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Mike Tomlin Sees Himself In Najee Harris, Explains Why The Two ‘Vibe’ So Well

From a culture and organization standpoint, it would’ve been hard for Najee Harris to find a better NFL landing spot than Pittsburgh. To learn from Mike Tomlin, how to be a leader, a man, and of course, a running back. In a great feature piece from NBC Sports’ Michael Smith, he sat down with Harris, Tomlin, and others to find out who Najee Harris is. In doing so, Tomlin revelated something interesting about his relationship with him.

“I see 22 and 23-year old me in him in terms of how he sees the world and how he makes sense of it through his intimate and deep relationship with football,” Tomlin said of Harris.

Harris was the team’s first-round pick in 2021, 24th overall, with fans and media wholly expecting him to be the pick. He checked all the boxes the team looked for. Tough. Strong. A workhorse. And a good head on his shoulders. But Harris’ story isn’t as easy as it sounds. Well-documented at this point, Harris had a tough upbringing, homeless for long stretches of time and bouncing from place to place in California. Salt of the Earth, he earned a scholarship to Alabama and turned into a first-round pick.

It’s a story Tomlin can relate to. A man who grew up without a strong father figure, Tomlin has turned himself into a leader and role model for those who know him and for those who don’t. Speaking with Smith, Tomlin shared some of his story and why he gets along so well with Harris.

“We’re both probably kids who come from lower economic background who love football and football is a vehicle to betterment. Football is really black and white to both of us. And we both utilize lessons that we’ve learned from football and apply it to greater components of life.”

Harris hasn’t always gotten along with his coaches. In the interview, he admitted he struggles with authority figures and retold the story of him butting heads with Alabama head coach Nick Saban, two Alpha personalities clashing. Harris and Tomlin clicked right away. Two guys who understood each other in large part because, as Tomlin pointed out, their similar backgrounds and views on life. Harris may be only 24, but he’s about the most mature 24-year old you’re going to find. He can be blunt and candid, and sometimes that comes off harsh, but he’s calm, chill, and generally pretty introverted. Not the typical disposition of a running back, much closer to Arian Foster than Clinton Portis.

While Harris spoke of his struggles in Alabama, Tomlin sees the good it had on Harris’ long-term perspective and mentality.

“You gotta tip your cap to an environment like Tuscaloosa…he wasn’t a leader early on because of the collection of talent that they had. But he saw other people lead and he’s been comfortable being the young guy emerging and being comfortable acknowledging where he is.”

In arriving in Pittsburgh, Harris saw a little bit of Alabama, too, again teammates with Minkah Fitzpatrick, one of the Crimson Tide’s upperclassmen and stars when Harris arrived on scene as a freshman.

“He had some older guys like Minkah Fitzpatrick…he gets in this environment, he sees familiar faces doing familiar and similar things. It’s the comfort zone there.”

Harris says he’s a much different person than he was in college, no longer the “reckless” or “carless” – his words, not mine – guy he was just a couple years ago. On the surface, this has nothing to do with football. Nothing to do with blocking schemes, or footwork, or the art of pass protection. But all this has everything to do with football. Who you are. What you value. How you treat others. That’s what makes a team. What makes a man. That’s what makes up Najee Harris.

Check out the full interview below.

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