Matt Harris becomes new Waukesha North football coach

Russ Pulvermacher
Matt Harris is North’s new head football coach. He replaces Chris Freiman, who resigned in March.
Published on: 5/12/2014

Matt Harris has always found himself following the Northstars home.

The 1997 graduate of the school served as an assistant coach with the football program under three different head coaches at the school, most recently when he returned for a brief gig two years ago. In his third go-around on the staff with the North football program, this time he's the one in charge. The school made his hiring official last week.

Harris replaces Chris Freiman, who resigned from his teaching and coaching position in March. Athletics director Brian Schlei offered no further comment on the circumstances.

Harris, 35, spent four years in the United States Marines on active duty out of high school, came back to finish his degree and coached for several years at North, with time spent coaching Brookfield East track and field, as well. He became the offensive coordinator at Kettle Moraine in 2008, then went back to East to join Tom Swittel's staff as wide receivers coach. After a brief stint as an offensive coordinator at North, he spent the last two seasons in the same capacity back at East.

'My goal was to become a head coach, and I felt like Tom did his best sales pitch to get me back to East and run the offense again,' Harris said. 'I knew I needed to be mentored by him before I was ready to be a head coach, and it still happened a lot faster than I thought. Between Tom and I, we've blended a couple different systems together, and it just really worked. I'm a heavy perimeter guy, and he's heavy in the run game, and the styles blended really well together. That's what you saw at Brookfield East last year.'

It's a look Harris is likely to bring to North, which hasn't been to the playoffs since 2006, fighting for wins in a perennially loaded Classic 8 Conference.

'It's no mystery,' Harris said. 'The struggle they've gone through is a combination of a lot of things. They're in obviously the hardest toughest conference in the state of Wisconsin. Those things, to go along with the uncertainty of the coaching — I might be the sixth or seventh head coach in the last 10 years — that's been kind of the main thing, they just haven't had a steady diet.

'I know every single one of those coaches that's been there; I live in the community, and they're all great coaches. Every single one of those guys could be successful in the right situation. What I bring to the table might be a little different. I understand the history of Waukesha North, the kids in the school. I understand what the strengths are of the athletes in the school, and I'll do the best I can to bring that out.

'There's so much turnover in football now. You need to put 40 hours a week in 52 weeks a year. If you don't do that, it can be tough for you. Some of my mentors, like Tom Swittel, that's what he does and what he's taught. I've witnessed him put in the time it takes to help turn a program around. Those are some of the things that need to be done.'

Schlei said Harris' ties to the school were a nice element in the interview process.

'The first thing we looked for was quality and coaching experience,' Schlei said. 'The alumni piece was a nice way to also bring in the element of having a commitment to the team. That's what Matt really showed. He really truly cares about the program and wants to be with it for a long period of time. He's got a lot of pride and wants to see it be successful. We looked at (his North ties) as a bonus.'

Not surprisingly, Harris hasn't started talking about wins and losses, but he feels the program is already destined for improvement.

'My first step is to build a foundation, build one the way I know how to do, and that is to bring the best possible coaches I know with knowledge, experience and enthusiasm for football,' Harris said. 'When I talk to the kids, it's about winning, and we're going to do everything we can to win as many games as possible. I went back and looked at their scores from last year and most of the games were over in the first quarter. That's going to change. I know that's going to change. Based on things we have coming and kids we have working, there's a little bit of a buzz. There's a buzz in that school. They're ready and they're just looking for the right guy to lead them.'

Worzella departs

It wasn't the only bit of coaching news at Waukesha North last week. Jeff Worzella, who helped the Waukesha North girls basketball program emerge from a seasons-long struggle, was named head coach for one of the premier girls hoops programs in the state, Divine Savior Holy Angels.

'I've got a lot of respect for Jeff and a good relationship,' Schlei said. 'It's hard to see him leave; he's done a lot for our girls, taking them where they were to where they are now. It's kind of a dream job for him. I don't want to hold him back from anything. It's sad to see him go, but we want to support him and be appreciative.'

Schlei expects to begin screening candidates next week.

Worzella was hired for the 2009-10 campaign, and in December 2011, the Northstars defeated Mukwonago to snap a staggering 117-game losing streak in Classic 8 play, a slide that dated back to 2003.

Sisters Elizabeth and Jessica Kelliher, who emerged as two of the best post players in the area and the state, combined for 36 points in a win over a team that was just one year away from a run to the state championship game. North then proceeded to win its next game over Catholic Memorial for consecutive victories.

Jessica, a three-time first-team all-conference choice, will return next season. North has finished 12-12 overall the last two seasons, with 10 conference wins combined over the two-year stretch.

DSHA, which won the Greater Metro title last season, returns three-time league Player of the Year Arike Ogunbowale, one of the top girls basketball recruits the state has produced.

'In terms of the basketball position, DSHA has always been a dream job for me,' Worzella told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. 'It was an opportunity I couldn't pass up. As much as I loved my time at North, I knew that I needed to go for it.'