The Huge Graham Harrell First Impression

Antonio Morales (The Athletic)  —  Mason Fine was a bit starstruck. He knew exactly who was visiting him at Locust Grove high school (Okla.) that day.

Graham Harrell stepped into one of the highest-profile assistant jobs in college football after Kliff Kingsbury left USC without calling a play.

With only about two weeks remaining until 2016’s national signing day, North Texas’ pursuit of Fine, who was a two-star prospect at the time, had intensified. Then-Mean Green offensive coordinator Graham Harrell showed up to Locust Grove with the intention of making his sales pitch to Fine and verifying something else.

“Looking back on it, he wanted to come meet me to make sure I wasn’t 5-foot-8, 135 (pounds),” said Fine, who is listed at 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds by North Texas. “I remember him telling me that.”

The Mean Green gave Fine his only FBS scholarship offer. His alternative likely would have been becoming a preferred walk-on at Oklahoma State.

Obviously, Harrell faces a drastically different set of recruiting circumstances as USC’s offensive coordinator. It’s highly improbable he will recruit a 5-foot-8 quarterback or a signal caller with just one FBS scholarship offer while with the Trojans.

Now that Harrell is five months into the job, has gone through a spring evaluation period and just wrapped up several weeks of on-campus recruiting camps, what kind of first impression has he made with prospects on the recruiting trail?

Four-star 2021 quarterback prospect Miller Moss was pretty frank about his goal heading into USC’s second Elite Camp, which was held on June 19. The Bishop Alemany (Mission Hills, Calif.) signal caller’s sole objective that day was to make sure he left campus with a scholarship offer.

Moss performed well enough that Harrell asked him to stay a bit longer afterward, and the Trojans’ first-year offensive coordinator extended the offer Moss had sought for so long. Now that opens the door for Moss to build a relationship with Harrell.

Miller Moss@millermoss7
2:22 PM – Jun 19, 2019
“(Harrell’s a) super down-to-earth guy,” Moss said. “You see a guy from Texas, you think, ‘Oh, he’s all about Texas. He’s all about himself.’ But he’s a guy all about the players. He’s super intelligent. He’s easy to be coached (by) and have a dialogue with.”

When asked what makes Harrell different than other coaches he’s interacted with, Moss pointed to the way Harrell approaches the game — through his Air Raid philosophy and principles. But he also repeated the dialogue Harrell has with his players.

“He’s not just strictly rules guy,” Moss said. “He’s open to different things and really develops a relationship with his players.”

That falls in line with what Harrell’s former quarterbacks at North Texas had to say about him as well. Since Fine was a part of a transition recruiting class and they offered him late, he said his relationship with Harrell didn’t really grow until training camp of his freshman season. But he praised Harrell’s people skills and said he does a good job of understanding his players.

“(He’s) like a friend almost,” said quarterback Kason Martin, who signed with North Texas during the 2018 recruiting cycle. “Someone who has a lot of wisdom. He’s been through it himself so he knows what he likes, what he doesn’t like.”

Martin received an offer from the Mean Green during the spring of his junior year and committed two months later. He estimates Harrell called him once a week to check up on him during the season.

Like Fine, North Texas was Martin’s only FBS offer. Per his 247Sports recruiting profile, Moss holds offers from Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Georgia and Michigan, so the competition for Moss’ services will be tightly contested.

But USC — and Harrell — should have a pretty big say in how it all plays out.

“That’s one of the schools I grew up loving,” Moss said. “It’s definitely going to be a place of interest to me down the line.”

While Moss is just beginning to build a relationship with Harrell, USC’s 2020 quarterback commit, Bryce Young, the No. 1 dual-threat QB in the upcoming recruiting cycle who recently competed in the Elite 11 Finals, has spent the past five months developing a rapport with Harrell.

“First impression was how personable and cool of a guy he was,” Young said. “Especially in college football, it’s their job and livelihood as far as being coaches. Because of that, not everyone in the coaching world is as relatable or personable. Meeting Coach Harrell for the first time and knowing we don’t have to talk about just football stuff … We could talk Xs and Os all day but we could talk about stuff off the field, which you don’t find with every coach at the college level. I’m extremely excited to play for Coach Harrell.”

Young said he and Harrell text practically every day, which makes sense. Even though Young is currently committed to the Trojans, it won’t stop schools — like Alabama — from making a strong push for him.

It’s Young who is a priority for the immediate future. Moss and players like St. John Bosco receiver Beaux Collins will be highly-coveted prospects in the 2021 recruiting cycle.

Collins, a four-star prospect, has received offers from Clemson and Alabama within the past two months. He’s also being pursued by Ohio State as well.

It doesn’t seem like Harrell has done anything to hurt the Trojans’ chances so far.

“Just coming in as a new offensive coordinator, he had a lot to prove and he stepped up to the plate so far for me,” said Collins, who received an offer from Clay Helton after one of USC’s Rising Stars camps last summer. “(Harrell is) just a laid-back, genuine coach who wants to teach you before you even get there.”

Collins participated in USC’s Elite Camp last month and said the Trojans were “pretty high” on his list right now. He seemed impressed by Harrell’s energy given the situation he stepped into.

USC’s offense struggled last season and lacked a clear identity. That played a big part in the Trojans’ 5-7 season, and is one of the reasons Helton’s status seems so uncertain at the moment.

Harrell has stepped into a rebuilding situation with the Mean Green in 2016 and took over an offense that wasn’t producing. Over the course of three seasons, he turned North Texas’ offense into one of the best in Conference USA.

Make no mistake, Harrell hasn’t been under the same type of microscope he’ll be under in Los Angeles, but he’s had to sell an unproven product to players before.

“He’s probably more of a laid-back type of guy,” Fine said. “More (about) out the facts, more about the turnaround of the program and selling their culture. What they wanted to establish, how the foundation of the offense was going to be.”

USC’s been known as a pro-style offensive program for decades. So this shift to a wide-open, up-tempo attack is quite dramatic and will be interesting to watch unfold. But the Trojans, whose strength is at receiver, appears to have the personnel to make it work.

“His philosophy is USC has always had dudes on the outside,” Moss said, “but it’s never thrown the ball all over the place. That’s what they’re trying to do. They’re trying to utilize all the ridiculous athletes they have, get them in space and score points.”

Harrell spent two seasons coaching at Washington State, but most of his ties are in the state of Texas. He grew up there. His father Sam is a legendary high school coach there. He set records as a high school and college quarterback there. His reputation across the state — which was a plus in recruiting — is one of the reasons why Mean Green coach Seth Littrell handed him the keys to his offense despite the fact Harrell had never called plays before.

But this is obviously new terrain.

“The accent,” said Collins’ St. John Bosco teammate and four-star 2020 receiver Logan Loya said when asked for his first impression of Harrell. “Just noticing the accent first. (But) it was cool just his knowledge of the game, his passion for the game because I have that same passion for the game.

“He’s easy to talk to and be around. He’s a dude you want to play for.”

theathletic.com

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DebraSchulze
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It sure sounds like GH has made a great first impression with the 2020 and 2021 recruits at the Elite Camps! That is the best news as it gives the Trojans strength for future recruits…word gets out that everyone wants to play for GH….so USC gets top recruits!!

Jamaica
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Moss’s statement about USC having the dudes outside but never threw the ball all over the place? When Kiffin was HC, I thought he had Barkley throw it all over the place. But it was out of a pro-set spread offense. GH is a pretty cool customer in relating to recruits & team players alright. I just hope the other position coaches he has to work with will up their teaching effectiveness giving him the confidence to run his offense without any limitations caused by poor execution. That should be the #1 priority.

LawyerJohn
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Down South guys are often quite personable, and perhaps this is what impresses the California boys. But this air-raid offense runs counter to my ingrained love for a balanced run-pass attack. Passing 2/3 of the time seems like sandlot football. You know the type: “Go long and I will get it to you.”

Rock2112
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Harrell didn’t pass 2/3rds of the time at NT. I think he’ll only do that at SC this Fall if our O-line does not improve and he has to. Otherwise, he’s been much closer to 50/50 passing and running than the media likes to portray. The air raid as Harrell sees it is not about passing constantly, it is about each play presenting the possibility that the ball could go to several different places on the field, and to several different players, depending on the opportunities the defense provides. As Leach said last season, “balance” in an air-raid mindset is… Read more »

Jamaica
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And Rock, in order for that possibility to happen, GH has to get the other position coaches to up their game or he probably will have to throw the ball most of the time. I hope not….

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It is focus. Do you run to set up the pass, or do you pass to set up the run? In Mike Leach’s system, the QB has the option to call a run on every plan if the D backs off and covers the pass. It is a numbers game. If the OL outnumbers the front 7, then run (as you have the numbers). IF the D has the numbers in the front 7, then pass. Most of the time, the D covers the short zones and makes the run not viable. Given the quality of the SC receivers, IF… Read more »

Rock2112
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Well put and insightful RJJ. Your analogy to Lombardi and McKay is right on. The key is not deception, which seemed to be something Clay and Tee were always struggling to pull off with their Gumbo Offense. But everything was so poorly executed and timed that the deception (if there ever really was any) never could overcome that. Harrell is aiming to bring real speed back into the equation and overwhelm defenses. If it works the way it is drawn up, it will be a thing of beauty. I do remain concerned on the offensive side of the ball about… Read more »

Trojan96
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Rock I think our D-Line will be vastly improved this year. The front seven should be able to overwhelm the OLs and get some serious pressure. My concern is the secondary.

Jamaica
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Yes, the quality of the USC receivers should get the opponent’s DC attention alright. But using a numbers game up front to give JT/Sears a quick idea where the meat of the D is concentrating will only go so far IMO as the opponent will no doubt stunt in showing one look before the ball is snapped and move into another just as it is snapped. The PAC-12 is considered a passing league, so you are not going to greatly surprise anyone, especially since Mike Leach has been at WSU with his version of the Air Raid, with a state-of-the-art… Read more »

TrojanRJJ
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After due consideration, I have decided that I was wrong in my skeptical evaluation of the Courtright lawsuit and Allen was correct. Allen’s point was the lack of a denial is telling. I now think it is. What changed my mind was considering the process that SHOULD have been in place to handle the Complaint. This is a lengthy email, but I wanted to set out my reasoning: POINT 1. One has to assume that Rick Courtright has evidence that he filed the complaint with the USC Compliance Department. Without solid evidence showing that, no competent attorney would take his… Read more »

Rock2112
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I appreciate the thought that went into this RJJ, but as far as I am concerned all of the possibilities you list above may be true (and that’s why you meticulously catalogued them as possibilities!). Unlike you and Allen, I do not believe that the lack of an immediate affirmative public denial of merit to this lawsuit equates to a high likelihood that the lawsuit has merit. This lawsuit was filed — intentionally — on the day that Carol Folt walked in the door. It is a precarious time at SC during which there will be much organizational “feeling around”… Read more »

TrojanRJJ
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Rock, I think we are talking about “apples and oranges”. I agree that SC may have a defensible case. The problem is that IF it is a near defense “summary judgment” case. I use that language between you, me and Allen as I think we are the only attorneys on the Board. As Allen stopped practicing about 25 years ago and I stopped 5 years ago, that leaves you as the only one “in the game”! LOL My point is that administratively, the case cannot be allowed the linger. If I am the new President, I want to know why… Read more »

Rock2112
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I would add LawyerJohn to the list of law school victims — unless he has the most deceptive user-name ever!

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Okay all you lawyers, would you mount a case that accused your former employer of malfeasance knowing that the loss of said case would ruin your career? I can see Rock2112’s point because the timing of this action seems very calculated. With the changing of the guard, parents but admissions and departments stealing research program or Doctors getting a little to much joy in their work the timing is not good for the school. But a hole has opened up in heritage hall, you’d think Swann would be looking into it. Although, many people think the only hole our A.D.… Read more »

alfa1
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Either party can petition the court with motions, the movant could just as well motion for discovery, yes…no?
There are allegations, yet no affirmative response from the defendant…why?
Should an inquisitive Judge not want to hear initial oral pleadings ?
It appears there are material issues and triable fact, ie. Plaintiff alleges he notified compliance department with fact, if he has proof of that communication, then his immediate dismissal has merit as vexatious reprisal. Triable fact.
Then a motion for discovery has standing.
Interrogatories of course, can really make things interesting or even lead to settlement.
What say you Counsel.

Norwood13B
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Dan Webber kinda goes into detail on the outcomes of this on their podcast and puts it into perspective to a degree. The majority of this complaint seems to be academic violations which fall under the school not the ncaa just like the North Carolina incident. So if it does come back true usc would handle it not the ncaa. The other thing that was mentioned was the unsafe practices which I see being the major thing that gets usc. If it comes back true I think that’s a whole coaching staff in trouble that were there not just one… Read more »

Rock2112
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Yeah, I love that a guy whose job is defensive “quality control” is pointing the finger at other defensive staff. Before games, a DC should have a lot on his mind and a lot of distractions — seems like a “quality control” underling could do things like make sure players have the right equipment for what they are doing.

Norwood13B
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Rock, I feel like that’s the problem is people are just seeing the headline of usc back in the news again before they go and look into the accusations.

It just seems like the things he’s saying could’ve been easily prevented by just stepping in. Just comes across as a very spineless person with the accusations he’s making.

Rock2112
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I agree. If this guy really intended to “blow the whistle,” we know there are plenty of ways to do that. And it usually involves reporting something OUTSIDE of your organization. That’s kind of what it means to blow the whistle. You don’t wait until a year after you are fired or you resign or whatever to raise your issues externally, unless you are doing it for the wrong reasons.

Norwood13B
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The good thing about this is Carol Folt was at UNC during the academic violations that happened there so if there’s one person suited to handle this it would be her.

rleeholder1
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GH sounds like a guy who is personable with the players and well respected. The ultimate test, IMO, is what results SC will produce on the field. I hope it’s not a mantra of we’ll just try to outscore the opponent with the Air Raid offense. Most of us who played the game, even at the High School level, know that a solid defense and running game mixed in with the pass produces championships. A successful season this year, however you choose to define it, will pay huge dividends in the recruiting wars to come. I’m looking forward to seeing… Read more »

usc50
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Graham Harrell sounds like a coach who is going places. Another Air Raid coach
like Kingsbury.
Hope he stays for at least two years.