The 47-year old California native received his coaching start at his alma mater, Pacific University, where he played defensive back for former NFL coach Buddy Ryan.
From 1971-1973, Harris coached the Tigers secondary. After his three year tenure at Pacific, Harris moved to another three year job at University of California as the linebacker coach.
After six years in California, Harris started making his way East. In the spring on 1978, Harris was hired as the secondary coach at Air Force under Bill Parcells, but quickly moved onto Michigan State in the same year to become the Spartans linebacker coach.
Harris jumped ship and moved to Illinois where he was the Fighting Illini's quarterback coach from 1980-1982. During his time in Urbana, Harris developed future NFL quarterbacks Tony Eason, Dave Wilson, and Jack Trudeau. Eason and Wilson were both first-round draft picks.
The well traveled coach left Illinois in 1983 to join the Tennessee coaching staff as the offensive coordinator. From 1983-1988, the Volunteers made five bowl appearances and won the 1985 SEC championship. Harris was promoted to assistant coach in 1988.
Harris received his first head coaching position in 1989 at Pacific. His 1991 Tiger team ranked second nationally in total offense (511.3 ypg), and third nationally in passing offense (342.9 ypg).
While at Pacific, Harris went 11-24 as head coach.
After the 1991 season, Harris left Pacific University for the NFL.
His first job was for the New York Jets as their quarterbacks coach. While in New York, Harris molded Boomer Esiason into a 1993 Pro Bowl quarterback.
Following his three years with the Jets, Harris moved back to the college ranks as the quarterbacks coach for Ohio State University.
During his one year in Ohio, Harris helped the Buckeyes win the Rose Bowl in 1996 by defeating Arizona State.
In 1997, the University of Pittsburgh hired Harris as their head football coach. Harris was faced with rebuilding the Panther program that had only managed to win 15 times in the previous five years.
Harris immediately brought a renewed energy to the program and led the team to their first winning season in six years as well as the Panthers first postseason birth since 1989. During the 1997 season Pittsburgh defeated Miami, Virgina-Tech, and West Virginia. Harris was named the Big East Coach of the Year in 1997.
Since Harris's arrival the Panthers have been to a bowl game three of the last five years, including a Insight Bowl win over the Beavers in 2002.
Currently, Harris is 26-31 as head coach at Pittsburgh.
Harris has received praise from several sports authorities.
“Walt Harris is right there with the best,” ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit said.
“Not only does he know his Xs and Os, but he has an instinct about play calling. Everybody might not be aware of this, but the more talent he gets at Pittsburgh, the more evident his greatness as a coach will be. We’ve seen glimpses of it, and once he gets the total package in place and more recruiting classes in place, we’ll see everything. Anybody who’s followed the Panthers from where they were to where they are now understands what he can do.”
“Walt Harris is one of the top ten coaches in the country,” said
longtime college football commentator Beano Cook.
BeaverFootball.com comment: Harris has some West Coast ties. He may have the desire to come back west. That's about the only thing that points to him leaving.
Now, here are some things that make me think he will want to stay. First, he's got a whole lot of talent coming back. I understand that the Beavers return almost everyone as well, but there's that extra satisfaction that comes from winning with one's own players.
He signed up a nice recruiting class this year, and already has a jump start on next year's process with a couple of Pennsylvania juniors already making their colleg choice.
Pitt has great facilities, including the Steelers Heinz Field. They also share the same adjoining training facility. Think HS players aren't impressed by sharing with The Bus?
Pitt hasn't had the greatest of success since Marino left, but they are sitting pretty now. Harris would also have to deal with a whole lot more competition in the Pac-10. With only seven conference games, he has more flexibility in scheduling. It's a higher profile job because of its location and its TV contract with ESPN.
Tomorrow...Sonny Lubick, head coach of Colorado State.