A longtime football coach at Gaithersburg High School who died Friday is being remembered as a father-figure and an innovator by his former players, assistants and competitors.
John Harvill, 88, died from complications of a bacterial infection.
“We didn’t just lose a football coach,” said Gaithersburg Athletic Director Jason Woodward, who played for Harvill. “We lost a great man.”
Harvill led Gaithersburg for 43 seasons, winning two state titles, going undefeated four times and compiling 312 victories before retiring in 2000.
“He coached every kid the same. No matter if you were a superstar or you were the 55th player on the team,” Woodward said.
Coaches described Harvill as an innovator who was ahead of the curve. Harvill played an integral role in the implementation of Maryland’s state-playoff system in 1974.
“He did a lot not only for Gaithersburg, but for football in general,” said Gaithersburg coach Kreg Kephart, who replaced Harvill.
Our Lady of Good Counsel coach Bob Milloy, who competed against Harvill for three decades, said the Gaithersburg coach had offensive schemes — such as the veer, an option running play — that he had never seen before.
“We’d watch his game film all winter and say ‘what the heck is this?’” Milloy said.
Several of Harvill’s players and assistants went on to coach football in Montgomery County, including Kephart, Northwest coach Mike Neubeiser and former Sherwood coach Al Thomas.
“I always looked at him as a father-figure type,” said Neubeiser, who played and coached under Harvill.
Neubeiser remembered one practice when Harvill, for no apparent reason, started yelling and kicked the players off the field. The team would later learn that the outburst was part of a setup for a surprise pizza party.
“Little things like that just told you that he cared,” Neubeiser said.
Kephart played for Harvill in the 1970s and was his assistant in the 1980s and 1990s. He recalled the celebration following the 1986 state championship, when players put Harvill on their shoulders and carried the coach off the field.
“He was a tremendous coach. Very demanding, but also caring,” Kephart said. “He’d chew you out on one play, then show you what you did wrong, put your arm around you and console you on the next play.”
Harvill is survived by his wife, Betty, two daughters and several grandchildren.
“I don’t think we’ll every have another person like that again,” Woodward said.