Hall of Fame. Matthews died in Feb. 2015 and the “Bernie Matthews Team Meeting Room” was dedicated to him which is on the second floor of the Carey Center.

“I know the candidates that they are interviewing and they are all connected to the Saint Vincent basketball family. And they’re going to find somebody way better than me. I can’t wait to come back to a game,” he said.

Harris reflected on what he will miss the most about Saint Vincent.

“I’m going to miss every single person from the maintenance people, to the people I had coffee with every day, to being a Saint Vincent man and picking trash up across campus. It’s a big part of who I am and I’m taking a lot of Saint Vincent to Saint Thomas and I hope to be an integral part of those kids’ lives in South Florida,” he said.

Harris said that while he will be living and coaching over a thousand miles away, he will still be there for those whom he spent over two decades with in Latrobe.

“[Saint Vincent] is a place that I’ll come back home to. I’m not gone. I want students to call me down here…If I can help them, I’m here to help them because they’ve certainly helped me. And my heart is still back at Saint Vincent.”

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