Jacory Harris's miserable 2010 season ended with a most unfestive New Year's Eve. In Miami's 33--17 Sun Bowl loss to Notre Dame, Harris threw just seven passes against the Irish—three of them interceptions. After attracting some early Heisman buzz during his sophomore season in 2009, Harris threw more interceptions (15) than touchdowns (14) last fall, missed three games with a concussion, lost his starting job to then freshman Stephen Morris and saw his coach, Randy Shannon, get fired after a 7--5 regular season. "Things just didn't seem right," recalls Harris, a Miami native who has made 24 career starts. "I was at an alltime low."
Three days after the bowl loss new Hurricanes coach Al Golden called the quarterback into his office. "It's a new year," Golden told him. "Let's move on."
With one chance left to resuscitate his college career, Harris has vowed to make 2011 "a year of nothing but positivity" and has embraced the fresh start afforded by a new coaching staff.
"To be honest, [Harris's past] wasn't really relevant to me," says Jedd Fisch, Miami's new, 34-year-old offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. "We needed to move into the new phase of his development." Fisch, who spent nine of the past 10 seasons in the NFL coaching quarterbacks such as Steve McNair and Matt Hasselbeck, has encouraged Harris to dump the ball to his running backs more frequently rather than force throws downfield. In Miami's first two spring scrimmages he completed 68.1% of his throws, 13.3% higher than last season's rate. But in last Saturday's spring game he reverted to his 2010 form, throwing two interceptions. He remains in a tight battle with Morris for the starting job.
Harris is one of a handful of senior quarterbacks hoping to resurrect their careers with some fresh input. LSU's Jordan Jefferson, who has started since November of his freshman year and is coming off a season in which he ranked 92nd in pass efficiency, is working with new offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe, Louisville's coach from 2007 through '09. Meanwhile at Florida, incumbent John Brantley—a poor fit in former coach Urban Meyer's spread-option attack last year—has welcomed new offensive coordinator Charlie Weis's pro-style scheme.
However, neither Jefferson nor Brantley showed visible signs of improvement in their respective spring games. Jefferson went 4 of 14 for 102 yards and an interception, while Brantley was 4 of 14 for 45 yards.
Unlike Jefferson and Brantley, Harris has already shown he can excel through the air. He threw for 386 yards and three touchdowns in a season-opening win over Florida State in 2009, torched eventual ACC champ Georgia Tech the following week and threw three touchdowns in an upset of No. 8 Oklahoma two weeks later. However, by season's end he had thrown 17 interceptions, and the problem only intensified last fall.
In addition to taking fewer chances downfield in Fisch's controlled attack, Harris will benefit from experience both on the offensive line and in the receiving corps. And he'll have the support of a new set of mentors. "He's put his career to this point to bed," says Golden. "That's not always easy to do."
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BILL FRAKES (HARRIS)
GOLDEN'S GUN The new Miami coach has Harris (12) focused on shorter passes.