Mac Engel

USC’s interested in UNT’s Harrell for OC job. But there’s no guarantee he leaves Denton

Former Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell has joined the staff at North Texas as offensive coordinator.
Former Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell has joined the staff at North Texas as offensive coordinator. kbouaphanh@star-telegram.com

UPDATE: AT 11 P.M. CENTRAL TIME, NORTH TEXAS OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR GRAHAM HARRELL ACCEPTED USC’S OFFER TO BECOME ITS OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR.

USC already hired one former Texas Tech quarterback to run its offense this offseason and now it’s on the verge of offering another Red Raiders passer the same job.

Sources said that North Texas offensive coordinator Graham Harrell has returned to Denton from a round of interviews with USC coaches and staffers in Los Angeles about the same job that Kliff Kingsbury accepted, only to leave for the NFL shortly thereafter.

Sources said the position has not been offered, and Harrell is not 100 percent sure he should accept a job that, at present, is located over an unstable football fault line.

North Texas expects Harrell to be offered the position.

Sources said North Texas is prepared to offer Harrell a raise, most likely in the neighborhood of $300,000 per year. That’s a nice bump, and also not close to what USC can offer.

When USC made Kingsbury its offensive coordinator in early Dec., it was widely believed the deal was worth more than $1 million per season. Kingsbury left USC to become the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals in early January.

Like Kingsbury, Harrell is in demand because of his success in passing offenses.

Harrell has already turned down one offer, to join Mack Brown’s staff as the offensive coordinator at North Carolina. Florida State also approached Harrell about being the offensive coordinator under Willie Taggart; sensing that Taggart could be fired after only his second year in 2019, Harrell passed on talking to FSU.

If USC offers Harrell the same money it was paying Kingsbury, this is not a decision. Harrell is gone. If Harrell’s agent can land his client a multi-year deal at more than $1 million season, he is expected to go to L.A.

There is a good chance USC will low-ball Harrell, who does not have the resume that Kingsbury had after he was fired by Texas Tech.

At a minimum, Harrell should only accept this job if the contract is multi-year.

His potential new boss, USC head coach Clay Helton, is dangerously close to being fired. The Trojans finished 5-7 in ‘18, their first losing season since 2000. Helton removed offensive coordinator Tee Martin after a season where the USC offense finished ninth in the Pac 12 in points per game and 10th in total offense.

Late in the ‘18 season, USC athletic director Lynn Swann was under intense pressure to remove Helton, who was not exactly a popular choice to succeed Steve Sarkisian in 2015.

In 2016 and ‘17 combined, the Trojans went 21-6 with a win in the Rose Bowl. The Trojans have not been selected to the College Football Playoffs.

The question for Harrell is whether he feels USC is the right place to make the jump. Helton is currently under contract through 2023, but even that does not guarantee him job security at a place like USC.

Like Kingsbury, Harrell is a bit of a high school legend in Texas who thrived in the “Air Raid” offenses at Texas Tech. He played under former Red Raiders coach Mike Leach, and coached with him there at Washington State.

Harrell’s father, Sam, is a celebrated high school football coach in Texas.

Most everything Harrell has done has come in Texas. He is only 33, and another good season with head coach Seth Littrell at UNT would only further enhance a growing resume.

In the last two seasons under Littrell, UNT has finished a combined 18-9. The Eagles have played in bowls in each of the last three years under Littrell, and Harrell.

As is the case with every successful mid-major program, UNT is prepared to lose Littrell to a Power 5 job. Littrell could have gone to Kansas State to replace Bill Snyder after the ‘18 season, but he passed when he was not allowed control of who he could hire. The job was never formally offered.

For now, Graham Harrell is at North Texas, but, like with Littrell, the Mean Green are prepared to lose him at some point.

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Mac Engel is an award-winning columnist who has extensive experience covering Fort Worth-Dallas area sports for 20 years. He has covered high schools, colleges, all four major sports teams as well as Olympic games and the world of entertainment, too. He combines dry wit with first-person reporting to complement a head of hair that is almost unfair.
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