Redblacks’ Paul LaPolice calls Andrew Harris departure from Winnipeg ‘surprising,’ Ottawa evaluated possible reunion

Ottawa Redblacks’ head coach Paul LaPolice knows that pro football isn’t a sentimental industry, but he was still surprised to see his former running back Andrew Harris depart from the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

“That’s going to happen. Whether it was Geroy Simon, who we see walking around and I had some meetings with this morning, sooner or later players, for whatever reason, will move to another spot,” LaPolice said of the departure of the Canadian running back who helped power him to a Grey Cup victory as Bombers’ offensive coordinator in 2019.

“It’s not unexpected, but it is surprising when it’s a hometown guy.”

Harris initially signed with the Blue Bombers in February 2016 following a seven-year stint with the B.C. Lions. Winnipeg went 55-31 and captured two Grey Cup championships during his five-year tenure with the team, an improvement from the 31-59 record the Bombers posted over the five years prior to his arrival.

LaPolice was commanding the offence for a significant portion of that success, though he left a year before Harris’ bitter departure from his hometown team. After an injury riddled 2021 campaign, the 35-year-old’s focus and off-season training was called into question, with Winnipeg opting for younger options.

“It’s part of the business. It is a change business and things happen. When you have talented [guys] and a certain amount of spots, there’s only a certain amount of money to go around,” LaPolice said, acknowledging that both Brady Oliveira and Johnny Augustine will be capable replacements.

“I’m not sure what happened in Winnipeg, whether they offered him not enough for him to want or whatever, that’s not for me to get into. Andrew’s a talented football player.”

Through 74 regular season games with Winnipeg, Harris rushed 964 times for 5,402 yards, 5.6 yards per carry, with 25 touchdowns on the ground and added 311 receptions for 2,584 yards with 10 majors. He produced 7,986 yards from scrimmage for an average of 107.9 per game with the Blue Bombers.

The five-foot-ten, 216-pound ball carrier ultimately landed in Toronto as a free agent, but LaPolice avoided answering whether a reunion with the future Hall of Famer was ever considered. However, Redblacks’ general manager Shawn Burke tacitly admitted as much while addressing the return of running back William Powell, acknowledging the team was keeping an eye on Harris as the situation devolved in Winnipeg.

“There was discussions about a lot of running backs, but we had a situation where we thought William Powell would be available to us and it made sense for us to go down that road and go from there,” Burke said. “As things evolved with the Andrew situation, we were kept abreast, but we wouldn’t be doing our jobs if we didn’t evaluate all free agents.”

Fans will never get to see what a Harris-LaPolice reunion in the nation’s capital might have looked like, but they will get to see the pair face off three times next season in East Division competition.

Abbott is a UBC student, youth coach and lifelong CFL fanatic. He specializes in coverage of the CFL draft and the league's global initiative.