SPECIAL to KBEC Sports
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia University football coach Neal Brown has announced the hiring of Graham Harrell as the Mountaineers’ offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
Brown also announced additional changes to the offensive staff that will include Gerad Parker as the co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach, and Chad Scott, the run game coordinator and running backs coach.
“I have followed Graham’s playing and coaching career for quite some time, and there’s no question he is a talented coach with a bright future,” Brown said. “He has a successful track record as a play-caller, has done an outstanding job of developing quarterbacks and is a proven winner. His character, competitiveness and positive energy are a great fit for our program. He brings Power-5 coaching experience and an extensive knowledge of the Big 12. I know he is looking forward to getting started, meeting our staff and players.
“Since the end of the season, I have spent time reflecting on the program, and take responsibility, knowing we have to be better offensively,” Brown said. “I’ve been serving in a dual role as the offensive coordinator and head coach, and we need to bring in another voice for the offense. Having Graham as the offensive coordinator and working with Gerad as the No. 2 lead in the offensive room, as he has done, will make us a better, more-efficient offense and move us in the direction we need to head. In turn, that will allow me to be a more effective CEO of the Mountaineer football program.”
Harrell comes to WVU after serving as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at USC for the past three years (2019-21).
“I am excited to join Neal Brown‘s staff at West Virginia and become a part of the Mountaineer football program,” Harrell said. “This program has a long and successful history with a lot of tradition, and I have so much respect for the state of West Virginia, its people and their values. I believe this is a great fit for me and my family as Neal and I know or have worked with a lot of the same people. I grew up in the Big 12, played in it, and I look forward to getting back to competing in it. I can’t wait to get to know our players and help this program make its mark.”
In 2021, USC led the Pac-12 and was No. 17 nationally in passing offense (298.3) and red zone offense (.902), No. 20 in third-down conversion percentage and No. 24 in total offense (443.9). Receiver Drake London was named the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year and earned a spot on several All-America teams.
In 2020, USC’s passing offense ranked No. 11 nationally (first in Pac-12) at 319.3. Quarterback Kedon Slovis made All-Pac-12 first-team while ranking in the top-20 in completions (first at 29.5), passing yards (sixth at 320.2), total offense (No. 13 at 310.7) and completion percentage (No. 18 at .670), all tops in the Pac-12. Wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown also was an All-Pac-12 first-teamer.
In Harrell’s first year at USC in 2019, the Trojan offense averaged 455.4 total yards (335.8 passing) and 32.5 points—significant improvements from 2018, when the figures were 382.6, 249.1 and 26.1—while ranking in the top-25 in completion percentage, passing offense, passing efficiency, total offense, third-down conversions and first downs. The 2019 Trojans also set school season pass marks for total passing yards (4,365), completion percentage (71.0%), completions (365) and attempts (514).
Under Harrell’s tutelage, true freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis was a Freshman All-American first-teamer and the Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year, completing a school-record and NCAA freshman record 71.9% of his passes for a USC frosh record 3,502 yards with 30 TDs, including a school-record 515 passing yards against UCLA (one of a USC record four games with 400-plus passing yards), to rank in the top-20 in completion percentage, passing yards, completions, passing efficiency, passing TD and total offense (his 167.9 passing efficiency rating was a USC record).
Wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr., who won the 2019 Pop Warner College Football Award and was a finalist for the Biletnikoff and Witten Awards, was in the top-20 in receptions, receiving yards and receiving TDs.
Prior to his three-year stint at USC, Harrell produced back-to-back top-25 offenses, while the offensive coordinator at North Texas.
After inheriting an offense that ranked in the nation’s bottom 25 in scoring, passing and total offense in 2015, he helped the Mean Green improve statistically in each category in 2016, including by 9.6 points per game. Then in 2017, North Texas was No. 19 nationally in scoring (35.5), No. 21 in passing (291.9) and No. 24 in total offense (455.1), and quarterback Mason Fine set school season records for passing yards (4,052) and TDs (31).
In 2018, UNT ranked No. 12 in passing (306.8), No. 20 in total offense (460.5) and No. 26 in scoring (34.6), with Fine throwing for 3,793 yards and 27 touchdowns with just 5 interceptions, wide receiver Rico Bussey Jr. catching 68 passes for 1,017 yards with 12 TDs and running back DeAndre Torrey scoring 15 TDs on the ground. Fine was the 2017 and 2018 Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year, while Bussey Jr. was an All-Conference USA first-teamer in 2018. Tight end Kelvin Smith, who played as an attached tight end and in the slot, completed 27 and 29 catch seasons in 2017 and 2018 to rank among the top receivers on the team.
North Texas also rushed for more than 150 yards a game in 2017 and 2018. UNT won 9 games each in Harrell’s last two seasons and qualified for bowl games all three years that he was on staff (2016 Heart of Dallas, 2017 New Orleans, 2018 New Mexico) after UNT only played in one bowl the previous 11 seasons.
Harrell came to UNT from Washington State, where he worked for head coach Mike Leach as the outside receivers coach in 2015 after serving as an offensive analyst in 2014. The 2015 Cougars led the nation in passing offense (389.2), won eight games and won the Sun Bowl.
Harrell was a record-setting quarterback for Leach at Texas Tech from 2005-08, finishing his career with an NCAA-record 134 touchdown passes, the second-most career yards in NCAA history (15,793) and the third-highest career passing average (351.0). He also set NCAA career marks for pass completions average (31.2), as well as most games gaining 400-plus passing yards (20), games gaining 400-plus total yards (21) and seasons gaining 4,000-plus total yards (3). His career average of 486.3 passing yards against Texas was an NCAA record against one opponent. In each of his three seasons as a starter, his passing yardage figures placed in the top-25 all-time at the FBS level (21st in 2006 with 4,555 yards, second in 2007 with 5,705 and sixth in 2008 with 5,111) and he was the first player with a pair of 5,000-yard passing seasons.
In 2008, he was an All-American first-teamer, finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting, won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, was a finalist for the Walter Camp and Davey O’Brien Awards and was a National Football Foundation Scholar-Athlete. His 5,111 passing yards led the nation and he threw 45 touchdowns with only nine interceptions while completing 70.6% of his aerials. Texas Tech went 11-2, including a victory over No. 1 Texas, and played in the Cotton Bowl in 2008.
Harrell played for the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders in 2009, served as a quality control assistant at Oklahoma State for several months in 2010, before heading back to continue his NFL career. He played three years with the Green Bay Packers (2010-12), including on the 2010 Super Bowl XLV championship team and had a brief stint with the New York Jets in 2013.
He played for his father, Sam, at Ennis High, throwing for Texas career records of 12,532 yards and 167 touchdowns. He led Ennis to the state Class 4A title as a 2001 sophomore. As a senior in 2003, he set state records for season passing yards, completions and touchdowns (4,825, 334, 67).
Inducted into the Texas Tech Hall of Fame in 2020, Harrell earned his bachelor’s degree in history from Texas Tech in 2007.
Harrell, and his wife, Brittney, have a 6-year-old son, Hawk and a daughter, Mia. Harrell’s brother, Clark, played quarterback at Tulsa (2007) and Abilene Christian (2008-10); Clark and his other brother, Zac, are now high school football coaches in Texas.