North Texas Daily

Harrell uses past experience to guide Mean Green offense

Harrell uses past experience to guide Mean Green offense

Harrell uses past experience to guide Mean Green offense
November 28
17:31 2018

In November with temperatures decreasing and the season winding down, most coaches and players head into their locker room when practice is done. One group of players, however, stays out on the field: The Mean Green quarterbacks, led by Graham Harrell, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

Since he was a kid, Harrell always wanted to be a coach. He was influenced by his father and grandfather, who were assistants under head coach Gordon Wood in Brownwood, Texas. His father Sam eventually became a head coach himself at Ennis High School where he won three state titles — including one with his son as his starting quarterback.

Harrell said that his dad was his biggest influence growing up. One of the things he took away from his dad’s coaching was knowing when it was the right time to ease up or push down on his players.

“Growing up around him and watching him, I always thought he had a great feel on his team,” Harrell said. “That’s not always easy to do especially, as a coach because you just want to work [players] every day, but some days you need to pull back on them and other days you need to push them a little harder. 

Harrell ultimately held off on coaching as his playing career gained notoriety. He received an offer to play at Texas Tech, where he was redshirted and sat his first two years, he eventually worked his way to start every game and by his senior year, Harrell threw a miracle Hail Mary to Michael Crabtree to beat Texas, something he can’t seem to shake away from most of the players on the team.

“I didn’t even know that was Graham from Texas Tech when I initially met him, so once I figured it out, I was shocked,” sophomore running back DeAndre Torrey said. “I see it all the time on social media, and it’s just crazy thinking that’s my offensive coordinator.”

Right out of college, Harrell decided to start his coaching career. He briefly served as a quality control coach at Oklahoma State before pursuing a professional football career.

Harrell was picked up by the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League and spent a year there before finding any NFL options. From 2010-2013, Harrell spent time with the Green Bay Packers when they won  Super Bowl XLIV in 2010.

After not getting picked up during the 2013 season, Harrell decided to hang his cleats up for good and pursue coaching.

In April 2014 Harrell joined the Washington State coaching staff as an offensive analyst, where he was reunited with his former Texas Tech head coach Mike Leach. The following year he was promoted to coach the team’s outside receivers.

Offensive coordinator Graham Harrell instructs quaterbacks during a practice drill. Harrell joined the Mean Green prior to the 2016 season. Rachel Walters

Harrell learned a lot from Leach both as a player and coach.

“What he does as well as anything, and what I try to take away from him, is don’t try to do too much because you can’t be good at everything,” Harrell said. “Get good at something, execute it and have an identity because I think that’s what he’s done as well as anyone’s ever done probably in the history of football.”

After Seth Littrell was hired as the North Texas head coach in December 2015, he immediately made Harrell one of his first hires at the program, making him the new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

Starting off, Harrell experienced growing pains trying to implement the offense. He even recalled spring practices being terrible at some point. Despite this, Harrell that with a new staff, comes somewhat of a culture change.

In 2016 — Harrell’s first year as offensive coordinator —  the offense improved from averaging 15.2 points per game to averaging 24.8 points per game. While it’s not the numbers Harrell envisioned the offense to put up, it was a good first step.

“Whenever there’s a staff turnover, you’ve got to give the players a lot of credit because that’s not an easy transition, and the guys bought into our message and they bought into the culture, and because of that, we saw a little bit of success on the field, even though we weren’t really good offensively,” Harrell said. “We ended up having some success just because they played hard.”

The offense would continue to improve, averaging 35.5 points per game during the 2017 season, ranking No. 19 nationally.

Offensive coordinator and quarterback coach Graham Harrell throws a football during a practice drill. Harrell earned a Super Bowl ring in 2010 with the Green Bay Packers prior to coming to UNT. Rachel Walters

So far in the 2018 season, the Mean Green offense is averaging 37.2 points per game, which ranks them No. 20 nationally. Looking at the current offense’s performance, a lot of players say they are not surprised to see those results.

“He’s an offensive guru, and he’s been with the best, so he knows a lot about the whole offense,” junior wide receiver Michael Lawrence said. “He comes up with plays every day that get us open, and he puts us in the best opportunities to make plays in the game. It’s just good to see we have a coach like that.”

In 2010 Harrell’s father was forced to retire from coaching due to multiple sclerosis, leading to what he said was the most challenging period in his life.

His father ended up showing great resiliency fighting back from it, and after two years of aggressive stem cell treatment, his father was back on the sideline coaching again. Seeing his father work through that struggle inspires Harrell to this day.

“To see the miracle the Lord performed and through the stem cell, it was probably one of the coolest things to see in my life,” Harrell said. “Seeing dad coach again is as cool as anything I’ve been a part of, so that’s been a huge part of my life, my story and really my whole family’s story.”

With everything he’s experienced in life, Harrell loves to talk about all of it with his players because he feels it gives him credibility as a coach.

“They ask about it all the time, and I got pictures in the office from different moments, and they bring out conversations,” Harrell said. “More than anything, it’s just fun to kind of reminisce.”

Featured Image: Offensive coordinator and quarterback coach Graham Harrell catches a football during a practice drill. Harrell earned a Super Bowl ring in 2010 with the Green Bay Packers. Rachel Walters

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Deondre Jones

Deondre Jones

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