LAWRENCE (TNS) — Chris Harris walked the sideline in a gray Kansas football T-shirt, one of five current NFL players who made it back to Memorial Stadium for KU's spring showcase open practice Saturday.
So why did Denver's three-time Pro Bowl cornerback decide to attend?
He said it all begins with KU coach David Beaty.
"We love him, man. We know how much this program means to him," Harris told The Star. "He truly loves this program."
Shortly after, Harris makes his beliefs clear about KU's coach.
Beaty's record in three years with the program is 3-33. He has one FBS victory in that time and struggled to a 1-11 finish last year after raising expectations in the preseason.
Harris, though, believes it's best to look at the big picture.
"You know, we were pretty much at the death penalty (when Beaty started). We're still trying to overcome that," Harris said. "It's hard. It's very hard. But we (former players) have faith in him, and we know how much he loves this school and this program, so we want to continue to support him."
Beaty did inherit a difficult situation. The team was down more than 20 scholarship players when he took the job in December 2014.
"I think if people realized how bad the program was at that time when Charlie Weis left, how many players just got kicked off the team and how many scholarships we lost ... now we still haven't been able to get those," Harris said. "If (fans) just continue to understand that situation and give Beaty patience and time, I think the program will be back to normal."
Ever since his hiring, Beaty has made sure to open the team's doors to former players. That trend continued this week, as the coach organized a golf event for those coming back Friday and also had another dinner scheduled for Saturday night.
Beaty said he believed it was important for alums to see what was going on within the program's walls if they were interested.
"When you're inside, I think you might be able to draw a little bit more of an educated conclusion," Beaty said. "That could still be bad, it could be good, but at least you get to see it."
KU's turnout was impressive. Five of the team's six current NFL players were in Lawrence on Saturday — Harris, Bradley McDougald, Ben Heeney, Fish Smithson and Dexter McDonald. The only one missing, Aqib Talib, was on campus a few months ago when he was added to the stadium's Ring of Honor.
"For them to come up on a weekend to say hi to us, that goes a long way," KU linebacker Joe Dineen said.
Harris wasn't shy about sharing advice either.
He spoke one-on-one Friday with Corione Harris, KU's highly rated true freshman cornerback. Chris Harris noticed during one red-zone drill in practice that the freshman was playing too passively.
"I just tried to help him understand that you can't be too deep in the end zone, because then it's a touchdown," Harris said with a smile. "He got kind of pushed back into the end zone. He has to learn that, to go catch guys earlier."
It wasn't the only topic discussed.
"I just tried to tell him how I tried to come in and play as a freshman and how it was for me. The different challenges of getting ready for the Big 12, things like that," Harris said. "It was a good conversation. I think that was something he needed, because he's going to have to play early."
Harris continues to pay close attention to his former program, and that's often reflected in his Twitter account, where he frequently talks about the Jayhawks.
"That's one thing about this team: Coach Beaty has them guys playing hard," Harris said. "We just haven't been good enough athletic-wise."
Harris believes that's changing. He's excited to see what receiver Steven Sims does in his senior year and also is optimistic about incoming running back Pooka Williams ("Those two guys are going to be explosive right there," he said).
Most of all, though, he wants to see how far Beaty can take the program if given the opportunity.
"We just need everybody in Jayhawk nation to be patient with him," Harris said. "It's going to take time."