Former Chicago Bears safety Chris Harris has retired as a player but will assume a new role as defensive quality control assistant for new head coach Marc Trestman. Harris always knew he wanted to be a coach following his playing days but to have the opportunity come so quickly, and with his former team, seems almost too good to be true.
"I was thrilled to get that call from Marc. Now, standing here, I'm absolutely ecstatic," Harris said in the staff's meet and greet with the media. "This is something I had planned for during my playing days. I thought perhaps once I retired from playing, an NFL team would hire me. To have it all happen so quickly and to have the chance to return to Chicago was more than I could have imagined."
Harris originally came to the Bears in the sixth round of the 2005 draft. He was traded to the Panthers in 2007, then returned to the Bears in 2010, where his team-leading five interceptions earned him a trip to the Pro Bowl. He was then released in October of 2011. He played briefly for the Detroit Lions and then last season in Jacksonville, under new Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker.
"This is my third time here," Harris laughed. "I'm hoping that I catch on and stay."
For Harris, getting the opportunity to coach is the chance of a lifetime.
"I always saw myself as a head coach someday. That was particularly true the past few years. Being a player has so many uncertainties. It's hard to sit at home when you leave one team and haven't yet been signed by another. I was tired of waiting for the next team to call and felt that it was time to change my direction.
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"My mind immediately went to coaching. I've always been fascinated by that. The more I thought about it, I realized it was something I wanted badly. Thanks to this job, I am now on that path."
Harris was known as a cerebral player who enjoyed studying the nuances of the game.
"I used to follow the coaches around wherever I was playing and ask them questions, wanting to know all the details about a play. Looking back, I realize that I probably was driving them crazy."
But in his mind, studying football helped ease the eventual transition from player to coach.
"There are a lot of guys out there who only play two to three years tops," Harris said. "They just want to get in, get the money and get out. But the players who truly love the game, they tend to learn all they can about it. It makes you more valuable, I believe. That also means that once you leave your playing days behind, there are interesting opportunities waiting in other aspects of the game."
Among Harris' new responsibilities will be working with tape and adding information to the team's computerized database.
"I love doing that because paying attention to details has always been my strong point," Harris said, when asked if he had the patience for dealing with such minutia.
He also feels that understanding how an NFL defense operates, from a player's point of view, will make him a better coach.
"I played for eight years in a variety of situations," Harris said. "I think I'll be able to be on the sidelines or watch tape and pick out things as far as technique that others might miss."
"I'm seeing this as a painless transition," he said. "They all understand that my role has changed. They know that I've been in the trenches with them and have a good feeling for what they go through on a daily basis. That has to count for something."
Even the long hours he'll be putting in are appealing.
"Many days I'm at Halas Hall by 5:30 in the morning," Harris said. "I remain here until midnight. I have no problem with that. It's all part of the job. I understand that I am starting from scratch. My responsibility is to build myself into an excellent coach, and that will take time. The structure is here around me for that to happen. I couldn't be part of a better staff.
"This is a dream come true, returning to the team that drafted me years ago and now having the chance to help make that team even better. I'll come in early and stay as late as they want me to because I'm loving every minute of this."
Beth Gorr has been covering the Bears for the last 12 years and is the author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.