Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Winnipeg mourns loss of Coach Richard Harris


WINNIPEG -- Richard Harris, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers assistant head coach and defensive line coach, died Tuesday afternoon after collapsing at Canad Inns Stadium. He was 63.

A league source requesting anonymity said Harris collapsed in his office and was rushed to hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Harris was in his sixth season with the CFL club.

Bombers president Jim Bell confirmed Harris's death.

"This has struck our entire organization from the top down,'' he said in a statement. "We are all in a state of shock and first and foremost would like to express our deepest sympathies to his family.

"The Winnipeg Football Club has lost not only a great coach, but an even better man.''

Harris joined the Bombers in 2006 as their defensive line coach and was appointed assistant head coach prior to the start of this season.

Winnipeg's defence has played a major role in the club's resurgence this year. The Bombers (3-1) are tied with Montreal atop the East Division standings after posting a league-worst 4-14 record in 2010.

The club's defence is allowing a league-low 293 yards per game and is ranked second in fewest points allowed (19.2 per game). And the defensive line has terrorized rival quarterbacks, posting a league-high 15 sacks.

Harris arrived in Winnipeg after one season with the Ottawa Renegades as their defensive line coach. He had the same role for four years before that with the B.C. Lions.

Wally Buono, the Lions coach and general manager, appeared shaken by the news. Harris served as B.C.'s defensive line coach for Buono's first two years in Vancouver.

"When somebody passes away it's always shocking,'' said Buono, who underwent heart bypass surgery in 2004. "Richard was a good man. Just the fact he's gone is almost discouraging.''

In 2000, Harris was head coach of the Portland Prowlers of the Indoor Professional Football League. And he won three semi-pro championships as head coach in the Northwest Football League, with the Eastside Express in 1989 and the Pudget Sound Jets in 1994 and 1995.

Harris, a defensive lineman, spent eight seasons in the NFL after being picked fifth overall in the 1971 draft by the Philadelphia Eagles. He was all-rookie that year.

He played three seasons with the Eagles before joining the Chicago Bears for two years. Harris finished his career by playing three seasons with the Seattle Seahawks.

Harris played at Grambling State University under legendary head coach Eddie Robinson.

He is survived by wife Tami and children Kimberly, Chianti, Jennifer and Michael.

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