SEATTLE — Making the transition from being a starting safety at USC to being a Washington assistant coach in less than a decade would appear to be straightforward.
Except it’s not. Will Harris’ resume and his odometer are proof. Harris was not gifted into his role as the Huskies’ new assistant defensive backs coach. The first coaching job he ever had was actually in the Snoop League. As in the Southern California youth football league founded by rapper Snoop Dogg before stints at Fullerton College (Calif.) and Diamond Bar (Calif.) High.
Then came a stop at Northwestern Oklahoma State. And Humboldt State. And Dixie State College in Utah before he finally landed his first Football Bowl Subdivision job in 2016 at San Jose State. Under Harris, the Spartans were 19th against the pass in 2016 and 51st last season.
So again. That transition from USC to UW? It took some doing.
“We saw a young, hungry coach that had a lot of energy,” Huskies defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake said Friday. “His resume? He started from the bottom and climbed his way all the way up to Division I football. … We just really liked his resume. We brought him up for an interview. He knocked it out of the park. Great energy. Very knowledgeable.
“He relates to these guys. We were very happy when he took the job.”
Harris met with the media for the first time after practice and immediately was one of the biggest draws on the field. The intrigue regarding Lake’s new protege was so great he drew more attention than Lake himself.
Lake reveled in Harris’ energy and it showed in certain questions.
Such as what he thought about the talent within the Huskies’ secondary.
“Oh my God. It’s the best I’ve seen,” Harris exclaimed. “Even when I was back in college. You guys know where I’m talking about down south.”
Reminder. Harris was at USC around the same time as guys like seven-year NFL vet and new Oakland Raiders cornerback Shareece Wright.
That and he also shared a secondary with a former five-star prospect named Taylor Mays.
Energy is only part of why UW staffers like Harris. Lake said Harris comes from a military background and has shown himself to be “respectful and hardworking” since his arrival.
Harris and Lake have a different dynamic than most coaches. Lake was pursued by several programs and it led to Pete Kwiatkowski, who was UW’s defensive coordinator, voluntarily stepping aside to have Lake take the role and stay with the Huskies.
Lake now oversees the entire defense while calling plays in addition to coaching the defensive backs. That’s why having someone like Harris, who has led a position group before on the FBS level, helps.
“It is different but I like it because coming in here, I knew that’s his room,” Harris said. “I’m also coaching but I’m also learning a lot because Coach Lake has got some experience to him, so, just learning every single day and trying to get better.”
Sophomore cornerback Byron Murphy said he really likes having Harris and Lake around because it gives the defensive backs two coaches who both have a deep knowledge for the game.
Murphy and the rest of the defensive backs know Lake has turned the Huskies into one of the best secondaries in the nation over the past few seasons. Lake’s reputation was further enhanced after safety Budda Baker along with cornerbacks Sidney Jones and Kevin King were all selected in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
There’s what Harris has done as a coach. As a player, he was actually a composite four-star recruit who was the No. 3 safety in the nation and the No. 65 player nationally.
He was also part of two USC teams that won the Rose Bowl. As a senior, he finished the year with 69 tackles and four interceptions.
“I waited until he got here because I like to meet people face-to-face, but some guys probably looked him up, saw where he came from and his background,” Murphy said. “When he got here, I introduced myself and we talked a little bit. I like the guy. He’s a great coach.”