The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Commanders DBs coach Chris Harris to join Titans as passing game coordinator

Commanders defensive backs coach Chris Harris during a training camp practice in Ashburn, Va. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
3 min

Washington Commanders defensive backs coach Chris Harris is expected to join the Tennessee Titans as their passing game coordinator/cornerbacks coach, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.

The move will leave Washington’s defense without one of its top assistants going into an offseason already filled with uncertainty. The team is also searching for an offensive coordinator and could be sold in the coming months.

Harris, a former safety who played for Coach Ron Rivera on the Carolina Panthers, joined Rivera’s inaugural staff in Washington to lead the secondary, a group the Commanders have remade multiple times in personnel and scheme. Over the past three years, the defense has played more safety-heavy sets to counter opposing offenses and has developed a young, versatile core that features safeties Kamren Curl and Darrick Forrest and cornerbacks Benjamin St-Juste and Kendall Fuller.

“It was kind of something I’m familiar with because we did it with the Chargers when I was in L.A.,” Harris said in December. “We went to a game against Baltimore and played with seven DBs the entire game and won. It makes it easy when you have smart football players, and what I mean by [that is] smart guys that can learn multiple positions.”

Ownership concerns, an unproven QB could hamper Commanders’ OC search

Harris was instrumental in the growth of Washington’s defensive backs, and it seemed only a matter of time before he was plucked by another team; he interviewed for the Philadelphia Eagles’ defensive coordinator vacancy in 2021.

“He has confidence in every guy in that room, I can say that,” cornerback Danny Johnson said last year. “Regardless if it’s down to the last corner, he trusts that everyone can go in there and make plays. So just having that confidence and trust from Coach that he believes in you and you can go out there and play with anybody regardless if you were undrafted, drafted, no matter what, he makes everyone feel the same. I appreciate that from him.”

Over the past three seasons, Washington’s defense allowed an average of 4.65 yards after the catch (second best in the NFL), limited opponents’ first downs to 32.7 percent of their pass attempts (fifth best) and allowed 207.6 passing yards per game (ninth best).

Washington was second in the league in passing yards allowed (191.8) in 2020 and after an outlier 2021 season bounced back to finish fourth in 2022 (191.3).

A sixth-round pick out of Louisiana Monroe in 2004, Harris played eight seasons as a safety. He started his coaching career as a defensive quality control coach for the Chicago Bears before joining the Chargers in 2016 as their assistant defensive backs coach and then Washington as its defensive backs coach in 2020. NFL Network first reported his expected move to the Titans.

Rivera could hire from outside to fill his spot in Washington. If he promotes from within, he could turn to either assistant defensive backs/nickel coach Brent Vieselmeyer or assistant defensive backs coach Richard Rodgers, both of whom have been on the staff the past three seasons.

Vieselmeyer has seven NFL seasons of coaching experience, all alongside Commanders defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. Vieselmeyer served a variety of roles with the Raiders from 2015 to 2018, when Del Rio was their head coach.

Rodgers, a former college teammate of Rivera’s at California, has coached on his staff since 2012, when they were with the Panthers. Rodgers spent three seasons on special teams with Carolina before moving to the secondary.