BRIDGEPORT – When searching for a new girls’ basketball coach, the Bridgeport Exempted Village School District only to had to look two seats down the bench to find Rob Zitzelsberger’s replacement.
During Wednesday night’s monthly board of education meeting, Greg Harkness was approved by a 4-0 vote. Harkness, who is also the school’s athletic director, has an extensive background in coaching basketball, especially on the girls side of things, that dates back to the 1998-99 season. Board member Jodi Harkness, Greg’s wife, abstained from the vote.
“He’s no stranger to the program,” Superintendent Zac Shutler said of Harkness. “He knows the district well and he knows the school well. He is very organized. He’s got great demeanor. He has done a wonderful job of running our athletic department.
“Greg’s main goal is caring about the students in the district and seeing them do well,” Shutler added. “The staff and team will get behind him and the program will develop under his tutelage. So, we’re fortunate to make this hiring. He has been and will continue to be an asset to the district.”
Last season Harkness was a varsity and junior varsity assistant coach for the Bulldogs. He has also coached the 8th grade girls at Bridgeport (2014-15) and also coached some volleyball at the junior high level.
“I’m very excited,” Harkness said. “It will definitely be different as far in-game situations go.”
He said being a head coach brings on more responsibilities, but being the A.D. should help ease some of the burden.
“There are a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff a head coach has to do,” he continued. “There’s scheduling your summer leagues, ordering equipment and planning practices, but I think being the athletic director will actually help me. I know some of what goes on behind-the-scenes, so that’s an advantage. Plus, working under Coach Z. I was really able to start paying more attention to stuff like that. Before last season, I really didn’t pay that much attention to stuff like that.
“As the athletic director, I’ve seen it from both sides.”
A 1993 graduate of Martins Ferry, Harkness has coached in both school districts. He got his start under Dave Reasbeck with the Bridgeport 7th grade girls in 1998-99. He then went with Reasbeck to Martins Ferry where he was an assistant during the 1999-2000 season. From 2000-2003 he was Kim Appollini’s JV/Varsity assistant for the Purple Riders girls. He went back to Bridgeport as the boys’ JV coach under John Visser for the 2003-2004 campaign. After a year of not coaching, he served as the girls JV coach at Martins Ferry under Reasbeck from 2005-2012. He was Donnie Cash’s top boys’ assistant for two years (2012-14) before joining the Bridgeport girls program as 8th grade coach in 2014-15.
Having worked on some very successful coaches has allowed Harkness to amass a wealth of knowledge about the game.
“I think you take bits and pieces from each of them and then you decide how you want to utilize that stuff and mold your own program,” he explained. “I learned a ton of stuff from Kim. She had a lot of philosophies that I still use today. Dave really let me just be the JV coach. I made all the decisions and that was huge. It’s nice to see what kind of things worked. JV games give you time to work on things like substitutions, when to take timeouts and how to handle end-of-the-game situations.
“Donnie and Coach Z. also taught me a lot about the game. They are both very knowledgeable and have been successful.”
Harkness likens coaches to thieves, but in a good way.
“Coaches are always stealing some idea from another coach,” he noted. “Whether it’s offensive plays, inbounds plays or some type of defense, coaches should never stop learning. There’s always some other coach doing a drill or something that might be able to help you out.”
As far as talent coming back, Harkness said he has up to 10 girls that can play.
“We’ve got a solid core coming back,” he said. “We’ve got three or four seniors and three starters back from last year. Also, the sophomores-to-be I coached when they were in 8th grade, so that should make for a smoother transition because I know their personalities and their abilities.”
However, he knows the style of play will change this season due to the loss of NCAA Division I-bound Caitlyn Kroll, the school’s all-time leading scorer with 2,000-plus points.
“Every year is different and next year won’t be any different,” he added. “I’m not dumb enough to come in here and say we’re going to win 20 games, but we will play a style of basketball that suits our personnel.”
He said following Zitzelsberger will be no easy task.
“He won a lot of games during his tenure. He has set the bar high for the program and I hope to continue that.”
Harkness, a West Liberty State College alum as well, also announced that JV coach Jason Hanson has agreed to remain with the program.
“Having Jason return as the JV coach is huge for the program. He is a big reason for the program’s success and I’m very happy he decided to continue in that role.”
Harkness and his wife, Jodi, reside in Brookside with their daughter, Olivia.