So Far, So Good For ‘Shack’

By Ethan Conley
Updated: July 13, 2009

James Harris

James Harris

DETROIT — You have to hand it to James “Shack” Harris. He sure knows how look at his job with a “glass is half-full” point of view.

The Grambling legend was named the Detroit Lions’ Senior Personnel Executive in February, joining General Manager Martin Mayhew and head coach Jim Schwartz in the task of rebuilding the franchise that recently became the first in NFL history to suffer through a winless season.

But the Lions aren’t 0-16 any more. They’re 0-0.

“It’s going good — we’re tied for first place, so we’re feeling pretty good,” Harris said of his first few months on the job.

Detroit’s recent futility isn’t limited to just the 2008 season. The Lions haven’t had a winning season since 2000, and haven’t won a playoff game since 1991. Last season Detroit ranked 30th in total offense, 32nd in total defense, and 32nd in points allowed.

In a city already hit hard by the economic downturn, there’s pressure for the Lions to improve immediately. That’s something Harris embraces.

“It’s football,” Harris said. “The objective is to win, regardless of where you start from. Obviously there’s some work to do here, and it’s a challenge, and we welcome that.”

Before coming to the Lions, Harris served as vice president of player personnel for the Jacksonville Jaguars for six seasons. The Jaguars went 50-46 in that span with two playoff appearances, including a 31-29 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2007 Wild Card round.

Harris has 22 years of front office experience to his credit, having also worked for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the New York Jets, and the Baltimore Ravens.

The first task for the Lions’ new regime was deciding which player to select with the first overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. The Lions opted for Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford over Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry and Baylor offensive tackle Jason Smith.

Detroit went with offense again with its second first-round selection, taking Oklahoma tight end Brandon Pettigrew at No. 20.

The Lions’ drafts have been disasters in recent years, particularly first-round picks. Wide receivers Charles Rogers (No. 2 overall in 2003) and Mike Williams (No. 10 in 2005) are now out of the league. Wideout Roy Williams (No. 7 in 2004) is no longer with the team, and Joey Harrington (No. 3 in 2002) was a bust.

If the Lions are going to reverse their fortunes, Stafford will have to be a bit more productive.

“I don’t want to get into too much detail, but we felt that (Stafford) was the best choice at the time, and we made it,” Harris said. “We think he has a good future.”