A five-time Pro Bowl receiver, Harold Jackson retired with over 10,000 receiving yards in his 16-year playing career. But, he never thought pro football was going to be a part of his professional life until college. “When I left high school, I did not weigh more than 149 pounds,” recalled Jackson. “I knew that football was a big man’s game.” However, Jackson proved that at 5’10”, he could play. “I got a scholarship to Jackson State. I started playing and started getting letters from the pros. I thought that maybe I do have something. In my junior year, I really started to get the itch [to play pro football].”
Jackson was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in 1968.
His first year with the Rams was uneventful. He saw action in only two games. Jackson commented, “George Allen thought that rookies make too many mental mistakes. That is why George always believed in veteran ballplayers.” He continued, “We were about to get into the playoffs and we were playing the Chicago Bears. We were behind in the game. George Allen put me in for the last few minutes of the game. I had pretty good speed and he felt that Roman Gabriel could throw the deep ball and get it to me. We ran that play twice and each time, the ball was thrown short. So, I tried to come back for the ball and the defensive back ran right over me. [The referees] didn’t call anything.” They lost the game 17-16.
After the season, Jackson was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles. Jackson recalled, “After that season was over, I was in the National Guard. While I was there, I got a call from the Rams saying that they had traded me to Philadelphia. I didn’t know how to take it at the time. It worked out really good for me because that is where I really got my start. I went there and made all-pro and went to the Pro Bowl.”
Jackson’s career spanned 16 years and he gained over 10,000 yards
While with the Eagles, Jackson flourished. Twice, he led the league in receiving yards and yards-per-game. But, his time in Philadelphia was short-lived. After the 1972 season, he was traded back to the Los Angels Rams. Jackson did not want to leave. He recalled, “I enjoyed my time with Philadelphia. When I left Philadelphia, I was in the National Guard again. We were doing our summer camp in Virginia. [Philadelphia] told me that I was traded back to Los Angeles. I just started crying. I didn’t want to leave Philadelphia, because I thought that Philadelphia was good to me. I owe a lot to Philly.”
That was Jackson’s second trade in five seasons. “When you get traded, you feel as though people do not care for you.”
Back in Los Angeles, George Allen was gone and his replacement Tommy Prothro was also gone. Star quarterback Roman Gabriel was now in Philadelphia. According to Jackson, “[The Rams] had a new coach in Chuck Knox and they brought in John Hadl as the new quarterback.” The Rams instantly jumped from a 6-7-1 record in 1972 to 12-2 with a playoff berth in Jackson’s first year back with the team. He also made the Pro Bowl, led the league in receiving touchdowns, and was named first-team all-conference and all-pro by several news organizations.
In 1978, Jackson went to the New England Patriots for four years, and finished his playing career with single-season stints with the Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks.
However, Jackson was not done with pro football. After he retired from playing, he went into coaching. “When I retired [from playing football], coach [Raymond] Berry got the [head coaching] job in New England. I called to congratulate him. He said, ‘Give me your phone number. I would like to talk to you.’ He called me after the season was over to see if I would coach his wide receivers. The last thing on my mind was coaching. After you spend 16 years in the National Football League, you see the coaches working 24/7 and it looked like they never went home. Being a player, I thought that this is something that I did not want to do. He said to me, ‘You do not have to make up your mind right now. Just think about it for a couple of weeks and get back to me and let me know what you want to do.’ After I hung up, he called right back and said, ‘While you think about it, here is what we would be able to pay you.’ I said, ‘OK, coach. When I get back to Los Angeles, I will give you a call.’ When he hung up, about 15 minutes later he called back and said, ‘Have you thought about it?’ When I got back to L.A., I had a contract there waiting for me. I called Chuck Knox and talked to him about it. He said, ‘Just give it a year. If you do not like it, get out of it.’ So, I called coach Berry back and I told him what I was going to do. That year , we went to the Super Bowl. I thought, ‘This is not too bad!’”
In 1987, the NFL players went on strike and replacements were signed. Jackson was a player-coach for two games. ”I suited up and never got on the field. Just a few drills in practice.”
After the 1989 season, Patriots head coach Raymond Berry was let go, which meant that Jackson was also out. He went on to become an assistant coach for North Carolina Central University for one season. After coaching a season in the Arena football league and two seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Jackson received his first head coaching assignment. However, it was not the way he wanted it to happen. Jackson recalled, “When I went to Virginia Union [College], I went there to help out one of the coaches I had in college. I just went there for that particular year, just for the football season. The [athletic director] that was there wanted to fire the head coach and hire me. That head coach was just like a father to me and I went there to help out his receivers that particular year. I helped him at North Carolina Central [University] the same way when he was there. When they let him go [from Virginia Union], they made me the interim head coach. That really bothered me. When the season was over, the [athletic director] came to me and said, ‘Coach, let’s try to get [the contract] done on Monday.’ What I did was put the [salary request] real high so that they would not match it. When they said that they couldn’t do it, I packed my car and got on the highway.”
Jackson spent two years as the head coach at Benedict College in South Carolina. Then, he became the receivers coach for the New Orleans Saints under head coach Mike Ditka. After three seasons, Ditka was let go, meaning Jackson was again out of work. “When I left the Saints, I had a year on my contract,” recalled Jackson. “I volunteered at some high schools. I relaxed and recharged myself to get ready to go again.”
In 2001, Jackson became the receivers coach under Guy Morriss at the University of Kentucky. He followed Morriss to Baylor University in 2003 and was the receivers coach for four seasons. During his time off, he again volunteered his services to local schools. “I had a year on my contract. I relaxed a little bit. I helped out at high schools a little bit.”
In 2011, Jackson was inducted into the Professional Football Researchers Association’s (PFRA) Hall of Very Good. Formed in 2003, the Hall of Very Good is the PFRA’s way of honoring players who have had excellent careers, but are not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Jackson commented, “It makes you feel good that people recognize that you did something. I always say that God gives you a talent and you use that talent to the best of your ability. That is what I thought I did and that is what I was trying to do.”
Also in 2011, Jackson got back into coaching pro receivers. “I had been working with the UFL [United Football League]. I was with Jerry Glanville in Connecticut. They shut that team down. The only thing that we did with that team was hold three trial camps. We were getting ready to go to training camp. [The UFL] shut the team down and sent everybody back home. The next year, Turk Schonert got the job in Sacramento. He called me and I went up there and was the receivers coach. After the season was over, I got involved with Football University. They do camps for kids. That starts the end of March and goes through the end of July. That is what I am doing now.”
Jackson is also involved with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. “I am going around speaking to the young men in groups and telling them about my relationship with God. I was brought up in a family that was very religious. My dad was a deacon. I had four sisters and one brother. We all had to go to Sunday school. When all of the other kids were outside playing in the streets on Sunday afternoon, we all had to go to BTU, Baptist Training Union. I got active in the church. It is something I really enjoy doing.”
Jackson currently lives in California.
• Los Angeles Rams (1968)
• Philadelphia Eagles (1969-72)
• Los Angeles Rams (1973-77)
• New England Patriots (1978-81)
• Minnesota Vikings (1982)
• Seattle Seahawks (1983)
• New England Patriots (Wide Receivers Coach)(1985-89)
• North Carolina Central University (Assistant Coach)(1990)
• New Orleans Night (Arena Football League)(Offensive Coordinator)(1991)
• Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Wide Receivers Coach)(1992-93)
• Virginia Union College (Interim Head Coach)(1994)
• Benedict College (Head Coach)(1995-96)
• New Orleans Saints (Wide Receivers Coach)(1997-99)
• University of Kentucky (Wide Receivers Coach)(2001-02)
• Baylor University (Wide Receivers Coach)(2003-06)
• Hartford Colonials (United Football League)(Wide Receivers Coach)(2011)*
• Sacramento Mountain Lions (United Football League)(Wide Receivers Coach)(2012)
*Team Did Not Play That Season
Ken Crippen is the former executive director of the Professional Football Researchers Association. He has researched and written about pro football history for over two decades. He won the Pro Football Writers of America’s Dick Connor Writing Award for Feature Writing and was named the Ralph Hay Award winner by the Professional Football Researchers Association for lifetime achievement on pro football history.
Follow Ken on Twitter: @KenCrippen