Making the right call
Harrison strives for excellence in business, on football field
By Mike Grizzard, The Daily Reflector
Published May 15, 2006
Darrell Harrison understands the importance of the right call.
As a Xerox agent/owner, it's essential in meeting customers' needs and earning
On Saturday afternoons in the fall, it can be the difference between winning
and losing on the college football field.
Harrison has spent more than 26 years with Xerox and will begin his 15th year
this season this fall as a college football official. Although the national exposure
and scrutiny differ greatly, the approach to each of his jobs is much the same
– do the very best you can, he said.
"You're only as good as your last call officiating, and you're only as good as
your last call in the business world," Harrison said in an interview in his Arlington
Boulevard office adorned with photos from some of his most memorable stops, including
eight bowl games.
"We have to be up for every call and do our best on every call," he said.
Harrison's career paths were determined in part for his passion – but limited
ability – in football. He played on East Carolina University's freshman team in
1970 but called it quits after a sophomore year in which he was well down on the
depth chart as a linebacker.
"After I quit, they won two Southern Conference championships," joked Harrison,
a roommate of Carl Sumrell and teammate of Carlester Crumpler Sr.
He met his future wife, Sandy, during his senior year and began working with
Lanier Business Products after graduating in 1974, While pursuing a master's in
business administration, Harrison took a friend's suggestion out Xerox.
"They had as little office on Reade Circle, and I went and knocked on the door
and said, 'Hey, I'm looking for a job.' It just so happened they needed somebody
in Greenville," Harrison said. "They hired me in April of 1980. I can't believe
it's been as long as it has, but I'm still trucking."
He was on track to be a manager in a metro area like Charlotte or Atlanta, but
Greenville had become home, he said. He and Sandy married in 1983, and Xerox offered
him the opportunity to be sales agent/owner.
"Xerox looks at it like they get a local presence and yet the strength of a Fortune
100 company in the same combination," he said.
What began as a one-man operation now has six other employees – four in sales,
an administrative assistant and an analyst – and serves 11 counties. They are
primarily responsible for marketing and selling Xerox products; billing and inventory
are handled on a corporate level.
"It's a good partnership for me as long as we produce," Harrison said. "Xerox
is a very results-oriented organization, which is fair. Given the way that eastern
North Carolina has grown, we've just been very blessed. Business has been good.
"I've got a really great team," he said. "... It's not just the guy out front,
it's the team. We've got a good group. They tolerate me, No. 1. And, No. 2, we
work well together."
Harrison said changing technology and increased competition have posed challenges,
but he believes a track record of service and establishing trust with clients
have not only helped his company keep pace but to grow.
"People buy from people," he said. "We have excellent competition in eastern
North Carolina. Some of the copier marketplace consumers almost view it as a commodity
because they can go to the big-box retailer and buy a copier these days. I'll
argue the point that the value proposition of Xerox is worth the evaluating that
"Making a difference with people both in sales and service and relationship building,
that's really important," he said.
Also important to Harrison is the flexibility in his schedule to spend time with
Sandy and their 14-year-old son, Lucas, who is active in three sports and will
be a freshman at J.H. Rose High School next year. Lucas was born in 1992 – the
same year Harrison's application to officiate in the Atlantic Coast Conference
"Family is huge to me," Harrison said. "I'm committed to (Lucas) and my wife,
and when I can, I'm going to be watching him do whatever he does."
Harrison got involved in officiating at the ground level, working flag football
Pee Wee football games with the Greenville Recreation and Parks Department – "If
it moved and needed officiated, I'd go do it," he said.
He steadily progressed, first with a local high school group and scrimmages at
ECU before a letter of recommendation from then-ECU coach Art Baker landed him
in the Southern Independent officials' group. That was before the mass conference
expansions and realignments and included independents Miami, Florida State, Louisville,
Southern and East Carolina.
Among the highlights, he said, was a game at Notre Dame against Navy. He and
Lucas were on the field a couple of hours before the game and had a picture snapped
near on of the goal posts. That picture hangs in his office near an autographed
photo of former North Carolina head coach Mack Brown, who was discussing a call
The most intense atmosphere, he said, is the Florida-Florida State rivalry, which
he has worked three times.
"You cannot hear yourself think, much less talk," he said. "When you get in the
lockerroom after the game, it's like you've been behind a 747 for three hours."
Another memorable experience was two years ago in Philadelphia for the annual
Army-Navy game. President Bush approached Harrison on the sidelines, shook his
hand and chatted for a few seconds. That picture will be on the wall soon.
"I spent 15 or 20 seconds with him," Harrison said.
Harrison's eight bowl games have included the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, the Holiday
Bowl in San Diego and the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Ariz. (Kansas State vs. Ohio State).
But the jewel was the Rose Bowl in 2001 in Pasadena, Calif., when Washington faced
Purdue and quarterback Drew Brees.
"For a college football nut, that was pretty special," Harrison said. "And that
was two weeks after my brother had passed, so the whole time was really, really
He cherishes it all, crediting the model set by his dad and a strong faith.
"You struggle on a daily basis, but that's the ultimate thing," Harrison said.
"Forget making the right call or selling a Xerox machine. The ultimate thing is
living like we should for the Lord and being good role models for our families
and other people. Being strong in your faith and being loyal to the Lord is certainly
more important than any of this stuff."
Mike Grizzard can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and 329-9580.
(c) 2006 Cox Newspapers, Inc. - The Daily Reflector