Head Football Coach Eliah Drinkwitz has named Charlie Harbison as the first addition to his brand new coaching staff at the University of Missouri. Harbison joins the Mizzou staff in the role of Associate Head Coach/Defense. Details of Harbison’s contract with Mizzou will be released, along with his specific duties on the defensive side of the ball, pending completion of the human resources process.
Harbison is a veteran defensive coach with 29 years of collegiate experience under his belt, including 13 seasons in the Southeastern Conference with four different programs. He spent the 2019 season with Drinkwitz as Associate Head Coach/Cornerbacks at Appalachian State, where the Mountaineers won the Sun Belt Conference Championship with a 12-1 record and earned a No. 20 ranking in the final regular-season polls.
App State’s defense was a key reason for its title run this season, as the Mountaineers ranked in the top 30 nationally in numerous major statistical categories, including: third down defense (14th NCAA/1st Sun Belt – 31.4%), pass efficiency defense (18th NCAA/1st Sun Belt – 114.60), interceptions (19th NCAA/1st Sun Belt – 13), scoring defense (22nd NCAA/2nd Sun Belt – 20.2 avg.) and total defense (26th NCAA/1st Sun Belt – 335.9 avg.).
Twice named one of the nation’s top 25 recruiters by Rivals (2005, 2010), Harbison has been part of teams that have qualified for six conference championship games and 19 bowl appearances, including the BCS National Championship Game, two Orange Bowls, two Sugar Bowls and two Cotton Bowls. He’s spent 20 years combined in the SEC and ACC with stops at Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, LSU and Mississippi State. He’s also got one year of NFL experience, as he spent the 2018 season as defensive backs coach for the Arizona Cardinals, before joining Drinkwitz’s staff at App State in 2019. At Arizona, Harbison coached Pro Bowler Patrick Peterson as the Cardinals’ defense was the league’s fourth-best in pass defense, allowing 203.9 yards per game.
“Charlie brings a wealth of experience with him to the defensive side of the football, having coached at the highest levels including the SEC and the NFL,” said Drinkwitz. “He’s an outstanding man of character who knows what it means to mentor players both in football and in life.”
Harbison spent three seasons (2015-17) as co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach at Louisiana, and prior to that was on staff for two seasons (2013-14) at Auburn as co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach, helping the Tigers win the 2013 SEC Championship and advance to the BCS title game. In 2013, Auburn had the second-biggest turnaround in college football history at the time, with an eight-game improvement from the year before.
“I’m very excited to continue working with Coach Drink and grateful for the opportunity to join the Mizzou family,” said Harbison. “He is a great coach to work for, he’s outstanding with the x’s and o’s, and he’s even better with the staff and the athletes on a personal level. He has this air about him that makes people want to play for him and coach for him. Coach Drink has been a blessing to me and my family, and I know he’ll be a blessing for Mizzou,” he said.
In all, Harbison has been on coaching staffs that have won five conference championships, while appearing in six conference championship games overall. In addition to this year’s Sun Belt title game victory, Harbison was part of SEC champion teams in 1999 (Alabama), 2001 (LSU) and 2013 (Auburn), while also being on the winning side of the 2011 ACC title game with Clemson.
A native of Shelby, N.C., and graduate of Crest High School, Harbison went to Auburn after his second coaching stint at Clemson (2009-12), working as co-defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach. He helped the Tigers to back-to-back 10-win seasons, the 2011 ACC Championship (Clemson’s first conference title in 20 years) and an Orange Bowl appearance.
At Clemson, he tutored cornerback Coty Sensabaugh, who had 14 passes defended in 2011 and was drafted by the Tennessee Titans. Harbison helped Clemson to a top 25 ranking and the ACC Atlantic Division title in 2009. That season, Clemson had 21 interceptions, the fifth-most in school history and tied for fifth-most in the nation, and finished seventh in the nation in pass defense.
Before going to Clemson, he spent two seasons at Mississippi State (2007-08), the second of which he worked as defensive coordinator while also coaching safeties. Harbison had two different tenures as an assistant at Alabama (1998-2000, 2003-06), where he coached the Crimson Tide’s defensive backs in his initial stay and helped Alabama to the 1999 SEC Championship and appearances in the 1998 Music City Bowl and the 2000 Orange Bowl. Two of his pupils, Fernando Bryant (1999) and Tony Dixon (2000), were taken in the first and second rounds of the NFL Draft, respectively. In his second stint with the Crimson Tide, Harbison worked with the wide receivers and helped Alabama to three bowl appearances.
Between the Alabama assignments, Harbison coached defensive backs at LSU (2001-02) under head coach Nick Saban and helped the Tigers win the 2001 SEC Championship and play in the 2002 Sugar Bowl and 2003 Cotton Bowl. Corey Webster, who played his first season as a cornerback under Harbison, finished second on the school’s all-time career interceptions list.
He served as defensive backs coach in his first stop at Clemson (1995-97) as the Tigers played in three consecutive bowl games. At Clemson, Harbison mentored 2018 Hall of Fame inductee and nine-time Pro Bowl selection Brian Dawkins, helping him earn All-America honors while also leading the ACC in interceptions in 1995.
Harbison also coached the secondary at UTEP (1994) and twice worked at his alma mater, Gardner-Webb, coaching wide receivers (1992-93) and defensive backs (1984-85). In addition to his collegiate coaching experience, Harbison worked in both the Arena Football League as defensive coordinator with the Charlotte Rage (1993), and in the World League of American Football with the Raleigh-Durham Skyhawks in 1991 as defensive backs coach.
A standout defensive back at Gardner-Webb (1978-81) who had 11 career interceptions, Harbison signed with the Buffalo Bills as a rookie free agent in 1982 before spending two years (1983-84) with the USFL’s Boston/New Orleans Breakers.