Walt Harris (coach)

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Walt Harris
Sport(s) Football
Biographical details
Born (1946-11-09) November 9, 1946 (age 71)
South San Francisco, California
Playing career
1964–1965 College of San Mateo
1966–1967 Pacific (CA)
Position(s) Defensive back
Coaching career (HC unless noted)
1970 El Camino HS (CA)
1971–1973 Pacific (CA) (DB)
1974–1977 California (LB)
1978 Air Force (DB)
1978–1979 Michigan State (LB)
1980–1982 Illinois (QB)
1983–1988 Tennessee (OC/QB)
1989–1991 Pacific (CA)
1992–1994 New York Jets (QB)
1995–1996 Ohio State (QB)
1997–2004 Pittsburgh
2005–2006 Stanford
2009 Akron (QB)
2010 California (PA) (OC)
Head coaching record
Overall 69–85
Bowls 2–4
Accomplishments and honors
1 Big East (2004)
2x Big East Coach of the Year (1997, 2004)
AFCA Region I coach of the year (2002)

Walter William Harris (born November 9, 1946) is a former American football player and coach. Harris served as the head football coach at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California from 1989 to 1991, the University of Pittsburgh from 1997 to 2004, and at Stanford University from 2005 to 2006, compiling a career college football record of 69–85.[1]

Playing and coaching career[edit]

Harris attended El Camino High School in South San Francisco, California. Harris received a bachelor's degree in 1968 and a master's degree in 1969 from the University of the Pacific, where he played college football.

Harris served as offensive coordinator at University of Tennessee under Johnny Majors, helping the Volunteers win four of five bowl games while there. In 1989, he became head coach at the University of the Pacific. As head coach of Pacific, his staff included future National Football League head coaches Jon Gruden and Hue Jackson.

Harris was the quarterbacks coach for the New York Jets from 1992 to 1994. A noted quarterback tutor, he helped Boomer Esiason return to form and earn a trip to the 1993 Pro Bowl.


When Harris took over at the University of Pittsburgh in 1997, the Pittsburgh Panthers football program was in decline. They had won just 12 games in the previous four seasons. He eventually led Pitt to five consecutive bowl games.

In 1997 Harris won Big East Coach of the Year honors when he led his team to the Liberty Bowl, their first postseason game since 1989. Harris led the Panthers to back-to-back 7–5 seasons and bowl appearances in 2000 and 2001. In 2002, Pittsburgh finished 9-4 after beating Oregon State, 38–13, in the Insight Bowl. That year, he won the American Football Coaches Foundation (AFCA) Region I Coach of the Year. The Panthers went 8–5 after losing to Virginia in the Continental Tire Bowl in 2003.

Harris coached both Antonio Bryant and Larry Fitzgerald to the Fred Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation's outstanding receiver at any position.

In 2004, Harris led the Panthers to their first Bowl Championship Series (BCS) bowl game in school history. Pitt lost to Utah in the Fiesta Bowl that season. Despite winning the Big East Coach of the Year award, Harris was pushed out of Pittsburgh. After Harris left, Pitt did not make another bowl game for three years.


Harris was the head coach of the football team at Stanford University. In his first season as head coach there he posted a record of 5–6. In his second season as head coach the team posted a 1–11 record, the school's worst since going 0–10 in 1960.[2] Harris was notorious for the extremely rare and bizarre decision to punt on 3rd down while trailing UCLA 7-0 on October 1, 2006 during his second season.[3] He was fired on December 4, 2006, two days after Stanford's regular season ended. By the end of his tenure at Stanford, Harris had surpassed Jack Curtice with the lowest winning percentage in the history of Stanford football, with a .261 mark.[4]

Current career[edit]

In February 2009 he joined the University of Akron coaching staff as quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator, but the team struggled and head coach J. D. Brookhart lost his job at the end of the year.

In April 2010, Harris became the offensive coordinator at California University of Pennsylvania. He was replaced after one season.[5]

Coaching style[edit]

Harris has been viewed by some players as difficult to work with. One article about his departure from Stanford called him a "disciplinarian" and reported that a player briefly quit the team in protest of his coaching style.[2]

Harris also has a questionable history of play calling, particularly when it comes to his tenure at the University of Pittsburgh. In a controversial series of calls he had Tyler Palko quarterback punt on third down a number of times in a 2004 game against Nebraska which the Panthers lost. Harris was also criticized after the 2003 Continental Tire Bowl for under-utilizing Heisman Trophy runner-up and eventual third overall NFL draft pick Larry Fitzgerald.

Head coaching record[edit]

Year Team Overall Conference Standing Bowl/playoffs Coaches# AP°
Pacific Tigers (Big West Conference) (1989–1991)
1989 Pacific 2–10 2–5 T–6th
1990 Pacific 4–7 2–5 6th
1991 Pacific 5–7 4–3 4th
Pacific: 11–24 8–13
Pittsburgh Panthers (Big East Conference) (1997–2004)
1997 Pittsburgh 6–6 4–3 T–3rd L Liberty
1998 Pittsburgh 2–9 0–7 8th
1999 Pittsburgh 5–6 2–5 T–6th
2000 Pittsburgh 7–5 4–3 T–3rd L Insight.com
2001 Pittsburgh 7–5 4–3 T–3rd W Tangerine
2002 Pittsburgh 9–4 5–2 3rd W Insight 18 19
2003 Pittsburgh 8–5 5–2 3rd L Continental Tire
2004 Pittsburgh 8–4 4–2 T–1st L Fiesta 25
Pittsburgh: 52–44 28–27
Stanford Cardinal (Pacific-10 Conference) (2005–2006)
2005 Stanford 5–6 4–4 T–4th
2006 Stanford 1–11 1–8 10th
Stanford: 6–17 5–12
Total: 69–85
      National championship         Conference title         Conference division title or championship game berth

Coaching tree[edit]

Assistant coaches under Walt Harris who became NCAA or NFL head coaches:


  1. ^ Cook, Ron (September 28, 2008). "Harris not bitter over days at Pitt". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 2008-09-30.
  2. ^ a b Maisel, Ivan (2006-12-06). "Harris out as Cardinal coach following 1–11 season". ESPN. Stanford, California: Associated Press.
  3. ^ "Stanford vs. UCLA Play-By-Play". ESPN.com.
  4. ^ "Stanford 2009 Football Media Guide". Stanford University. Archived from the original on 2012-02-19.
  5. ^ "Sources: Mike Kellar to replace Walt Harris as offensive coordinator at Cal U". 3 January 2011.

External links[edit]