USC hires Graham Harrell as offensive coordinator, QBs coach
Southern California hired North Texas offensive coordinator Graham Harrell as its offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach on Wednesday night, filling the vacancy abruptly left by Kliff Kingsbury with a coach holding remarkably similar credentials.
Trojans head coach Clay Helton picked Harrell just over three weeks after Kingsbury ended his nearly five-week tenure in the job to become the head coach of the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals.
The 33-year-old Harrell spent the past three seasons running the offense at North Texas, creating a powerhouse unit for a pair of bowl teams in the past two seasons. The Mean Green were 20th in the FBS in total offense last season with 460.5 yards per game, and 26th in scoring with 34.6 points.
“We wanted someone who could take our offense to new heights and whose system fit our current personnel,” Helton said. “An individual who knows both the pass and run games and is an aggressive play-caller on game day. Also someone who is a great teacher and who can develop quarterbacks to their full potential. We have found all these characteristics in Graham.”
Harrell previously spent two seasons as an assistant at Washington State under Mike Leach, his coach while he played at Texas Tech. Kingsbury and Harrell are both former Red Raiders quarterbacks who run a version of Leach’s Air Raid offense as coaches.
Kingsbury accepted the job at USC last month, only to leave 34 days later when the Cardinals surprisingly hired him.
Helton and USC athletic director Lynn Swann hope their fans and boosters will be appeased by the hiring of Harrell, another up-and-coming coaching talent with a fraction of Kingsbury’s experience and success. Swann received heavy criticism for keeping Helton in charge after the Trojans (5-7) finished their first losing season since 2000.
Harrell was a Heisman Trophy finalist and a Sammy Baugh Trophy winner during three seasons as the Red Raiders’ starting quarterback. He then spent three seasons with the Green Bay Packers, winning a Super Bowl ring while throwing only four passes as Aaron Rodgers’ backup.
Harrell takes over a Trojans offense that ranked 91st in the FBS in scoring and 11th in the Pac-12 in yardage last season. Helton, who had a heavy input in last season’s offensive game plans, fired offensive coordinator Tee Martin and several other assistants.
Harrell had success at North Texas with prolific quarterback Mason Fine, and he is now charged with getting the most from J.T. Daniels, the elite recruit who had an up-and-down season as a freshman starter.
Harrell will also have access to the Trojans’ regular array of five-star talent, although the program’s precarious situation affected its current recruiting class. Orange County high school product Bru McCoy, one of the nation’s top receiver recruits, committed to USC earlier this month and then transferred to Texas after Kingsbury left the program.