Texas Tech football: Another Red Raider is the new hot coaching commodity

LUBBOCK, TX - NOVEMBER 08: Quarterback Graham Harrell #6 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders during play against the Oklahoma State Cowboys at Jones AT&T Stadium on November 8, 2008 in Lubbock, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
LUBBOCK, TX - NOVEMBER 08: Quarterback Graham Harrell #6 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders during play against the Oklahoma State Cowboys at Jones AT&T Stadium on November 8, 2008 in Lubbock, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

Former Texas Tech football star Graham Harrell has become this year’s most coveted offensive coordinator as two marquee programs are bidding for his services.

Though in the last decade, the spread offense revolution has become so common that the Texas Tech football program no longer has a schematic edge on the field, programs around the nation still seem to crave coaches that were reared in Mike Leach’s system.  The latest offensive genius du jour in college football is Graham Harrell, the current USC offensive coordinator and Texas Tech’s all-time leader in passing yards and passing touchdowns.

Joining the likes of former Red Raider players like Kliff Kingsbury, Sonny Cumbie, and Eric Morris as well as former Tech assistant coaches like Dana Holgorsen, Art Briles, Seth Littrell, and others who cut their teeth in Lubbock in the 2000s, Harrell has become a rising star in the assistant coaching ranks.

Now, there appears to be a bidding war between USC and the Texas Longhorns for Harrell’s services.  In fact, after just one year in Los Angeles, the Trojans are reportedly offering the 34-year-old a lucrative new contract extension.

That move comes after Harrell reportedly interviewed for the vacant offensive coordinator job in Austin.  What’s more, Harrell has even interviewed for the head coaching vacancy at UNLV.

And it’s easy to see why yet another Red Raider is in high demand for his offensive acumen.

This season, he was able to guide USC to a No. 5 finish nationally in the regular season in passing yards with 335.9 passing yards per game.  Running the “Air Raid” at USC, where the I-formation run game was king for decades, Harrell had to groom three different quarterbacks this year.

In the season’s first game, sophomore starter J.T. Daniels was lost for the year with a knee injury.  That propelled freshman Kedon Slovis into the starring role under some of the brightest lights in the game.

Under Harrell’s tutelage, Slovis threw for 3,242 yards, 28 touchdowns, and only nine interceptions while completing an impressive 71.8% of his throws.  Four times he eclipsed the 400-yard mark and in his final start he went off for 514 yards and four TDs against rival UCLA.  In his final three games, he threw 12 touchdowns and just one pick.

But maybe Harrell’s best job came in USC’s upset of No. 10 Utah.  When Slovis exited the game after a huge hit that came after he attempted just two passes, junior third-string QB Matt Fink completed 21-30 passes for 351 yards, three scores and only one interception in a 30-23 win.

Developing quarterbacks is the most coveted skill a coach can possess these days.  After all, Kingsbury’s reputation for being a QB whisperer landed him his current job as the Arizona Cardinals’ head coach despite his 35-40 career record as a head coach at Tech.

That’s why our friend Andrew Miller at Hook ’em Headlines has Harrell as his No. 2 preferred choice to coordinate the UT offense next year behind former Arkansas head coach Chad Morris.  Meanwhile, Alicia De Artola at Reign of Troy believes that continuity in Los Angeles might be enticing enough to keep the lastest wonder boy in the mix in Southern California.

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It’s been a meteoric rise for Harrell since he joined the coaching ranks. In 2009, he got his start as a quality control analyst at Oklahoma State.  In 2014-15 he was at Washington State under Leach as wide receivers coach.

Elevated to offensive coordinators under Littrell at North Texas, he spent three years helping elevate the Mean Green from the ranks of the dead to a bowl team thanks to their high-powered offense.  That led to his opportunity at USC this fall and he made the most of it, somehow even becoming a favorite among the fan base despite the fact that his head coach, Clay Helton, has fallen out of favor with most Trojan fans.

It’s odd to see a coordinator remain beloved by a fan base that is rather fed up with a head coach but that’s what Harrell has done.  Of course, there are Red Raider fans, especially those who do not believe in Matt Wells, hope that Harrell might someday return home to Lubbock and save his alma mater from itself.   That’s not on the horizon at this point but so long as he remains one of the hottest assistants in the game, Harrell is going to be who a significant portion of the fan base in West Texas continues to pine after.

For now, Harrell still needs grooming.  With only four years of experience as a coordinator, he is almost as green as Kingsbury was when he took over in Lubbock in 2013 and this program can’t take another risk with a head coach that is in over his head.

So for now, Red Raider fans need to hope that Wells can turn things around and we can just keep track of Harrell’s progress from afar (hopefully not in the Big 12).  While he may eventually come home, right now, he needs to decide where the next part of his grooming will take place.  The good news is that it appears like he’s got plenty of great opportunities.