More football, I guess
by Jim Buzzerd
In the last several publications of this paper I have written little to nothing on the West Virginia University men’s basketball team, choosing to focus on the WVU football program. That was to change today as the plan was to offer up a column solely on the basketball team and its current season. That plan was altered early Monday afternoon when West Virginia head football coach Neal Brown announced the hiring of Graham Harrell as the Mountaineers’ new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
This is a pretty big deal Mountaineer fans. Harrell’s resume is impressive, but without going into it in depth, a keynote is in his last five seasons, his offenses have been in the Top 25 nationally. That is the last three seasons at USC and at North Texas for the two seasons prior to that. Harrell was rumored to be a candidate for the vacant USC head coaching job last fall. It’s unclear if he was given serious consideration for that position, but we know now that USC backed up the Brinks truck to lure Lincoln Riley from Oklahoma.
As a head coach Riley likes to serve as his own offensive coordinator which likely made Harrell expendable and not needed on Riley’s staff in Los Angeles. Conversely, in Brown’s first three seasons at West Virginia he attempted to work in much the same way Riley does. Gerad Parker held the title of offensive coordinator, but in addition of his head coaching duties, Brown assumed most of the offensive play calling as well. Many fans have been critical of Brown for taking that approach, especially when the offense has struggled in Brown’s tenure.
If you exclude the 66 points scored against Long Island last season, WVU averaged fewer than 22 points and was held to 20 or less in six of 13 games.
“Since the end of the season, I have spent time reflecting on the program, and take responsibility, knowing we have to be better offensively,” Brown said. “I’ve been serving in a dual role as the offensive coordinator and head coach, and we need to bring in another voice for the offense. Having Graham as the offensive coordinator and working with Gerad as the number two lead in the offensive room, as he has done, will make us a better, more-efficient offense and move us in the direction we need to head. In turn, that will allow me to be a more effective CEO of the Mountaineer football program.”
That last sentence makes me want to speculate on if Brown may have been encouraged to become a more effective CEO. Regardless of how the decision was made, Harrell would seem to be a Graham Slam (couldn’t resist) hire. In addition to his rise in the coaching ranks, Harrell was quite a player at Texas Tech and was with the Green Bay Packers for three seasons.
In college Harrell had two 5000 yard passing seasons, 134 touchdown passes and 15,793 career yards. He was a first team All American and finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting in 2008. I’ve seen a figure saying Harrell’s contract is for three years and worth $2.25 million.
On the basketball side of things, the Mountaineers are 12-2 overall and 1-1 in the Big 12. On Saturday in Morgantown West Virginia fell behind by 17 points in the first half to Kansas State and rallied in the second half to escape with a 71-68 win. It’s always good to get a win, but KSU was playing with just seven scholarship players and no head coach due to COVID protocols.
Rapid improvement will be required in the next three games against Oklahoma State, Kansas, and top ranked Baylor for the Mountaineers to even compete, let alone have a chance to win those games. I’m not bullish on WVU at this point. If I was told they would win six more conference games this season, I would take it.