MORGANTOWN, WV — Graham Harrell’s journey to becoming WVU’s offensive coordinator began with a few conversations with head coach Neal Brown. As for his future in the profession, it was in Harrell’s blood.
Coaching high school football in Texas is a Harrell family tradition. His grandfather, father and two brothers all have experience in this field.
Harrell played for his father at Ennis High, and together they won the Class 4A title in 2001. By the time he finished at that level, he set state records, including 12,532 yards and 167 touchdowns for his career.
Those stats took him to the next level, but it was what he learned from his dad along the way that ultimately led him to coaching.
“He was probably the biggest influence on everything and still influences me,” Harrell said in an exclusive interview for Mountaineer GameDay. “He’s the reason I got into it simply because it’s all I’ve ever known and I thought it was the greatest profession in the world.”
It’s a family business, so Harrell always thought he’d follow suit. Even though his future led him in one direction, his father’s legacy still has an impact. It’s the backbone of who Harrell is as a coach.
“What I take away the most from him is that your players need to know how much you care about them. I thought he did that at a very high level. He looked after those kids and loved those guys, and in turn, had a lot of them,” Harrell said. “If the players know you really care about them, you can train 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 how he trained his guys, not just his guys, how he trained me.
Harrell’s college career gave him another influential coach. He played for Mike Leach at Texas Tech from 2004 to 2008. Under Leach, who is known for the air raid offense, Harrell set numerous NCAA records, including 134 touchdowns (No. 1) and 15,793 yards in career (No. 2). He was also the first player to see a pair of 5,000 yard seasons.
Leach not only had an impact on who Harrell was as a player, but who he is now as a coach.
“Everybody who comes from Coach Leach has a philosophy that you can’t be good at everything, so let’s find an identity and let’s be really, really good at what we do. I think Leach does that as well as anyone I’m with. ‘ve been around,” Harrell said. “Even though they know what’s coming, they still have to try to stop it. I try to dress it up a bit more and present it differently, but I always carry that philosophy with me wherever 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 stint at Texas Tech, he made a stint in the National Football League with the Packers. In Green Bay, he had the opportunity to learn from one of the greatest players of all time. In the process, he picked up the final piece of his coaching identity.
“During my time in Green Bay, I had good coaches and players. The most important thing from there was how detailed they were. The higher you go I think the little things really matter and you saw that with Aaron (Rodgers) who I think is the most gifted quarterback to ever play. He was always 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, and the NFL taught him attention to detail. According to Harrell, these three things have shaped him the 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 to 2018, to USC, where he has served in the same role for the past three seasons.
From there, he developed his identity and became the newest member of WVU’s coaching staff.
“It all started with just a few conversations with Coach Brown. He’s a guy I didn’t know very well. I felt like I knew him well because he came to Texas Tech not long after. my departure. So a lot of people I know knew him,” Harrell said. “Our pattern was similar enough that we could speak the same language and understand what we were talking about. I felt like I knew him very well, even though I didn’t know him that well.
And there’s something that stands out about this opportunity at WVU: the people.
“I had great conversations with him and what excited me the most is that I think he has the right people here,” Harrell said. “Here in West Virginia, there are some really good people.”
Watch the full Mountaineer GameDay exclusive at the top of this page.