James "Shack" Harris... One helluva VP
Shack comes from the Deep South during a time of segregation and played quarterback for Grambling in college. The Buffalo Bills drafted him in the 8th round in 1969. Shack tells this story about signing his first contract...
"Now, when I stepped into that office, I'd never had a conversation with white people before. The general manager, the director of personnel, they have these white shirts and ties. Coming from the South, I didn't look anybody in the eye. I looked down at the floor. They said they needed me to sign this contract. If I didn't, I was going to have to go to Canada. I wasn't going to get any more money, they said. My coach was asking for too much. They've got the papers out, the pen. What do I do now? I tell them I need to call my mama. They said go ahead. I called Coach. I don't know what he told them, but they backed down. We eventually got that thing up to about an $8,000 bonus and a $15,000 salary"
James Harris: I wouldn't get any work in during practice, but they'd keep two or three of us afterward to throw. That was my time. I was ready for it. Every night, I stayed in and studied. I wasn't going to let them say black quarterbacks were dumb. Then I pulled a muscle in my stomach.
Back in those days, if you got hurt, they were going to cut you. Every day, about five or six in the morning, they'd knock on the doors. You'd hear it down the hall. They'd knock on the door -- bam, bam, bam. That meant they're cutting you.
Sounds like a different world from today's NFL. Still, you have to recognize that anyone who goes through all that would have a lot of resolve. It's really amazing how far the NFL has come since those days.
Enough depressing history lessons... Let's examine Shack's career.
A veteran with over 30 years experience in the NFL, Harris played quarterback for 12 seasons before embarking on what is now his 20th year in personnel. His personnel career began in 1987, as a scout for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1987-92). From 1993-96, Harris served as assistant general manager of the New York Jets. Named director of pro personnel for the Baltimore Ravens in 1997, he spent six years with the Ravens where he earned a Super Bowl ring with the Ravens’ victory in Super Bowl XXXV in 2000.
That was one heck of a team Shack put together. Those Ravens absolutely destroyed everyone defensively. Now I grant you their offense wasn't great from a passing perspective... It was adequate though, and their running attack with Jamaal Lewis was devastating. Harris has a very high opinion of JDR's evaluation ability and says as much in an interview.
Q: How's your relationship with Del Rio?
It's great. Jack and I go way back to Baltimore. It's good because Jack is a good evaluator. So many head coaches are not evaluators. Jack will watch tape. So many head coaches might watch just a few plays, but Jack will do the detailed tape watching that allows you to make a decision. Jack is a good football guy. He played the game and understands things from a player's perspective and a coach's perspective. So we get along well. We feel that we have an excellent staff.
That relationship has produced quite a bit of fruit and is the core reason for the Jaguars' success. Let's look at some of his picks.
Leftwich - Bust
Matt Jones- Bust
Marcedes Lewis - Lookin' Good
Reggie Nelson - Lookin’ Good
Rashean Mathis - STAR
Daryl Smith - STAR-lite
M. Jones Drew - STAR
Those are only the first two rounds. Players like Clint Ingram (3rd) or Sensabaugh (5th) came in later rounds. Let's not forget about all the un-drafted free agents the Jags sign and end up contributing. Players like that keep your special teams strong, your bottom line down, and your salary cap with plenty of room.
Diminishing powers may convince Harris to bolt from Jacksonville
When Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver hired vice president of player personnel James “Shack” Harris in 2003, Weaver bestowed upon him the final authority over personnel matters. Whether or not he’s officially still the ultimate decision maker is unclear, but word we’re hearing is that Harris’ days in Jacksonville may be numbered. Recently promoted executive director of college and pro personnel Gene Smith is viewed as a rising star within league circles, and Weaver is prepared to expand Smith’s powers even more to ensure he’s not tempted to bolt Jacksonville — Smith was a serious candidate for the Falcons’ GM job that eventually went to Thomas Dimitroff. While it’s unlikely Harris would be fired, a diminishment of authority could convince Harris to leave on his own, especially considering he harbors resentment toward Weaver for firing director of pro personnel and close friendCharles Bailey while promoting Smith.
This perspective is exactly right. Shack has been too successful to be cut loose, but he may indeed leave for greener pastures. Below is an interview excerpt from last year that only solidifies the above point.
FTU: What about [James] Harris' status? His first pick [Leftwich] didn't work out, and some of the other first-round picks haven't lived up to expectations.
Weaver: This business is not an exact science. We're not the first club to have to cut a first-round draft pick. James Harris has done a good job. We've had some first-round draft choices that haven't reached their potential, but we think some of these guys are still a work in progress. Look at the whole body of our work. Our drafts have been pretty good.
Hmmm, does that sound like an owner who thinks his VP is lacking in evaluating ability? Not a chance.
Lets examine Shack's character and what he's done for the community.
In May of 2003 and again in June of 2004, Sports Illustrated named Harris one of the top 50 most influential minorities in sports. In March of 2005, Harris was named one of the 50 most powerful blacks in Sports by Black Enterprise. He was awarded the Fritz Pollard Alliance’s Paul “Tank” Younger award in March, 2006 for his outstanding efforts over the years to help level the playing field and improve life for minorities. Also, later that year, he founded the Shack Harris Doug Williams Foundation, a non-profit, tax-exempt organization dedicated to creating opportunities for economically disadvantaged youth.
I think you all know where I stand Harris, however, I realize he is a bit controversial and some of you may not agree with me, but here's my view on the guy.
[Editorial Note: This is a reprint of an article I did on Shack during the offseason and I thought it'd be a good way to start the "The Tao of Shack", hope you enjoy!]