North Texas Daily

New offensive coordinator Harrell ready to bring “Air Raid” attack to Denton

New offensive coordinator Harrell ready to bring “Air Raid” attack to Denton

February 18
08:02 2016

Brady Keane | Staff Writer

@BradyKeane3

Even after breaking collegiate passing records and winning a Super Bowl, North Texas offensive coordinator Graham Harrell always knew he wanted to be a football coach.

However, his journey to Denton did not go how he originally had planned. After shattering almost every passing record in Texas Tech University history as the Red Raiders’ quarterback under head coach Mike Leach from 2004-2008, Harrell spent three years in the NFL with the Green Bay Packers and was a member of the team that won Super Bowl XLV in Arlington.

But after being cut from the Packers before the 2013 season, Harrell was forced to live out of hotels and travel bags across the country while vying for another chance with an NFL team. That’s when Leach, now the head coach at Washington State University, called.

“I was still training to play when Coach [Leach] called and asked if I would be interested in coaching with him,” Harrell said. “After being all over the place, any sort of stability sounded great to me.”

It was a foot in the door for Harrell, and one that would eventually provide an opportunity to rapidly advance through the coaching ranks. He spent his first year as an offensive analyst for the Cougars before being promoted to wide receivers coach last season.

While Washington State was flourishing under the “Air Raid” system Leach and Harrell are known for, Seth Littrell, who was the running backs coach at Texas Tech during Harrell’s playing career, was announced as the head coach at North Texas.

It didn’t take long for Littrell to make a phone call to Harrell asking him to come back to Texas. Less than two weeks after Littrell was introduced as the Mean Green head coach in December, Harrell was announced as the team’s offensive coordinator.

“It was a really tough decision,” Harrell said. “The toughest thing was just leaving Coach [Leach]. I enjoyed working with and playing for him, but at the end of the day, you have to do what you think is best. Getting an opportunity to come home and work for coach Littrell and being here at UNT just felt like the right move.”

The addition of Harrell, who now has the unique experience of both playing and coaching in the Air Raid offense, could help ease some of the pains the Mean Green has had at quarterback over the last few seasons. Since Derek Thompson graduated after the 2013 season, North Texas has rolled out four different quarterbacks over the last two seasons.

The quarterback position is important in such a pass-oriented offense, and Harrell will play a key role in both recruiting and developing the team’s signal callers.

“Year in and year out, we are going to go out and recruit quarterbacks,” Littrell said. “At the end of the day, you have to have a quarterback to make any system work, especially when you throw the ball around.”

Harrell’s impact on recruiting quarterbacks was felt almost immediately after joining the Mean Green. Having only been in Denton a few weeks, he helped bring former Allen High School star and University of Alabama back-up quarterback Alec Morris to North Texas for his final year of eligibility in 2016.

Harrell’s role as both a former star quarterback in the state of Texas and his knowledge of the Air Raid offense played a large role in Morris’ decision.

“I grew up in Texas, so I watched him play at Texas Tech,” Morris said. “Obviously, I think any quarterback would be excited about jumping into this kind of system. You’re a quarterback, so that’s what you’re on the field to do. When you get to throw the ball a lot, it’s fun to do.”

The simplicity of the offensive attack should help to take the pressure off of Morris and returning senior starter DaMarcus Smith next season. North Texas was dead last in Conference USA in scoring at less than 16 points per game last season – an issue the Air Raid provides a simple yet explosive answer to.

“It’s a quarterback-friendly offense,” Harrell said. “We put a lot of responsibility on the quarterback, but we try to keep it simple for him too. That’s what we think gives you the best chance to win. If you’re not thinking, then you’re not hesitating. You’re just out there playing and having fun.”

While Harrell’s expertise will help to take some of the pressure off of the quarterbacks, his status as a Texas football legend gives an immediate advantage on the high school recruiting trail with both players and coaches across the state.

“It definitely helps just as far as getting in the door and people getting excited for you to come to their school,” Harrell said. “It just helps build a relationship with a guy if they have a base knowledge of who you are.”

Despite getting a late start in December, the Mean Green finalized the first recruiting class under the leadership of Harrell and Littrell on Feb. 3, coming out with a class of playmakers on both sides of the ball. North Texas added 19 players in the class, with nine offensive players that include local star running back Nic Smith and back-to-back Oklahoma Gatorade Player of the Year quarterback Mason Fine.

“I was really pleased with it from the offensive side,” Harrell said. “We signed a lot of really talented players and guys that we think can come in and compete right away and help us right away. And that’s the ultimate goal.”

With the signing class in place, Harrell is one step closer to getting back on the field and leading an offense. Although his playing days are over, the former quarterback still has a fierce competitive nature and will to win.

“Once we get on the field, it’s just going to be coaching and competing, which I love to do,” Harrell said. “At the end of the day, it’s just doing what you love out there, and I’m looking forward to getting back out with the guys and coaching.”

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