MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Graham Harrell’s journey to becoming WVU’s offensive coordinator began with just a few conversations with head coach Neal Brown. As for his future in the profession, that was in Harrell’s blood.
Coaching high school football in Texas is the Harrell family tradition. His grandfather, father and two brothers all have experience in that area.
Harrell played for his father at Ennis High, and together, they earned the Class 4A title in 2001. By the time he was finished at that level, he set state records, including 12,532 yards and 167 touchdowns for his career.
Those stats got him to the next level, but it’s what he learned from his dad along the way that ultimately got him into coaching.
“He’s probably been the largest influence on everything and still influences me,” Harrell said in an exclusive interview for Mountaineer GameDay. “He’s the reason I got into it just because that’s all I ever knew and I thought it was the greatest profession in the world.”
It is the family business, so Harrell always thought he would follow suit. Even though his future took him in one direction, his father’s legacy still has an impact. It’s the backbone of who Harrell is as a coach.
“The thing I take from him the most is your players have to know how much you care about them. I thought he did that at a very high level. He cared for those kids and loved those guys, and in turn, got a lot of them,” Harrell said. “If the players know you really care about them, you can coach them a lot harder and they accept it a lot better because they know it’s not personal, they know you just want the best for them because that’s how much you care about them. A lot of that comes from my dad and the way he coached his guys, and not only his guys, how he coached me.”
Harrell’s collegiate career delivered him another influential coach. He played for Mike Leach at Texas Tech from 2004-08. Under Leach, who is known for the air raid offense, Harrell set numerous NCAA records, including 134 touchdowns (No. 1) and 15,793 career yards (No. 2). He was also the first player to see a pair of 5,000-yard passing seasons.
Leach not only had an impact on who Harrell was as a player, but who he now is as a coach.
“Everyone who comes from Coach Leach takes the philosophy of you can’t be great at everything, so let’s find an identity and be really, really good at what we do. I think Leach does that as well as anyone that I’ve ever been around,” Harrell said. “Even if they know what is coming, they still have to try to stop it. I try to dress it up a little more and present it differently, but that philosophy, I still carry it with me everywhere I go. We have to be great at what we do and we don’t have time to be great at everything.”
A few years after his time at Texas Tech, he had a stint in the National Football League with the Packers. In Green Bay, he had the opportunity to learn from one of the best to ever play the game. In the process, he picked up the final piece of his coaching identity.
“During my time in Green Bay, I had some good coaches and players. The biggest thing from there was just how detailed they were. The higher up you go, I think the small things really matter and you saw that with Aaron (Rodgers) who, in my opinion, is the most gifted quarterback to ever play. He was still extremely detailed in what he did and the coaching staff was extremely detailed.”
His father influenced the way he treated people, Leach’s philosophies guided his own and the NFL taught him attention to detail. Those three things are what Harrell said have shaped him most as a coach.
He picked up a few other aspects from other coaches here and there. He climbed the latter from North Texas, where he served as offensive coordinator from 2016-18, to USC, where he acted in the same role for the past three seasons.
From there, he developed his identity and evolved into the newest member of the WVU coaching staff.
“It all started with just a couple of conversations with Coach Brown. He’s a guy I didn’t know extremely well. I felt like I knew him well because he had come to Texas Tech not long after I left. So a lot of people I know knew him,” Harrell said. “Our scheme was similar enough that we could speak the same language and understand what we were talking about. I felt like I knew him really well even though I didn’t know him that much.”
And there’s something that stands out about this opportunity at WVU: the people.
“I had some great conversations with him and the thing that excited me the most is I think he has the right people here,” Harrell said. “Here at West Virginia, there are some really good people.”
Watch the full Mountaineer GameDay exclusive at the top of this page.