It was quite a week for Al Harris.
Originally chosen by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 1997 NFL Draft, he spent that season on their practice squad and was waived a week before the 1998 regular season got underway.
Claimed by the Eagles the next day, Harris started in the opener against Seattle six days later in place of Bobby Taylor, who was sidelined with a fractured shoulder blade.
"Tampa was a great place, great staff, but just to get a shot to play ... I was thankful that I went to a place where I kind of got to play the style of defense that I was accustomed to in college," Harris says. "Emmitt Thomas, who was the defensive coordinator, he basically just gave me the guy to my side. 'Whoever lines up in front of you, you just cover this guy and we'll do what we need to do to adjust around it.'
"Going from the practice squad, getting waived, to starting that week, learning the playbook. Really, I'd just got there, and so it was pretty much like surreal, but it was also like a whirlwind."
Starting seven games in his first year in Philadelphia, Harris' whirlwind calmed down thanks in part to learning from his new veteran teammates in the secondary: Troy Vincent, Brian Dawkins, and Taylor.
"They taught me to be a pro," Harris says. "Just watching those guys, I was young, and they taught me the ropes on how to practice, how to prepare."
Harris spent five seasons with the Eagles before he was traded to Green Bay in 2003. He collected seven interceptions, including one off of New England quarterback Drew Bledsoe in 1999, which he returned 84 yards.
"The Eagle fans, they are tough," Harris said with a laugh. "You can get it both ways. I've seen the good side and the bad side. If your team's bad, they're going to let you know. If your team's going good, they'll ride with you however long you need them to ride with you."
Spending seven seasons with the Packers, earning two trips to the Pro Bowl, Harris would conclude his 14 years in the NFL by playing one season with the Miami Dolphins and the then-St. Louis Rams. What is he most proud of from his career?
"Just the longevity of playing," Harris says. "After you've been around for a while, you see guys who were great college players come up and only last three years. You see guys who were first-round picks, and some of them only last a couple of years. Being a sixth-round pick and being able to stick around for a long while and to be recognized as one of the top guys at my position a couple years (2007 and '08 Pro Bowl selection while with Green Bay) was awesome. And getting the respect from your peers, coming from a small school (Texas A&M-Kingsville), that was huge."
With the average length of an NFL player's career a little over three years, to be able to play 14 years was huge as well. What was the key to Harris' longevity?
"God, first of all," he says. "Blessings, a little luck, and taking care of my body. I was big on taking care of my body, what I put in my body, how I trained, things like that. I think that had a lot to do with it."
Late during his playing career, Harris realized that he'd like to become a coach after he hung up his helmet and shoulder pads, which he did.
After a coaching internship during the 2012 season with the Dolphins, Harris joined his former Eagles coach Andy Reid's staff in Kansas City as the defensive backs coach. Following six seasons with the Chiefs, he was a defensive assistant coach at Florida Atlantic University in 2019.
What did Harris find to be the biggest difference between coaching kids in college and men in the NFL?
"You have to motivate the grown men a little more than you do the kids," Harris said. "The kids are somewhat motivated because they have goals in mind, but you still push them and motivate them. The pros, sometimes you have to motivate them a little more because once they understand the business, some of them, they just say, 'OK, I'm getting paid regardless whether I do this or not.'
"So, you have to keep them motivated and you have to continuously – with the kids you do too – teach. Kids are expecting to learn more. The grown men, some of them kind of think they already have it figured out. So, you've got to just find different ways to teach."
Harris is teaching grown men again this season. He returned to the NFL earlier this year by joining Mike McCarthy's staff with the Dallas Cowboys as a defensive backs coach. Harris played for McCarthy for four years in Green Bay.
What does Harris enjoy most about coaching?
"When I think back, I played this game from when I was 7 years old to 37 years old," he says. "Being a part of a team for a long time playing, and then I coached for seven years in the NFL, so I was still part of a team. That's what I enjoy about it, being able to be part of a team.
"Guys retire, and that's what they miss the most besides the paychecks. You hear them say, 'I miss being around the guys.' When you're used to the structure, that's what you're used to. Structure, always structure."
The father of four, Harris and his wife, Shyla, make their home in Dallas.