Harris hired over other finalist Chow

Originally Published: December 13, 2004
ESPN.com news services

STANFORD, Calif. -- Stanford picked a familiar face in Walt Harris to resurrect its beleaguered football program.

Walt Harris
WireImage.comWalt Harris should improve a Stanford offense that ranked eighth in the Pac-10.

Harris was hired as the Cardinal's new football coach Sunday, accepting the job less than three weeks before he leads Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl against Utah.

Athletic director Ted Leland found the offensive-minded leader he sought to replace Buddy Teevens -- and Leland knew plenty about Harris because he also hired him as coach at Pacific in 1989.

Harris accepted the job Sunday, and the school planned an afternoon news conference Monday to introduce him.

The 58-year-old Harris met with his team Sunday and is expected to coach the Panthers (No. 20 ESPN/USA Today, No. 19 AP) in their bowl game before assuming his new job.

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterbacks coach Mark Whipple, former Miami Dolphins coach Dave Wannstedt, who played at Pitt, and former Notre Dame coach Bob Davie are candidates to replace Harris, ESPN.com has learned.

Harris interviewed on campus Friday, two days after Southern California offensive coordinator Norm Chow visited to interview. Leland offered Harris the job Saturday, then met with university president John Hennessey and provost John Etchemendy as a formality in the hiring process.

"He interviewed very well and presented himself very well," Stanford linebacker Jon Alston said in a phone interview Sunday. "In my impression, he's done some really impressive things, and hopefully he can continue them at Stanford. I thought he was a coach's coach. The things he was able to accomplish at Pittsburgh speak for themselves."

Alston has watched Pitt from afar and noticed how Harris turned around the program. Alston believes Leland worked quickly to get a coach hired before the height of the recruiting season.

"I think it worked fine," Alston said of the timing.

Leland said he wouldn't spend a fortune on his football coach. Harris met last week with Pittsburgh athletic director Jeff Long, but the school didn't offer him an extension for more than the close to $600,000 he was earning. Pitt sophomore quarterback Tyler Palko campaigned for the school to keep him.

"I have accepted Walt Harris' resignation from the University of Pittsburgh so that he can accept the same position at Stanford University," Long said in a statement Sunday. "During his eight years at Pittsburgh, Coach Harris has done an exceptional job revitalizing our program both athletically and academically. We are grateful for those efforts and wish him the very best in his new position at Stanford."

Leland searched for a coach with a strong offensive background after Stanford struggled to score during Teevens' tenure. The Cardinal went 4-7 the past two seasons, losing their last five games this year. They were 0-13 down the stretch the past three seasons leading to Teevens' firing last month.

Harris, Pitt's eighth-year coach, has plenty of connections to the Bay Area. He grew up in South San Francisco and attended college at Pacific in Stockton, where he also began his college coaching career directing the secondary.

He coached the linebackers at California from 1974-77 and made stops at Air Force, Michigan State, Illinois and Tennessee before taking over at Pacific for three seasons. The school eventually dropped the program.

Harris was Ohio State's quarterbacks coach in 1995-96 before going to Pitt.

Pitt is coming off three straight seasons with eight or more wins.

Harris presided over a nice turnaround at Pitt -- which was 12-32 under Johnny Majors from 1993-96 before he arrived. Harris and the Pitt administration have been at odds all season, especially after his agent called at midseason for the school to give him an extension or let him seek a new job.

Chow has directed the top-ranked Trojans' offense for four years.

The 58-year-old Chow hasn't been a head coach since 1970-72 at Waialua High in Hawaii. Chow, who is of Chinese descent, has talked about wanting to be the first Asian-American to be head coach at a major college.

"It was a win-win situation for the university," Alston said. "I think what it came down to was head coaching experience."

Information from The Associated Press was included in this report.