Larry “Doc” Harrington, the first athletic trainer ever selected for induction into your Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, died Saturday following a long illness. He was 81.
At Southern Miss, folks knew Doc as much more than a guy who taped ankles and eased aches and pains.
Says USM, MSHoF and College Football Hall of Famer Ray Guy, simply, “Doc is a Southern Miss icon.”
Harrington was not only the trainer, he was the equipment manager and a highly successful tennis coach. And as a trainer, he served much more than USM. He also was a trainer on several U.S. Olympic teams and for 25 years in the Senior Bowl.
Doc was from one of Hattiesburg’s first families of sports. His father, Smokie Harrington was an outstanding baseball catcher who later owned Smokie’s Sporting Goods. Smokie Harrington Park, a Hattiesburg landmark and one of Mississippi’s oldest baseball stadiums, is named for Doc’s father.
Doc was an outstanding ballplayer himself at Hattiesburg High, playing all the sports but excelling in football, the sport in which he earned a scholarship to Tulane. After a year at Tulane, he returned to his hometown school where he became a student manager and then the full-time trainer when the trainer left for another job.
From such humble beginnings, Doc went on to become one of the most influential trainers in the nation. He was the driving force behind an athletic trainers certification program at USM.
When Hall of Fame athletic director Reed Green needed a tennis coach, Doc filled that position, as well. Keep in mind he was already the trainer and equipment manager for all USM sports. But his tennis teams compiled a dual match record of 407 victories against only 179 defeats.
Brett Favre, the leading passer in NFL history and a three-time NFL Most Valuable Player credits Harrington for “saving my career.”
Favre was severely injured in a car wreck shortly before his senior season at USM. An emergency operation required the removal of nearly three feet of his small intestine. It is part of the Favre legend that he led USM to victory over Alabama just six weeks later.
Favre says Harrington made that possible. Favre practically lived with the Harringtons when he wasn’t in the hospital. Favre went on to start an NFL record 321 games (including playoffs).
“I have no doubt that I would never have been able to play against Alabama, much less for all those years in the NFL if it had not been for Doc Harrington,” Favre says. “He didn’t coddle me, but he took care of me. I owe him so much.”
Harrington was an integral part of some of the greatest moments in USM sports: small college national championships in football, the rise to Division I and so many bowl games, an NIT Championship in basketball and on and on.
The Harrington legacy at USM continues. Sons Larry and Billy both played football at USM. Grandson Cooper is a wide receiver on the current USM team.