Greg Harris proves to have 'one tough noggin'
January 23, 2012
by: Bill Schwanke of MontanaGrizzlies.Com
Greg Harris likes to pass himself off as perhaps the dirtiest player in Grizzly football history. Whether he was, or whether he wasn’t, Harris is most proud that he was a Grizzly, and that he has sons following in his footsteps in more ways than one.
It was easy for him to come up with names for the security and other businesses he has owned and operated since shortly after his football career ended with a brief shot in the pros.
You guess it: the main one is Grizzly Security Armored Express, Inc., a business he started in his home town of Kalispell that has since expanded into Missoula, Helena and Butte. He also has a statewide alarm company, a shredding company called Grizzly ShredEx, and a sign company called Grizzly Xtreme Graphics.
Harris also oversees Kalispell Regional Hospital and Big Mountain Ski Area security 24/7. For about 5 1/2 months a year he provides security for private and government entities in Glacier National Park.
All told he employs “well over 100” people. Partly because they are carefully screened and undergo random drug testing he doesn’t have major personal issues.
He worked alone when he opened the security business, working 16 or 17 hours a day seven days a week.
“Back then most of my friends thought (the idea) was the funniest thing they’d ever heard,” Harris recalls, “but after the first year it took off and it’s just been growing steadily.”
The first move for Grizzly Security was to Missoula about 15 years ago.
“It was a good move,” Harris said. “A lot of people still remembered me playing football for the Grizzlies and they were very accommodating to give an ex-Griz and Montana boy a chance of doing their business.”
It wasn’t always easy. In fact it was downright dangerous on one particular night.
“About 16 years ago I decided to let one of my employees have the night off, a single dad with three kids,” Harris remembered. “I did the night shift route, . . . stopped at the Pepsi plant in Kalispell, and a guy snuck up behind me and hit me in the head about five times with a baseball bat and stabbed me in the face and throat, and I ended up shooting the guy.”
It took Harris just four days to get back to work, but the after effects continue. Harris says he can’t read and spell past a third- or fourth-grade level and endures multiple migraine headaches daily.
Harris figures all of the shots to the head he took playing football probably saved him.
“I’ve got a hard noggin,” he said.
Harris played football for Montana from 1971 to 1975, with a redshirt year in 1972.
Following the 1975 season he signed a free agent contract with the New York Jets. After being with them through the spring and early fall of 1976 he had his elbow torn “out of the socket” on a freak hit by teammate Greg Buttle, a linebacker, during a game against the New York Giants.
“Just a piece of meat and a number,” Harris said of his situation, which happened during Joe Namath’s last year as Jets quarterback. “It was a lot of fun. Lou Holtz was our coach and they fired him about halfway through the season.”
After he left the Jets Harris connected with the San Francisco 49ers, who also had been interested in him during his college days. Harris couldn’t pass the team physical, and his short-lived pro career was over.
“At least I had the opportunity,” Harris said, adding that it was frustrating to watch men he had played with or against in college spend up to 10 years in the NFL. “It’s just luck of the draw. Things happen. I’ve always told everybody the people you watch on Sundays aren’t always the best. They’re the lucky ones. They haven’t got hurt.”
The Malta-born Harris moved to Kalispell with his family in 1954. Both of his parents were athletes. Both played basketball and his dad also played football.
As a junior at Flathead High School he played on the Braves’ undefeated 1970 state championship team coached by Don Christensen. The Braves have played in only one state championship game since.
Harris’s sister, Tina, who played basketball at Flathead High School, Flathead Valley Community College, in Oregon, and finally at Montana State, currently lives in Kalispell as well.
Christensen had played for Montana State and tried to convince Harris to play for the Bobcats. But Grizzly recruiter Charlie Armey convinced Harris to play in Missoula.
“I just liked the Grizzlies,” Harris explained. “It was close to home so my mom, my dad and my friends could watch me play. It just felt better.”
During his four active years with the Grizzlies Montana had a 19-21-1 record. Harris said there were a lot of good players there during Jack Swarthout’s last years as UM head coach.
“It was fun as a freshman coming in and seeing players like Steve Okoniewski,” Harris recalled.
“I saw him and said, ‘I’m gonna be bigger than him,’” Harris recalled. “There was a guy named Leo LaRoche who had the biggest arms I’d ever seen in my life and I said, ‘I’m gonna have bigger arms than him,’ and Larry Miller was really strong as a nose guard and I said, ‘I’m gonna be bigger than him.’”
He had goals and believes he achieved them, first as a defensive end and then - as he got bigger - as a defensive tackle and nose guard. To Harris it didn’t matter where they put him.
“I loved just going right after the quarterback,” he said. “I didn’t care about the offensive linemen. Just get by them and get the quarterback.”
Harris, currently unmarried, has five children: Tiger, 26; Josh, 22 (now a defensive end for the Grizzlies); Hana, 21; Caleb, 17; and Andrew, 14.
Like his own parents, Harris has allowed his kids free rein in terms of activities, with one caveat.
“They pick and choose what they want to do, (but) if they start something, (they) finish it and do the best (they) can,” Harris said. “Adjust to whatever else you want to do the following year. They’ve done very, very well.”
Tiger played football and wrestled at Flathead High School. He was all-state on offense and defense in football and was the state heavyweight wrestling champion as a junior and senior, also rated as the third best prep heavyweight in the nation while achieving academic All-American honors.
Tiger signed with UM but took a hit on his knee during the East-West Shrine Game and never fully recovered enough to play in college. He graduated with a degree in criminal justice/psychology and a minor in sociology.
Tiger recently completed a master’s level internship with the Department of Homeland Security through UM and hopes to land a federal job with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the U.S. Marshal service or the Secret Service.
He works for his dad while he waits to see what develops.
Josh also was all-state and MVP on defense in football before going on to play for Montana. An Achilles tendon injury slowed his development as a true freshman but he just completed a solid sophomore season for the Grizzlies. His dad calls him “a natural” at anything he does, and highly intelligent to boot.
Josh hopes to play in the NFL, and his dad thinks he has what it takes to do just that. Looking beyond his playing days he has one degree in criminal justice and now is studying forensic anthropology. Dad is steering him toward earning a doctorate which would give him a shot at doing a lot of different things.
Hana grew to be six feet tall and played prep basketball until her junior year. She’s now married and living in Kalispell.
Caleb, described by his dad as “quite the character, real tough-nosed, and twice as strong as Josh was at the same age,” plans on playing for the Grizzlies, probably redshirting as a freshman. He also was first team all-state at defensive end and Flathead’s defensive MVP likes brothers Tiger and Josh.
Harris thinks Andrew might be the best of all of them. He’s already between 6-2 and 6-3 and just finished his first year of high school football splitting time between the freshman and junior varsity squads.
As each of his kids hit the age of 10 Harris had jobs for them, starting with repairing and programming ATMs. Then they installed alarm systems, pulling wire and programming them as well. At 18 they’re old enough to be licensed by the state, qualify with a weapon and work in the armored car business.
Oddly enough Harris didn’t watch football, including Griz games, between the times he finished playing and his first son started playing. But he’s thoroughly enjoyed watching his sons and daughter compete in their various sports
“It’s just fun to watch them do so well because they have so much talent,” Harris said. “I’m just proud of them, all of them.”
Harris thinks the game of football has been “watered down quite a bit” since he played and that rules have taken away some of the violence and high injury probability from the game.
When he played offensive linemen could chop block and head slaps were allowed. Harris blames money for the changes because “these athletes are getting paid so much money now that they can’t afford to get them hurt.”
He’s amazed at the size, strength and speed of today’s offensive linemen due to year-round training. He’s also amazed at the strides made in football at UM since Dennis Washington put one million dollars toward building the on-campus stadium in the mid-1980s.
“Having that stadium the kids, I think, are more proud,” Harris said. “It’s more exciting.”
He doesn’t miss a home game now and makes it to road games as often as possible. He never dreamed that he’d be watching his son play in a 26,000-seat stadium that’s full every Saturday.
Harris also has re-established contact with former teammates, among them Walt Brett, Doug Betters and Ron Rosenberg, the latter his banker in Kalispell.
On a sad note former teammate George Weikum, someone Harris had grown very close to, died in a motorcycle accident in Indiana last fall.
As for the impact of his UM days on his life, Harris has no doubt where it’s been strongest.
“It’s taught me to manage a team, like in my business with all of my employees with sometimes up to 160 in the summertime,” he explained. “Teamwork, getting things done. I think it’s helped me with my kids, dealing with them and grooming them to be good students, good athletes, and just good people all around.”