Jack Cochran hired as Harding football coach

Jack Cochran during his turn at New London's football coach in 2008. He has won eight state titles in 14 title game appearances in his career.

Jack Cochran during his turn at New London’s football coach in 2008. He has won eight state titles in 14 title game appearances in his career.

Jack Cochran, both the most successful and controversial high school football coach in recent Connecticut high school history, has been hired as Harding’s football coach, citywide athletic director Neil Kavey confirmed Saturday.

“Jack Cochran will be the head coach at Harding next year,” Kavey said.

Cochran, whose last job as a head coach was at New London in 2008, takes over a foundering program that hasn’t had a winning season since 1996 and is 9-91 over the last 10 years.

“It’s like a rebirth,” Cochran said. “It’s been a long three or four years and I’m excited to getting back to doing what I love: coaching kids.”

He thanked Kavey, Harding athletic director Chris Johnson, and administrators Mike Testani and John Fabrizi, the former Bridgeport Mayor, and Paul Vallas, the Superintendent of Schools, for the opportunity.

“I knew this is a tough situation,” he said. “But I have a lot of support here, top to bottom.”

[Related – Kevin Duffy: Showing incident-free progress at Harding is Cochran’s goal]

Cochran has won eight state championships in 14 title game appearances at Bloomfield, New Britain and New London and is widely regarded as one of the best high school football coach in Connecticut.

His career coaching record is 160-24-2. He has coached NFL and college talents like Dwight Freeney, Andrew Pinnock, Mike McLeod, Jordan and David Reed.

“It all comes down to kids,” Cochran said. “I’ve already met with several of the players. It comes down to them willing to work and I’ve seen it already. The kids are ready, they’re hungry and ready to go.”

As successful as he’s been on the field, Cochrans career has also been beset with a variety of issues at every turn.

He served a year-long suspension as New London’s football coach in 2007 for  his role in an altercation with then-Fitch coach Jim Bunocore during an ECC weightlifting competition. Upon Cochran’s return in 2008, New London self-reported a violation in which Cochran allowed eighth graders to participate in varsity football practice and the school was fined.

Cochran eventually coached the Whalers to the 2008 Class SS title, but was fired by the school in April 2009 after a brief turn as the baseball coach resulted in more CIAC sanctions — including a three-year probation on Cochran — for facilitating off-season practices.

Cochran also faced accusations of stealing and illegal recruiting practices by New Britain’s administration, but was ultimately cleared of wrongdoing on both counts by then-attorney general Richard Blumenthal and the CIAC.

Long accused of brazenly running up scores by his peers, the CIAC’s football score management policy enacted in 2006 is often called ‘The Cochran Rule.’

When asked how he considered Cochran’s long history of troubles, Kavey responded, “Here’s a little more history for you: Harding is 9-91 over the last 10 years.”

“We had a chance to hire arguable the best high school football coach in state,” he said. “And when you have a program that has changed coached many times as (Harding) has in last few years, you know you need to take a shot with somebody with that skill and reputation.”

Cochran declined to speak about his past issues.

“I’m not getting into any of that stuff,” he said. “I wouldn’t even worry about the past. You can look at anything you want, you’ll never find one player I’ve coached who didn’t love playing for me.”

Cochran has spent the last few years running his own coaching camp called, ‘The Program,’ while following his son Casey’s budding football career.

Casey was a freshman quarterback on New London’s 2008 state championship team as a freshman and then transferred to Masuk, where he led the Panthers to the 2010 Class L championship. Casey now plays at UConn.

“I think people age pretty well, sometimes,” Kavey said. “And I’m sure that Coach Cochran will go out of his way to fit into the Bridgeport community and to the goals we set with him. The places he’s coached are aligned a lot like Harding. I think it’ll be a nice fit.”

Harding, meanwhile, has won just five games in the past six seasons under three different coaches. It hasn’t had a winning season since a 7-4 record in the final year of Bill Cole’s tenure in 1996.

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Sean Patrick Bowley