Sixth. Eleventh. Seventeenth. Those are the rankings of Graham Harrell’s passing offense at USC the past three season in which he has been the offensive coordinator. Fifty-five. Twenty-eight. Fifty-four. Those are the rankings of Neal Brown’s passing offense in his three years as head coach at West Virginia.
You have a right to be excited. You should be excited. You were frustrated by the offense that was on the field for the past three years and if you were like me, you were begging Neal Brown to just Make West Virginia Fun Again (MWVFA). The offense was stagnant, the passing was non-existent and you were being asked to Trust the Climb and donate to the program in the form of season tickets with a home slate that included neither of the rivalry games but such winners as Kansas, Kansas State and Towson. To be fair, Oklahoma is included but that can’t be the only selling point for 2022.
Now you can be excited and even more so, you can Trust the Climb. Brown’s statement in the press release gives the indication that Brown was self-aware or maybe, made-aware of the failings of his tenure thus far and his need to do something drastic.
“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 No. 2 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.”
It is often a failure that young playcallers turned head coaches must endure but at this level, being both the chief man in charge of the offense as well as the person in charge of everything else can just be too tall of a task. There are exceptions, of course, but that is what they are - exceptions - not the rule. Brown admitting that he could no longer do both and going outside his comfort zone and hiring a big name like Harrell shows growth. It shows leadership.
It would have been easy for Brown to just have promoted Parker to offensive coordinator, promoted a graduate assistant to tight ends coach and called it a day. That was the type of persona most have gotten out of Brown thus far. This hiring of Harrell changes that and indicates that either Brown, Lyons, Gee, donors or all of the above made it quite clear that 2022 could not be like 2019-2021.
As for Harrell, he brings instant pedigree. If you think that the passing offense won’t be top 25, I’ve got Ocean Front Property in Arizona I’d like to sell you. When Harrell arrived at North Texas in 2016, the passing offense was 115th in the nation the year before. 2016 he raised the offense to 91st. Since then, 2017 until this year, he has guided a top-21 passing offense 115th to 91st to 21st. USC in 2018 was 48th. Harrell arrived and they pole-vaulted to 6th.
It isn’t just a passing concept that Harrell will be bringing with him to Morgantown. Just as soon as Harrell’s announcement was made, freshman quarterback Jaxson Dart entered the NCAA Transfer Portal. Dart, the 69th best prospect in the entire nation in the class of 2021 was ranked the 10th best QB in the entire nation as well. Standing 6’-3, he has nearly prototypical size and arm strength. It wouldn’t be unheard of for a player to follow the coach who recruited him to his new school. It would give Dart a leg up as he would already know the offensive scheme and Dart instantly brings the most game knowledge to the QB Room.
If you are wondering about the latest quarterback just signed in their recruiting class, Nicco Marchiol, you should never turn away talent. Dart was a true freshman this year and if he is as good as many think he is, he may only play two more seasons before he takes his talents to the NFL. That would still leave Marchiol three seasons in Morgantown. The Mountaineers are going to look for a quarterback in the transfer portal and if Dart is the one that is chosen, you should never turn away talent.
I’ll leave you with this tidbit. According to Chris Anderson, fans weren’t the only ones starting to turn away. As he mentioned on his podcast, other players were ready to walk away and have ended up staying because of this hire. You should be excited by this hire because West Virginia finally has an identity on offense and West Virginia may just be fun again.