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Harrison head football coach Al Melo watches his team Monday, Aug. 12, 2019, during the first day of practice for the 2019 high school fall sports season. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

Longtime Harrison football coach Al Melo has stepped down after 13 years at the helm.

Melo took over as the Harrison athletic director over the summer for Dave Hogan, the Panther’s former AD, who moved to district athletic director.

“After taking over the role as an AD, it’s just time,” Melo said. “I’ve spent 24 straight years as a football coach (he also coached in Arizona), and to do the job as AD as well as I would like, it’s just something I have to do.”

Melo said scheduling conflicts in the fall made it difficult to balance his new duties as AD.

“Dave Hogan laid some great foundation that I want to make sure we can carry on,” Melo said. “We want to focus on school spirit at Harrison, and get back to believing in the district and the students to believe in themselves and to be proud to be a Panther.”

Melo accumulated a 67-68 record with the Panthers through his tenure, and he guided the program to it first undefeated regular season in 2018. Harrison was 34-10 under Melo in the past four seasons.

Gazette Preps Football Coach of the Year: Al Melo, Harrison

Melo said he met with his team Wednesday to announce the change.

“I think they were supportive and they understood where I was coming from,” Melo said of the players. “It’s going to be hard to step away, but it’s something that I’ve come to terms with and I’m committed to.”

The athletic department hopes to promote from within the football coaching staff to find the new head coach, according to Melo.

The Panthers will return a solid core of starters from their 9-2 run in 2019, including quarterback Jaseim Mitchell and receiver Seth Fuller.

“The program is in a really good place,” Melo said. “We have a good number of starters coming back on offense and defense and our numbers were better this year than they’ve been in a while. I think the group shouldn’t miss a beat without me.”

Through his 13-year tenure Melo couldn’t pick a specific moment to highlight, but said some of his favorite memories stemmed from years where the program struggled.

“But it’s not about me or the wins, it’s about the kids,” Melo said. “It’s as cliche as it comes, but seeing kids have success when they leave here is bigger than football.”

Melo will remain the school’s track & field coach, a position he has held for 13 years, but stepped down as the wrestling coach for the 2019-20 season after coaching on-and-off for 5-6 years.

Melo was The Gazette Preps and CHSAA 3A football coach of the Year in 2018.