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Offseason | 2024

Al Harris opens up about life goals, Cowboys' roles


FRISCO, Texas — There was quite the exodus of talent, players and coaches, making its way from the Dallas Cowboys to the Washington Commanders this offseason, largely thanks to Dan Quinn — former defensive coordinator of the former turned current head coach of the latter — but Al Harris isn't one of them.

It's not for lack of effort by Quinn to poach Harris as well, though, but having the interview request denied by the Cowboys; in a move that is allowed by the league if the position to be interviewed for is not a promotion.

Subsequently, head coach Mike McCarthy then promoted Harris himself, to the role of assistant head coach in Dallas.

"[It's] more responsibility," said Harris ahead of OTAs. "On the day-to-day, I'm still doing the things I've been doing since I've been here. It's just added responsibility here and there."

It's a huge nod to just how superb Harris has been since joining the Cowboys in 2020, a critical addition that helped lead to both Trevon Diggs and DaRon Bland quickly becoming historic, record-setting cornerbacks.

"Proud of Coach Al," wrote Diggs on social media following the news of Harris' promotion. "He deserves everything! Two All-Pro and Pro Bowl corners, and like 40 INTs!! We['re] not done."

As even-keeled a personality as you'll find in coaching, Harris blends that with his ability as a former All-Pro and multi-time Pro Bowl cornerback for, guess who, McCarthy and the Green Bay Packers — along with an effortless and innate ability to impart technical excellence to anyone he's responsible for coaching up.

"I'd say I'm a pretty good communicator," he said. "This is what you get — rain, sleet or snow — no ups, no downs."

Though that level-headed approach is never to be confused with a lack of competitive fire because, oftentimes, you're left to wonder if it's all Harris can do to keep from throwing on a helmet and pads to run onto the field during a game.

From the Packers' Hall of Fame to the halls of the Cowboys' headquarters and sidelines, Harris has become one of the most respected coaches in the league, and that means it's only a matter of time before he takes yet another step forward in his coaching career.

"That's my goal, and I'm pretty sure that's [the goal of] every assistant coach here," he said. "To have those responsibilities is big to me. I take that very seriously. Whatever we need, or need me to do to show my leadership skills, I'll do.

"It's big to me."

There's a common misconception that assistant coaches in the NFL must take a predetermined path as they move up the ladder, and that path would first see Harris handed the keys as a defensive coordinator before ultimately becoming a head coach.

That is untrue, however, as he pointed out when posed the question.

"If this is the route I have to take, of course," said Harris. "But, and I'm not telling you guys anything you don't already know, you can call your own defense as a head coach, if you're a defensive head coach. The ability to lead — I mean let's call an ace an ace.

"[I've] been in the seat. There's nothing you can come and tell me as a player that I won't relate to. I've been in your seat. I can relate to you on and off the field, and keep your tires on the track."

He points at Andy Reid's arc as one he holds dear, considering Reid went from being a longtime offensive line coach to taking on added roles that included assistant head coach of the Packers in the pre-McCarthy era, and then stepping into the role as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Reid was never a coordinator, but his three Super Bowl rings with the Kansas City Chiefs (and Super Bowl appearance with the Eagles) don't exactly care.

"Andy Reid is a mentor of mine and I've always looked at the route that he took," Harris explained. "I don't remember him calling plays as a coordinator and, if you really look at it, he's a Hall of Fame coach. I don't think you have to go that route.

"I think it's leadership because, if I'm the owner of a team, that's what I'm looking at: who's going to lead my men?"

That's something Harris has in spades, and it's why the Cowboys both retained and rewarded him this offseason, as he moves forward with his attention on continuing to excel at his job and in continuing to be "Johnny on the Spot" for McCarthy.

That job includes helping to get Diggs back up to speed once he's medically cleared and Bland to even higher heights over what was literally the best season ever witnessed from a cornerback in the category of pick-sixes.

Having one shutdown corner is something that teams foam at the mouth to have, while Harris and the Cowboys enjoy the luxury of having two.

"Sh-t, I'm fired up," said Harris, before laughing and pausing to apologize unnecessarily to the camera. I'm sorry, man. Seriously, man. I'm fired up. When you can get guys that you've groomed, coached and mentored, and you see your work on tape — that's all you can ask as a coach.

" … I'm fired up to see those guys out there together."

It's the former league interceptions leader (Diggs, 11 - 2021) in direct in-house competition against the reigning league interceptions leader (Bland, 9 - 2023) once the 2024 season gets underway — Bland also having five pick-sixes last season.

So, according to Harris, which of them will end up with the most INTs in 2024?

"It depends on which side they throw the ball to most," he said.

How surgically diplomatic of a coach who knows exactly what both are capable of, and both can (and do) thank Harris often for being a major reason they are what they are in this league.

He'll now adapt to the teachings of Mike Zimmer, but what Harris brings from his kitchen is something everyone can eat heartily, and regardless of a regime change.

That's if those sitting at the table are ready to be great.

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