Mike O’Shea calls former Blue Bombers’ RB Andrew Harris a ‘once-in-a-lifetime player’

Photo courtesy: Bob Butrym

Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ head coach Mike O’Shea knows a thing or two about record-setting players. Not only is the six-time Grey Cup-winner the CFL’s second all-time leading tackler — an achievement that earned him a spot in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame — but he is also the CFL’s all-time leading tackler among Canadian players.

That made it all the more meaningful when O’Shea heaped praise on star running back Andrew Harris, who departed Winnipeg via free agency last month.

“Andrew Harris is probably a once-in-a-lifetime player and he’s a teammate that his teammates really enjoyed being around and working for and he enjoyed working for them,” O’Shea told Christian Aumell on CJOB 680 in Winnipeg. “I don’t know that there will be another Andrew Harris.”

The soon-to-be 35-year-old signed with the Toronto Argonauts as a free agent last month after he was unable to come to terms on an extension with his hometown team. Harris said he felt disrespected by Winnipeg’s lack of communication during the off-season and eventual contract offer, which he considered insulting.

The five-foot-ten, 216-pound ball carrier has already made plenty of history of his own. In 2019, he surpassed Normie Kwong and Ben Cahoon to become the CFL’s all-time leader in rushing yards and all-purpose yards by a Canadian player. He later became the first player ever to be named the Grey Cup’s Most Valuable Player and Most Valuable Canadian.

Harris was limited to just seven games in 2021 due to injury but remained effective, rushing for 623 yards and three touchdowns. He is just 339 yards shy of becoming the fifth running back in CFL history to rush for 10,000 yards, a feat that has only been accomplished by Mike Pringle, George Reed, Johnny Bright, and Charles Roberts.

O’Shea confirmed that he and Harris discussed a possible return before free agency but declined to elaborate on the exact nature of their dialogue.

“Yeah, of course, but those conversations will remain between him and I,” said the veteran head coach.

Harris first signed with Winnipeg in February 2016 following a seven-year stint with the B.C. Lions. He made an immediate impact with the Blue Bombers, recording 1,605 yards from scrimmage and helping the club snap a four-year postseason drought. Winnipeg went 55-31 during Harris’ tenure with the team, a massive improvement from the 31-59 record they posted over the five years prior to his arrival.

O’Shea knows the team won’t be the same without Harris on the roster and considers it a challenge his team will have to overcome in 2022.

“It’s gonna be different and we’ll have to navigate that and figure that out. We’ll have to make it work because I think everybody that signed back — everybody that’s coming into our locker room this year and coming to training camp — has one goal in mind. And if we can’t figure out a way to make it work this year then we won’t reach our goal,” said O’Shea.

“It’s one of the things that we’re going to have to really work hard to figure out. Now we do have a couple of very good tailbacks in Brady (Oliveira) and Johnny (Augustine) that are going to be there trying to make their mark, too, so they’ll put the work in and they’ll do their job. Absolutely they’ll do that. Every season comes with challenges and this will be one for sure.”