(This is the last of seven stories introducing the new Buffalo Bills assistant coaches. Today's installment features running backs coach Bishop Harris.)
Bishop Harris finds himself in a somewhat familiar situation as the new running backs coach for the Buffalo Bills.
In his job with the Oakland Raiders the past three years, Harris watched 1,000-yard running back Harvey Williams gradually take aback seat to No. 1 draft choice Napoleon Kaufman.
In his new role with the Bills, Harris is expected to preside over the ascension of Antowain Smith as the Bills' full-time ball carrier as veteran Thurman Thomas slides into the background.
Harris was given high marks in Oakland for keeping his running backs, notably Williams, reasonably happy as Kaufman took over the majority of the handoffs.
"You have to have a good coach to come in here and work with a Thurman Thomas, who's been doing this for a long time," said Bills coach Wade Phillips. "You have to have a guy who can handle situations and people in the right way. That was an important factor."
"The key word is trust," Harris said. "They trusted me (in Oakland) and I trusted them. My philosophy, which they accepted, was that every guy can help us win in some way. We had a unit concept, and unit goals. Every guy had a role to play toward helping the unit. A man without goals is a man without direction."
Harris, 56, was focused on the goal of a college coaching career for much of the past three decades. He held assistant's jobs at Duke, North Carolina State, Louisiana State, Notre Dame and Minnesota.
"I wasn't interested in the NFL at all," Harris said. "I had always had good jobs. I liked college coaching. But when I got to Minneapolis, it was a pro football town. I had friends who were with the Vikings organization, and they started to encourage me to take a pro opportunity if it came up."
Harris left Minnesota in 1991 to take his first college head coaching job, at his alma mater, North Carolina Central. At the same time, however, he spent several summers in the NFL's Minority Coaching Fellowship Program, which allows minority coaches to help NFL staffs during training camp. Harris spent two summers in camp with the Denver Broncos, where Phillips was defensive coordinator.
When Phillips became Denver head coach in 1992, he got Harris to leave North Carolina Central and join him as running backs coach.
"When he came into Denver for the internship it was obvious to everybody he was a great coach and just as good as anybody we had based on his knowledge and the way he handled players," Phillips said.
"He was overqualified for where he was, in my opinion," he said. "Some guys are happy where they are and stay at that level, and that's fine. But he had the ability to be at the highest level."
"If any other place had called me at that time, I probably would have said no because I was home," Harris said. "My alma mater was moving in the direction I wanted it to go. But I have a lot of respect for Wade."
After Phillips was fired, Harris moved to Oakland. He lost his spot on that staff in January when Joe Bugel was fired as head coach. One day before Bugel was fired, Phillips had been hired as the new Bills' coach. Elijah Pitts, the Bills' assistant head coach and running backs coach under Marv Levy, continues to battle cancer and remains on medical leave of absence. So Phillips felt the need to get a running backs coach on board.
"Of all the people in the NFL, if I had to pick one person I'd want to work for, it would be Wade," Harris said.