Alumni Spotlight: Frank "Red" Harris '71
June 3, 2014
Written by Reid Oslin
Frank "Red" Harris '71 set just about every Boston College passing record during his three varsity football seasons at the Heights, establishing standards that stood for more than a decade until 1984 Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie personally re-wrote BC's football record book.
Harris, a native of nearby Malden, completed 366 passes for 4,555 yards and 44 touchdowns in helping to lead coach Joe Yukica's BC teams to a fine 19-9 record in the 1968-70 campaigns and reestablishing the Eagles as an Eastern football power.
Today, Harris is a co-owner, senior vice president and director of field services for Ambrose Environmental Management, Inc., a highly-successful ecological services firm with headquarters in Danvers, Mass., and clients across the country.
"It's been a perfect business for me," he says. College football was also a "perfect business" for Harris, who came to BC from Malden Catholic High School where he had a record-setting prep career.
"To the best of my knowledge, I was the last BC quarterback to call his own plays," he says. "That's not a pat on my back; that's how the game was played in those days. Jack Bicknell was our backfield coach back then, it was his first college coaching job and he always called me `Redhead,'" Harris laughs. "When I was a sophomore and starting to call my own plays, he told me, `Redhead, when in doubt, put it up.' We threw the ball a lot. I loved to throw it and I was calling the plays. It was great to have had coaches like Joe Yukica and Jack Bicknell who allowed me to do that. The relationship that I had with those coaches was very special."
Harris recalls a couple of big victories that put BC at the forefront of Eastern college football in those years.
"When Holy Cross had the outbreak of hepatitis on their team and had to cancel their schedule [in 1969], we replaced them with Syracuse. We went out to Archbold Stadium [SU's home field prior to the Carrier Dome] and beat them [35-10], even though they were big-time favorites in the game."
Harris also looks back fondly to BC's first victory over Army - a 21-13 win at Alumni Stadium in 1970.
"I remember that score very well, because I had a running touchdown on a bootleg play that day. I didn't have many running touchdowns in my career, as we had Fred Willis and a few other guys who took care of the running stuff," he says with laughter.
Harris was elected co-captain of the football Eagles in his senior season.
After graduating with a degree in marketing from BC's College of Business Administration [later to be renamed the Carroll School of Management], Harris was drafted by the NFL's Detroit Lions.
"I fooled around with professional football," he admits. "The Lions already had Greg Landry, who had just been selected as the NFL's Rookie of the Year and he was only a year older than me. They also had Bill Munson, who had played a number of years with the old Los Angeles Rams.
"In those days, the teams kept two quarterbacks active and put the third one on the team's `taxi squad.' I was third," he says. "They paid $500 a week for 14 weeks to taxi squad players - $7,000 a year.
"After three years in Detroit, I went up to Canada and played with the Edmonton Eskimos in the CFL. Early in the season, I got hurt and that was the end of football for me," he says. "I knew it was time to go out and earn a living like everyone else."
Harris took a sales position for a liquor company based in Kentucky and soon became the sales manager for the upstate New York region. When the firm wanted to transfer him to Alabama, the native New Englander balked and returned to the Boston area.
He eventually opened a sporting goods store in Andover, Mass., where he had the time to coach his two sons, Matt and Todd, in local youth sports.
"Without question, those were some of the happiest years of my life," he says. They were also quite fruitful, as he helped coach Todd's youth baseball squad all the way to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa. "That was unquestionably the highlight of my athletic career," he says with a smile.
Frank and his wife Bernadette, married for 43 years, now live in North Falmouth on Cape Cod. Their older son, Matt, has a successful career with a Mercedes-Benz dealership on the North Shore and younger son Todd, who went on to play baseball at Harvard, is now an executive with Nike in Portland, Ore.
Many Boston College football fans still remember Harris from his terrific varsity career.
"Growing up in Malden, playing for Malden Catholic and then BC, it's amazing how many people still remember me," he says. "It really makes you proud. Things went awfully well for me at Boston College and BC has always been a big part of my life."
Some BC fans, however, are not quite so clear on Harris' lofty place among the Eagles' quarterbacking giants.
"My son Matt, who is in the automobile business, gave me a license plate that read `BCQB17'," referring to his varsity uniform number at Boston College. "It was amazing - I would be driving along in the middle lane and people would speed up on either side of me and look into the car. I'm guessing they were hoping to see Doug Flutie! I eventually took so much ribbing about it from my friends that I changed my license plate," he laughs.
"But I run into people all the time who remember our BC teams," he says. "When you are local it really means something to people. I know it means something to me."