Bombers mourn loss of Harris

Blue Bombers assistant head coach Richard Harris died Tuesday after suffering a suspected heart...

Blue Bombers assistant head coach Richard Harris died Tuesday after suffering a suspected heart attack Tuesday afternoon. (BRIAN DONOGH/QMI Agency file photo)

KIRK PENTON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:39 AM ET

WINNIPEG - The Winnipeg Blue Bombers organization was rocked Tuesday by the sudden death of defensive line and assistant head coach Richard Harris.

The 63-year-old had a suspected heart attack in his Canad Inns Stadium office at approximately 2:30 p.m. and was rushed to hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

“This has struck our entire organization from the top down,” Bombers president Jim Bell said in a statement. “We are all in a state of shock, and first and foremost would like to express our deepest sympathies to his family.

“The Winnipeg Football Club has lost not only a great coach, but an even better man.”

The Shreveport, La., native joined the Bomber staff in 2006 and was the team’s longest-serving assistant. He guided the defensive line during his tenure, and this past off-season he added the title of assistant head coach.

Harris, described by many as a big teddy bear, was his usual cheery self at Tuesday’s practice, chatting with fans and getting his defensive tackles ready for Winnipeg’s Thursday night game against the B.C. Lions.

Harris was a fan and player favourite who was as friendly as they come but stern with his players when he needed to be. He was particularly close with veteran Bombers defensive tackle Doug Brown, who is taking Harris’ passing hard.

The organization didn’t make anyone available for comment on Tuesday, but players paid tribute to their coach via Twitter.

“Hurtin’ so much right now,” defensive back Alex Suber wrote. “Lost a great man, father figure to me. Man, things will never be the same in Winnipeg.”

“Coach Harris was one of the best people I have ever met!” long snapper Chris Cvetkovic wrote. “Every man should strive to be the type of man that coach Harris was!”

It wasn’t just his own players who were saddened by the news.

“Today’s a big loss for the world of football!” Calgary Stampeders quarterback Henry Burris wrote on his Twitter feed. “Coach Harris was one of the finest people you ever wanted to meet! RIP coach.”

CFL commissioner Mark Cohon offered his condolences in a written statement.

“I had the good fortune to chat with him on the sideline in Winnipeg only recently,” Cohon said, “and that experience confirmed for me what I had always heard about Coach Harris — that this was a man of tremendous warmth and knowledge, a true gentleman and a credit to our game.”

Harris spent seven seasons as a defensive end in the NFL, the first three with the Philadelphia Eagles, the next two with the Chicago Bears and the final two with the Seattle Seahawks. He was the fifth overall draft pick of the Eagles in 1971. He played his college ball at Grambling State University under legendary coach Eddie Robinson.

Harris came to the CFL in 2001 when he joined the B.C. Lions as their defensive line coach. He spent four years with the Leos before assuming the same role with the Ottawa Renegades in 2005.

The Bombers’ defensive line shone under Harris, who made Winnipeg his year-round home. Phillip Hunt led the CFL in sacks last season with 16, and Brown was a CFL all-star all five seasons he played under Harris.

Harris is survived by his wife Tami, children Kimberly, Chianti, Jennifer and Michael, and grandchildren Chandler, Keegan-Michael and Aurora.


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