Clay Helton made a masterstroke hire the first time around in securing Kliff Kingsbury‘s services to be the next USC offensive coordinator. He got the top name on the market, one that would import a new offense to the Pac-12 South that also happens to mesh perfectly with the existing talent both inside Heritage Hall and in Southern California high schools.
Turns out, the hire was a little too good, because Kingsbury left six weeks later to become the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals.
So Helton went out and got, in football parlance, Kingsbury’s younger brother.
North Texas offensive coordinator Graham Harrell is set to become USC’s new offensive coordinator, according to Adam Maya of Trojan Sports.
The Los Angeles Times on Sunday night confirmed through Harrell’s father that the two sides were in negotiations and working toward a deal.
Harrell played quarterback at Texas Tech under current Pac-12 rival Mike Leach. He also forged a brief NFL career — Harrell backed up Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, while Kingsbury briefly did the same for Tom Brady in New England — before jumping into coaching. He spent two seasons as Leach’s outside receivers coach at Washington State before returning to his native Texas as UNT’s offensive coordinator ahead of the 2016 season.
While working alongside Seth Littrell, Harrell has transformed the Mean Green offense in his three seasons in Denton. UNT leaped from 118th nationally in total offense in 2015 — the year prior to Harrell’s arrival — to 20th in 2018. North Texas also went from 124th to 26th in scoring, 119th to 30th in yards per play and 115th to 12th in passing offense.
Mean Green quarterback Mason Fine is on pace to shatter every North Texas passing and total offense record in the book. He’ll have to work similar magic with JT Daniels for Helton and company to stick around in 2020 and beyond. In starting 11 games as a true freshman, Daniels completed 59.5 percent of his 363 passes for 2,672 yards with 14 touchdowns against 10 interceptions. As a point of comparison, Fine connected on 64.6 percent of his 469 throws for 3,793 yards with 27 touchdowns versus five picks. His 291.8 yards per game were ninth nationally, while two Mean Green receivers (Rico Bussey, Jr. and Jalen Guyton) topped the 800-yard mark, something no USC receiver did in 2018.
While no deal is complete as of this writing, it certainly appears headed that way.