Former Bombers mourn 'huge bear'

KIRK PENTON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:00 AM ET

WINNIPEG - Richard Harris wasn’t your average football coach.

He wasn’t your average man, either.

“He was the most loving, caring coach that I think I’ve ever had,” former Bombers defensive end Tom Canada said Tuesday from Idaho. “I gave him a hug before every game, and I said, ‘I love you, coach,’ and he said, ‘I love you, Tom.’

“He had a heart of gold. He was a huge bear, and he was someone I would never want to meet in a bar fight, but he was one of the most loving people I have ever known.”

Harris died Tuesday after suffering a heart attack in his Canad Inns Stadium office.

It was never just a coach-player relationship when it came to Harris. One of many examples is he took his defensive linemen out for breakfast on game days.

“He’d foot the bill, even though we were all making money,” said an emotional Canada, who played three seasons under Harris. “He just always smiled, was always happy. This is like losing a family member. It’s not an easy thing right now.”

Harris wasn’t just friendly to his players. He was friendly to everyone. He even had close relationships with a handful of fans who regularly attended Bomber practice over the years.

“It didn’t make a difference if it was a football player or a fan after practice or someone he ran into at lunch,” said Saskatchewan Roughriders receivers coach Bob Dyce, who spent four years on Winnipeg’s staff with Harris.

“He had the same demeanour and personality with them all. He was just a caring individual who gave of himself and would do anything for anybody.”

Former Bomber kicker Troy Westwood, who was at Tuesday’s practice but didn’t speak to Harris, echoed Dyce’s sentiments.

“I do not believe there’s ever been a coach in the locker-room that has made such a deep connection with the number of players that he did. Not once ever did I hear a player say anything negative about coach Harris,” Westwood said.

“The true measurement of a man is how you treat people, and it didn’t matter if coach Harris was dealing with Doug Brown or a volunteer with the club or people in the community. He had a huge heart. He was kind and gracious.”

There was no one closer to Roughriders head coach Greg Marshall than Harris. Marshall hired Harris in 2006 to coach Winnipeg’s D-line and tried to lure him to Regina in January.

Harris didn’t make the move, according to Riders and former Bombers GM Brendan Taman, because he didn’t want to leave Winnipeg.

“Richard had such a tie to Winnipeg,” Taman said. “It wasn’t just with the team, it was with that community. You know how it is. He could walk into Earl’s and just light up the whole room.

“He loved that city, and that’s true.”

Taman said when Marshall got his first win as a head coach on Sunday night in Montreal, Harris called to congratulate Marshall before he had even left the field.

“The bond that those two guys have is very, very tight,” Taman said. “Greg’s not having a great day.”


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