When Fort Lewis College had to begin a search for a new head women’s basketball coach, assistant athletic director Jason Flores, a former FLC women’s basketball coach, knew exactly who athletic director Brandon Leimbach should call.
A longtime recruiting nemesis of the Skyhawks when he was an assistant at Regis University, Taylor Harris was introduced as the new head coach of the Skyhawks on Tuesday. He had already spent the week prior talking with returning players and lining up new recruits.
Harris is currently the head coach of Miles Community College in Montana. After winning the Region 13 championship game Monday night, he will lead his team into the National Junior College Athletic Association national tournament before joining his new team in Durango.
Harris will come to FLC with a plethora of experience in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference from his four years on the bench at Regis and six seasons as an assistant coach on the Metropolitan State University-Denver men’s basketball staff.
“I remember 10 years ago coaching on the men’s side at Metro State, we came to Durango and we pulled in on the bus and I was like, ‘This is it. This is the place,’” Harris said Tuesday in a phone interview with The Durango Herald. “Every single year we came back with Metro or Regis, I couldn’t wait to get in the hotel, put my running shoes on and go out for a run in the beautiful weather that’s always there in Durango. I love it, and I have so many close friends at Fort Lewis College.
“I am really grateful for the opportunity given to me by athletic director Brandon Leimbach and President Tom Stritikus. I can’t wait to get to the community of Durango and build relationships and play winning basketball.”
Harris will replace Orlando Griego, who was fired after two seasons leading the Skyhawks. Players filed a complaint against Griego, and every member of the roster had entered the transfer portal. Since being introduced to Harris via online video calls, many players have withdrawn their names from the portal. FLC will still lose star forward Jordan Vasquez, who has committed to Cal State San Marcos after two All-RMAC seasons for the Skyhawks.
“The biggest challenge so far has been me not being there,” Harris said. “I am coming to Durango on Thursday and spending a weekend in town, and I will have a one-on-one with each player. I’ve told them we are going to create a culture based on love and based on their student experience. I don’t focus on the past, I just want to focus on what’s important to me, how our program is going to run and what kind of experience our players will have in the future. Our players will have a coach who loves them, empowers them, cares for them, and I am really going to prioritize being positive with them to make it the best experience of their lives.”
Flores, who was the head coach of FLC women’s basketball for seven seasons before becoming an assistant athletic director, said Harris has a glowing reputation among his former players and coaches from high schools and colleges around the region.
“I’ve known Taylor for probably 15 years. I’ve seen him up close and personal in recruiting and coached against him. More than anything, he is a person with high character, high morals and is a really good coach. He already has a lot of connections to Fort Lewis, has coached in Whalen and against Fort Lewis and always loved it here. He has a lot of connections in the coaching world and is going to be a relentless recruiter. It’s a great hire, as he is a hot commodity in the coaching world.”
Harris was hired as the head coach at Miles Community College in April 2019. This year, his team has a 23-1 overall record, and he was named the Mon-Dak Athletic Conference Coach of the Year on Tuesday.
During his time at Regis on the staff of head coach Molly Marrin, he helped the Rangers to a 74-44 record with four consecutive RMAC tournament appearances along with the team’s RMAC tournament runner-up finish and NCAA South Central Region tournament appearance in 2017.
Harris was on the staff of Derrick Clark at Metro State for six seasons and built a good relationship with FLC men’s basketball coach Bob Pietrack and associated head coach Daniel Steffensen. The Roadrunners men’s team went 161-33 during Harris’ time there, and he coached national player of the year award winners Mitch McCarron and Brandon Jefferson while part of the 2013 national runner-up team, the 2014 Final Four team and 2012 Elite Eight squad.
Harris didn’t play college basketball. He joked about being cut his senior year of high school at Cherry Creek, but that allowed him to get his first taste of coaching when he helped the boys C-team at Cherry Creek. He was the manager of the Metro State men’s team during his undergraduate years studying Human Performance before he got his masters in athletic administration from Concordia University-Irvine in 2012. He then served as an assistant varsity boys coach at Chaparral High School in Parker before joining the Metro State bench.
While at Metro State, Harris also was coaching club basketball with Michael Bahl, husband of FLC women’s basketball all-time leading scorer Amy Mohr and current Metro State head coach, who he lived with for two years. He found himself coaching the girls side of the club, and that introduced him to Leimbach, who was an associate athletic director at Colorado School of Mines at the time. That’s where he found his love of coaching the women’s game.
“That’s my niche,” Harris said. “I’m kind of goofy, don’t take myself too seriously, and I like to have a lot of fun. The women responded to that. I thought it was something I could be really good at. When the job at Regis opened up, there were a couple connections there to make that job happen. I found my niche and something I loved. I’m now just such a champion of women; empowering women is why I coach. I found a true calling.”
Harris said his top priority will be filling out a depleted FLC roster. He will emphasize recruiting in the state of Colorado, where he already has so many connections, but also said FLC is unique because of its proximity to other hubs such as Albuquerque and Phoenix. Harris was able to recruit from all over the country to get players to Miles Community College, and his conference player of the year, Rebekah Dallinger of Australia, has garnered offers from Division I Power Five conferences after breaking out on the Pioneers team under Harris.
During the COVID-19-shortened season in 2020-21, FLC went 6-9 in conference play and missed the RMAC tournament by one spot. That came one year after the Skyhawks went 15-12 overall and 11-11 in RMAC play with seven losses in a row to end the season to again miss the RMAC tournament by one game. FLC has not qualified for the RMAC tournament since 2018.
Leimbach believes Harris can help FLC get back to contending in the RMAC, one of the best basketball conferences in all of NCAA Division II.
“I’m so excited to begin the journey with coach Harris and even more excited for our student-athletes to get to play in a culture where having fun and championship expectations go hand in hand,” Leimbach said in a news release. “Taylor is truly a rising star in the women’s basketball coaching ranks. He is relationship oriented, and our student-athletes will quickly realize how much he already cares about them even though he’s not arrived on campus yet. His knowledge of the RMAC, his incredible record as both an assistant and as a head coach, his ability to recruit relentlessly throughout Colorado and abroad, and the fact that he loves Durango make him a great fit to lead our women’s team in to the future.”
On the court, Harris said the Skyhawks will be a team that focuses on rebounding and defense. Offensively, he expects to run a lot of ball screens and prioritize floor spacing in half-court sets.
“I’m not one of those coaches who is going to come in and play fast and do all this stuff. We’re going to play winning basketball,” he said. “I’m so excited to get to Durango, interact with the people in the community and on campus and be part of that great vibe that makes Durango so special. Everything has pointed to Fort Lewis for me, and it’s a dream job. I know I can be there for a long time.”