James Harris joined the Lions player personnel department after spending six seasons (2003-08) as the Jacksonville Jaguars vice president of player personnel. While directing the Jaguars player personnel area, he oversaw all player acquisitions, including: college draft, free agency, undrafted player signings and the scouting of players in other professional leagues.
Known affectionately as “Shack,” Harris has 37 years of NFL experience, with the past 25 years working in player personnel and scouting.
Harris originally began his front office career in 1987 when he joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a scout, a position he would hold for six years (1987-92). He then moved on to the New York Jets and served as the team’s assistant general manager from 1993-96. In 1997, Harris was named the director of pro personnel for the Baltimore Ravens. He was a member of the Ravens’ player personnel department from 1997-2002, and he earned a Super Bowl ring with the Ravens as the team claimed a world championship with a victory in Super Bowl XXXV.
In 1969, Harris was drafted by Buffalo in the eighth round of the draft—an achievement of its own right since he was just one of a few blacks ever drafted at quarterback at the time. He would play for the Bills from 1969-71, and he would become the first black in NFL history to open the season as a starting quarterback. Harris then played for Los Angeles from 1973-76. While with the Rams, he was the Pro Bowl MVP in 1975 after throwing two touchdowns in a 14-13 win over the AFC. In 1976, he led the NFC with an 89.8 passer rating, which included a 436-yard outing against the Miami Dolphins. He concluded his career in San Diego where he played for the Chargers from 1977-81.
Harris has also impacted the community through the Shack Harris Doug Williams Foundation, which is a non-profit, tax-exempt organization dedicated to creating opportunities for economically disadvantaged youth. The foundation, established in 2005 with fellow NFL quarterback pioneer and Grambling State alumnus Doug Williams, provides grants for after-school initiatives, leadership development, mentoring programs and minority higher education assistance.
In 2010, Harris and fellow former quarterback Doug Williams were integral parts in starting the Black College Football Hall of Fame, and his additional front office work has been recognized by numerous organizations. For two years in a row (2003 and 2004), he was one of the top-50 most influential minorities in sports by Sports Illustrated, and in 2005 he received recognition as one of “the most powerful African Americans in sports” by Black Enterprise. In March 2006, he was awarded the Fritz Pollard Alliance’s Paul “Tank” Younger Award that recognized his efforts to level the playing field and improve life for minorities. In February 2007, William Rhoden featured Harris as a member of the Field Generals in ESPN’s “Third and a Mile: The Trials and Triumphs of the Black Quarterback.” Last year, Harris received the Onyx Awards Achievement in Sports by Onyx Magazine.
Prior to being drafted in 1969, Harris played for one of college football’s most legendary coaches, Eddie Robinson, at Grambling State. During each of his four seasons (1965-68), the Tigers won or shared the SWAC title. He was named MVP of the 1967 Orange Blossom Classic and was named Pittsburgh Courier Player of the Year in 1968. As a legendary athlete and quarterback at Carroll High School in his hometown of Monroe, La., Harris received two-time All-State honors as he led Carroll to two unbeaten seasons and a state title.Harris and his wife, Vickie, have two sons, James and Aaron, and two daughters, Felicia and Ashley.
Tori Petry reports on the annual food and drink event at Ford Field that aims to raise money to impact food insecurity through Eastern Market and give fans an up-close-and-personal experience with their favorite Lions players.