GREEN BAY – It was time.
The deadline has been set for Dec. 7, Al Harris’ 40th birthday. But midway through his second training camp as the Kansas City Chiefs assistant secondary coach, the former Green Bay Packers two-time Pro Bowl cornerback decided to do it.
“I got a haircut about two weeks ago. All gone,” a laughing Harris said of his signature dreadlocks, which he sported beneath his Packers helmet for eight seasons, from 2003 through 2010. “You’re not even going to recognize me.
“I just felt that it was just time to separate the player, as far as presentation, from the coach. You’ve got to embrace these things fully.”
And Harris is embracing coaching fully. Sitting in the Chiefs’ team hotel in downtown Appleton in advance of Thursday night’s preseason finale against the Packers at Lambeau Field, he said Wednesday evening that while he didn’t initially plan on getting into the business before his 14-year, 194-game playing career was over, he is glad that he did.
Some of his other old teammates have joined the “corporate world” – something he joked he could easily do now with his new ‘do – but that football was simply in his blood.
“I love it. Honestly. Because I’m learning every day,” Harris said. “You play the game, and you think you know the game, but once you get around guys who have studied the game longer than you’ve played it, it puts it all in perspective. I love it. I love it.”
When the Packers released him during the 2010 season after the catastrophic knee injury he’d suffered the year before, Harris spent three games with the Miami Dolphins before joining the St. Louis Rams for the 2011 season. When he reinjured the knee that year, then-Rams defensive coordinator Steve Spagnolo piqued Harris’ interest in coaching by bringing him to staff meetings while on injured reserve. Harris then interned for the Miami Dolphins in 2012 under head coach (and former Packers assistant Joe Philbin) before signing on with the Chiefs last year, when his old coach in Philadelphia, Andy Reid, came in.
The job does have its drawbacks, though. On Thursday night, while Harris is coaching his cornerbacks, his son, Al Jr., will be making his college football debut for South Carolina against Texas A&M. Like father, like son, he’ll be starting at cornerback – as a true freshman. Dad will have to wait until he gets back to the Chiefs’ facility late Thursday night to see how his son did.
“I’ll watch the tape of the game and then I’ll pull it up at work just so I can see the coaches’ view,” Harris said.
Before that, though, there’s his return to Lambeau Field. He came back once before, with the Rams in 2011, but every trip back is special.
“I’m there to work, of course, but I don’t care who it is, once you’ve been a part of that place and experienced Lambeau Field as a Packer, that never leaves you,” Harris said. “Whenever you come back, you’ll feel something. I have nothing but good memories of Titletown, USA.”
Harris insists that his favorite Lambeau Field memory isn’t his overtime interception return for the game-winning touchdown against Seattle in the 2003 NFC Wild Card Playoffs, in part because the play was too elementary. (“You knew with the all-out pressure we were bringing, there were only certain routes they could run,” he said.) He does remember his second regular-season game at Lambeau Field as a Packer, against Detroit in 2003, when he also had an interception for a touchdown.
Back then, of course, he was the new guy with the long dreadlocks who the Packers had acquired from Philadelphia for a second-round draft pick. With his unique look and his play, he’d go on to become a fan favorite.
Which is why fans might have to look twice to find him on the Chiefs’ sideline.
“I hadn’t cut it since Andy’s first year in Philly (1998), and I grew it right back,” Harris said. “It’s so funny. When I cut it [two weeks ago], Andy, he just laughed and laughed. I was like, ‘Thanks, Coach.’
“I would have never imagined it. You see all these guys nowadays with their hair hanging out of the back of their helmets? I was the first guy. No one’s ever seen me up there without hair.”
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