Harris to coach Pitt in bowl despite new post

Updated: December 14, 2004, 12:51 AM ET
Associated Press

STANFORD, Calif. -- For the next few weeks, Walt Harris will work for Pittsburgh by day and Stanford by night.

Harris considers himself a creative offensive coach who appreciates the element of surprise, and he'll certainly need to be imaginative as he balances dual duties with two schools on opposite coasts.

Harris, accompanied by his fiancee, was officially introduced as Stanford's new football coach Monday, given the task of resurrecting a program that struggled in three seasons under Buddy Teevens.

Harris, 58, signed a five-year deal less than three weeks before he leads No. 19 Pittsburgh (8-3) in the Fiesta Bowl against Utah. Harris, who accepted Stanford's offer Sunday, will assume his new job after that game Jan. 1. In the meantime, the NCAA allows him one call a week to potential recruits.

"I'll work during the day developing a game plan for Utah, and I'm going to work at night developing our staff and recruiting football players," Harris said. "I couldn't be more thrilled to represent Stanford University and the great football coaches of the past."

Stanford athletic director Ted Leland believes Harris is the kind of offensive mind who rivals California coach Jeff Tedford across San Francisco Bay in Berkeley, and Leland knows bringing in Harris adds instant credibility to the football program.

Leland searched for a coach with a strong offensive background after Stanford struggled to score during Teevens' tenure.

Harris fits the bill, having been quarterbacks coach for Ohio State's high-powered offense in 1995-96 before rebuilding Pittsburgh. The Panthers have won at least eight games for three straight seasons.

Harris will also serve as a position coach for the Cardinal, but plans to hire an offensive coordinator who will share the play calling with him.

"He brings with him over 30 years of experience on the collegiate and professional levels and we are fortunate to have him as our head coach," Leland said. "In fact, other than Bill Walsh, Walt is the most experienced and successful head coach that Stanford has hired since Pop Warner in 1924."

The Cardinal went 4-7 the past two seasons, losing their last five games this year, leading to Teevens' firing last month.

Leland has recommended Harris retain two assistant coaches from Teevens' staff, but will ultimately let Harris hire his staff. Harris will interview those coaches Tuesday before returning to Pittsburgh to begin bowl preparations.

"I consider Walt to have one of the brightest minds in football," Walsh said.

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.

"It is a homecoming for me," Harris said. "I don't think it's as bad of weather as it used to be, because it was real bad when I grew up here. It was a long time ago and a lot of great experiences ago, but I'm glad to be back here. ...

"I've always fought the desire to be at home and to cherish the weather. This will be a natural."

Harris coached the linebackers at Cal from 1974-77 and made stops at Air Force, Michigan State, Illinois and Tennessee before Leland hired him as head coach at Pacific. The school eventually dropped the program.

Southern California offensive coordinator Norm Chow was the other top candidate.

Leland had indirect contact with former Stanford coach Tyrone Willingham, who was fired at Notre Dame and since hired by Washington. Other coaches considered were Boise State's Dan Hawkins and former New York Giants coach Jim Fassel, who decided not to interview for the job because he's still pursuing a return to the NFL as a head coach.

"I thought it was time for us to get an experienced head coach, one with success," Leland said. "I felt that when I talked to the athletes, that they wanted some experience.

"On an emotional front, I had (to think about) looking our athletes in the eye and think to myself, against USC, Notre Dame and Cal, who on our sideline was going to give us the best chance?"

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press