HONOLULU – If coaches were selected to the Pro Bowl on the merit of their players' performance, Chick Harris would have been a shoo-in this season.
The Texans' running backs coach had two Pro Bowlers under his watch in 2010 in Arian Foster and Vonta Leach. He was the only position coach in the league with two players to be named first-team All-Pro by the Associated Press.
"I don't think you ever have that," Leach said. "That's a great accomplishment for him, and for us."
This was Harris' 30th season as an NFL coach. He had previously coached several Pro Bowlers, including Jerome Bettis with the St. Louis Rams in 1993-94, but never two in the same year.
"He helped me a lot when I first came out to Houston," said Foster, the 2009-undrafted-free-agent-turned-2010-NFL-rushing-champ. "He saw the potential, and he's always worked with me. To have two of your running backs as an All-Pro, that's a big notch on your belt, man. He's an All-Pro coach, then, right? It's great. Chick's a good guy. He's been a part of the reason for my success."
Foster's success was one of the biggest stories in the NFL this season, but he didn't go from zero to hero overnight. It started after an up-and-down college career at Tennessee, when the Texans signed him after the 2009 draft and Harris confronted him with a dose of tough love.
"I talked about the truth, about what I saw and what he had to do to be on a level that would be comparable to any of the top running backs in the league – training, study, doing the right things all the time," said Harris, whom Foster and Leach flew out to Hawaii on Friday. "He got with it, and you can see the results."
Foster worked his way up from the practice squad late in his rookie season; Texans coach Gary Kubiak has said that something just "clicked" in the way Foster prepared on a daily basis. In the offseason that followed, Foster got up daily at 5 a.m. for workouts with his brother and trainer, Abdul.
That focus and determination helped him to have the best season for an undrafted running back in NFL history.
"I'm super proud of him," Harris said. "I think that he was able to get with the system. Had good work ethic all the way through training to get himself in a position to compete, and once he got an opportunity to play, he showed the talent that he has. He has been very good, and we just hope he can just continue to grow."
Harris has a similar admiration for Leach, his boisterous pupil for the last five seasons. Leach has only three carries in his tenure with the Texans – with the last one coming in 2008 – but has garnered enough respect around the league to earn Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors this season.
"I think Vonta has done a great job with what we do on offense," Harris said. "He's a guy that has to adjust to a lot of blocking combinations. He can be a dominant blocker. He can come up with a play out of the backfield on a pass completion. Vonta has meant a lot to us. I tell you what, in tough situations, you want Vonta Leach."
While it's hard to imagine Foster and Leach getting much better than they were this season, Harris expects them to improve in 2011. Just like any Pro Bowl coach would.
"We'll have a plan for them," Harris said. "What I did was on my way over here is I wrote down a number of things that they needed to work on – five basic things to work on. Regardless of how successful you've been, you have to go back to drawing board, back to the weight room, back to the practice field, to get better. We are looking to fine-tune every part of their ability."