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Harris says he's happy at Pitt

| Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2001

Pitt football coach Walt Harris is a candidate for the vacant coaching job at Ohio State.

The position opened Tuesday when Buckeyes coach John Cooper was fired with three years remaining on his contract following a 24-7 loss to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl on New Year's Day.

Harris, 54, spent two years (1995 and 1996) as the quarterbacks coach at Ohio State under Cooper, and said last year that he could be interested in the Ohio State job when rumors of Cooper's possible firing circulated.

In an effort to keep Harris from dealing with an onslaught of inquires from the media, Pitt released the following statement from Harris yesterday afternoon:

'I'm extremely happy at the University of Pittsburgh, and I'm not looking to leave,' Harris said in the statement. 'I'm excited about what we have accomplished here, and I believe that we have an exciting future at the University of Pittsburgh.'

In Harris' final season at Ohio State, the Buckeyes had one of the nation's most prolific offenses, averaging more than 450 yards per game. He is credited with calling the plays on a last-minute scoring drive that culminated in a touchdown and a dramatic, last-second, 20-17 victory over Arizona State in the Rose Bowl.

Harris helped to develop former Ohio State quarterback Bobby Hoying, who threw for a school-record 3,269 yards with 29 touchdowns in 1995. He also worked with Buckeyes wide receivers David Boston, Rickey Dudley and Terry Glenn, all of whom were first-round NFL draft choices.

Harris' name has been popping up recently for job openings, thanks in large part to his success this season at Pitt. The Panthers finished with a 7-4 regular-season record before losing to Iowa State, 37-29, in the Insight.com Bowl on Thursday.

Pitt's overall record of 7-5 was its best since 1989, and Harris' passing offense placed first in the Big East for the third time in his four seasons.

Harris, who is 20-26 at Pitt, interviewed for the coaching position at Alabama last month before the job went to Dennis Franchione, formerly of TCU. Harris also is a candidate for the job as the first coach of the Houston Texans, an expansion team that enters the NFL in 2002.

As for the Ohio State position, Harris joins Minnesota coach Glen Mason, a former Ohio State assistant who owns an 81-89-1 record in 15 years as a college coach, and Youngstown State coach Jim Tressel on a short list of preliminary candidates. Ohio State athletic director Andy Geiger said at the press conference yesterday to announce Cooper's firing that he will be patient in his efforts to find a new coach.

'We will be diligent and thorough and take the time necessary to recruit the best possible fit,' Geiger said.

Other names that have been circulating as Ohio State coaching candidates are Terry Bowden, the former Auburn coach who is currently working as a television analyst; and Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, whose team plays Florida State for the national championship tonight. Stoops is a former Ohio State assistant and is a native of Youngstown.

Harris, who signed a contract extension in March that runs through 2006, could double his estimated $500,000 salary if he were to take the job at Ohio State. When Harris was courted by Alabama in December, Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson said he would make every attempt possible to retain Harris.

'It's my job to keep us in a competitive position and to make sure that we're doing that,' Pederson said. 'We're going to do that on a consistent basis and I think we've already done that through the contract extension from last year. It's my job to keep pace with what needs to be done around here.'

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