Back by overwhelming demand, FootballScoop will once again examine the assistant coaching hires that will have the biggest impact on the college football season and the coaching job market in the 2019 season and beyond.
No. 19: Bryan Brown, Louisville
No. 18: Phil Longo, North Carolina
No. 17: Les Koenning, Kansas
No. 16: Andy Avalos, Oregon
No. 15: Joe Cauthen, Houston
No. 14: Bodie Reeder, North Texas
No. 13: Mike MacIntyre, Ole Miss
No. 12: Andy Ludwig, Utah
No. 11: Kenny Dillingham, Auburn
No. 10: Jim Chaney, Tennessee
No. 9: Sean Gleeson, Oklahoma State
No. 8: Dan Enos, Miami
No. 7: Kendal Briles, Florida State
No. 6: Jeff Hafley and Greg Mattison, Ohio State
No. 5: Steve Sarkisian, Alabama
No. 4: Joe Brady, LSU
Who: Graham Harrell, USC
Title: Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach
Previous stop: North Texas offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach (2016-18)
Why he’s important: It’s not exactly fair to put the weight of a blue-blood program on the shoulders of a first-year offensive coordinator but, well, here we are.
After a 2018 season in which USC began the year No. 15 in both polls and ended under .500 for the first time since 2000 (that’s pre-Pete Carroll, for those of you scoring at home), head coach Clay Helton’s job security was so non-existent that the school had to announce he will return for a fourth season in 2019. Helton needed to fix the offense to keep his job, so he hired the best and brightest name on the market.
Unfortunately for him, the Arizona Cardinals were equally smitten with Kliff Kingsbury, so Helton went out and hired a different Texas Tech quarterback-turned-Air Raid disciple.
So this is how, on Jan. 30, Graham Harrell found himself jumping from Conference USA to college football’s flagship program on the West Coast, with the simple task of quelling a mob as restless as it’s been since the turn of the century.
Of course, Harrell can’t think about that every time he calls a play. He’s installing a grip-it-and-rip-it offense, and he’ll have to use the same approach calling plays.
“The Air Raid offense is more of a philosophy than actual Xs and Os,” Harrell told the Los Angeles Times in February. “The philosophy is keep it easy and let the guys go play. It’s an execution-based offense. You’re not going to go in there and try to out-scheme people. It’s an identity. It gives you an identity. This is who we are, and we’re going to be good at what we do.”
Here’s this passage from Sports Illustrated saying the thing Harrell says above:
Why the Air Raid? For its simplicity more than anything else, Helton says. The root of the Trojans’ woes last year, particularly a season-ending three-game losing streak, was discipline and focus—turnovers, penalties, etc., Helton contends. “We had got so scheme oriented that we weren’t as good fundamentally.” Harrell’s offense contains a total of 12 pass concepts, and his playcalls are sometimes a single word in length. The thick pro-style playbook USC operated under last season—quarterback JT Daniels calls it an “encyclopedia”—included playcalls like “I-right G-short A-42-Tom Y-Shallow-X-in,” Helton says. And now? “We’ve gone from that to ‘Cross.’” It took Harrell just three days to install his offense this past spring. Now, the focus is perfecting it with repetition.
The good news? If you need to install a jumpstart-the-offense-to-save-all-our-jobs scheme over the course of one offseason, the Air Raid would be the one to pick. It’s not perfect, but it’s hard to run it with any level of competency and not score points.
Furthermore, this will easily be the most talented offense Harrell has ever coached. Actually, scratch that. This might be the most talented group to ever run the Air Raid — at least the fully distilled, Mike Leach-original version and count Lincoln Riley as his own branch.
JT Daniels was the No. 2 rated pro-style quarterback in the Class of 2018 and threw for 2,672 yards and 14 touchdowns as a true freshman. His 2018 season finale stands as the most relevant performance moving forward, when he hit 37-of-51 passes for 349 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions in a 24-17 loss to Notre Dame. Sounds like a Texas Tech stat line, doesn’t it?
Out wide, USC returns all six players who caught at least 10 passes last season and adds blue-chip receivers Bru McCoy (assuming he’s eligible) and Kyle Ford.
The schedule is customarily difficult. The Trojans visit Notre Dame and BYU in non-conference while hosting Mountain West champion Fresno State. They draw Oregon and Washington from the North Division, and host Pac-12 favorite Utah six days after returning home from their Provo trip. Their first six games include four preseason Top 25 opponents, and the other two are Fresno and BYU.
The new offense needs to hit and hit immediately — or else.
Every hot seat rankings you’ll find includes Helton at or near the top. Many people consider the USC job as good as open — including, apparently, a former USC Heisman winner. That’s just the reality Harrell steps into.
No one’s going to come out and say it, but Harrell wasn’t hired simply to improve an offense that finished 63rd in yards per play and 91st in scoring a year ago. He was hired to save the entire coaching staff.