USC's new offensive coordinator Graham Harrell has had a month to develop the Trojans new air-raid offense. In an exclusive interview with Annenberg Media Sports, Harrell discussed his first takes on USC's recruits and current quarterback competition.
ANN: How have the first few weeks been for you at USC?
Harrell: "It's been a whole lot of fun. We got a great group of young men. They've bought in. I think they are believing in what we're doing. They play extremely hard. To be around these type of players, not only the talent level, but the kind of guys they are. It makes it fun and it makes my job easy. They're talented guys. They work as hard as anyone I've been around. It makes coaching not only fun but easier."
ANN: How did you end up as the offensive coordinator at USC?
Harrell: "I had nothing to do with [the program] until three days before I got hired. I had a great job in North Texas. It's home for me; me and my wife were very comfortable there. We had a great team coming back; it's not like I was out looking for jobs or anything like that. I had passed on a couple [of] other opportunities because of how happy we were at home. When USC calls, it's a different deal. This is an elite program, a program that is a top five or 10 of all time. When you get a call like that, those opportunities don't come around very often, so that one kind of excited me. I talked to coach Helton on the telephone a couple [of] times. I flew out here, saw the place, and from the time I talked to him to the first time to the time I took the job, it was probably about three days."
ANN: What's the whole situation been like working with USC's quarterbacks?
Harrell: "I came here with high expectations, and the four guys here have done a heck of a job this spring. The great thing about it is, competition makes everyone better. It makes everyone play at a higher level. No one gets comfortable. Walking in as a new guy entering into a new system, you're really able to open it up and let all four guys compete. It's been fun to watch them; they continue to improve. They all do different things well. They all have their own strengths and weaknesses. The key is to improve every day. In this offense, the most important thing is to be consistent. Be the same person every single day. Do your job over and over. Whoever can do that will be the best guy and put us in the position to win the most games."
ANN: What is the ideology of the air-raid offense and what does it try to accomplish?
Harrell: "I tell everyone that there's only one person that really runs the air-raid, and that's Mike Leach. Obviously, playing for him, and then my first coaching job being under him, his fingerprints will be all over it. Anyone that comes from his tree gets tagged as an air-raid guy. I've told a lot of people that I think the air-raid is much more of a philosophy than true Xs and Os. It gives you an identity. It's basically, limit what you do, get really good at what you do and execute at a high level. Just say, we're not going to try to do everything because we can't be good at everything. We're going to do a limited number of things and get really really good at them. I think it's a philosophy of doing what you do and doing it at a high level, and that's what we're trying to do here."
ANN: What has it been like to work with USC's talent?
Harrell: "It's been awesome. I think at times we could use a little more depth. The skill levels are extremely high. They're not only talented players, but they're also great people. Coming to a place like USC, a place where you're dealing with extremely highly recruited kids, probably 5-star kids, I walked in expecting to deal with a whole bunch of egos and problems like that, and I walked into a place where the skill guys were just as selfless as I have ever seen. When they don't have the ball, they play as hard as anyone I'd ever seen. They chase the ball. Part of it is that they're extremely competitive. They're not only just extremely talented guys, but they are team guys. They play hard, and because of that they give you a chance to be really successful."
ANN: How has your experience as a quarterback helped your coaching career?
Harrell: "I think it helps a lot. If I'm telling them they can make that throw; it's because I've seen it done personally, not because it's a theory. Or if I say that was a stupid decision, it's not because I'm thinking that it's a theory. I've stood right in that spot. I know what they're seeing; I know what they are feeling. It gives you credibility with those guys, and I can really help them from their standpoint. I know what the pressure feels like. I've stood in their shoes, because of that it gives you credibility and allows you to help them at a different level. Everyone's different. Nobody plays this position exactly the same. I'm not going to ask you to be me. I'm not going to ask one of y'all to be just like the other one. You got to be yourself. When you're yourself, that's when you play at your best level. So go be yourself, put your own fingerprint on it, and go execute at a high level, and if you do, you'll give us a chance."
USC fans will get a chance to see the Trojans new offense on Saturday, April 6 during the Spring Football Showcase. The event will be broadcasted live on the Pac-12 Network starting at 11 a.m.