WSU finally (sort of officially) confirmed in the video above -- released today -- what was initially reported a couple of weeks ago: Former NFL and Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell is joining his previous coach Mike Leach in Pullman as a member of the Cougar staff.
Exactly what that position is, though, is still a bit ambiguous. In the video, his title is "offensive analyst." It had been reported before that he'd be holding down a "quality control"-type position, and "offensive analyst" would seem to be in line with that.
If that's indeed correct -- that he's not actually a "coach" -- here's what that means.
Cougar fans have been right to get excited about Harrell joining the staff, given his extensive knowledge of the Air Raid acquired playing under Leach for four years in Lubbock. However, while Harrell undoubtedly will provide value to the program in his current job, the assumption that he's going to be able to mentor current WSU quarterbacks such as Connor Halliday from this position is incorrect.
There can be a lot of confusion among fans as to what different members of the football staff are and are not allowed to do, so I got in touch with John Infante of the Bylaw Blog* via email to gain a little clarity on exactly what Harrell can and cannot do in his position.
*Aside: John is a former NCAA compliance officer and is tremendous. His blog is a must read and he's a must follow on Twitter if you're at all interested in thoughtful discussion about the future of college athletics.
NCAA bylaws cap the number of "countable" coaches at 13: One head coach, nine assistant coaches and three graduate assistants. You're a countable coach if you do any of the following:
(a) Provides technical or tactical instruction related to the sport to a student-athlete at any time;
(b) Makes or assists in making tactical decisions related to the sport during on-court or on-field practice or competition; or
(c) Engages in any off-campus recruiting activities.
You will note that Harrell, in his position, is not a countable coach, as WSU already has its full allotment of countable coaches. That means he can't do anything on that list. So, those of you hoping he'll be sitting down with Halliday to break down film or heading out to the field to work on his footwork or whatever else you've dreamed up ... well, that ain't happening.
So what can Harrell do? Pretty much anything not on that list. In terms of football-related activities, he can break down film for the coaching staff, he can scout opponents, he can even pass along observations from a game to coaches in real time. He can coach Halliday indirectly by talking to countable coaches about what he sees, which they can then pass along to Halliday. Harrell also can engage with recruits when they're on campus, extolling the virtues of the Air Raid. Heck, he can even talk to Halliday about life, women, classes, whatever.
But as far as anything we'd traditionally consider "coaching"? No go.
That said, it's clear from the video above that Harrell isn't taking this job because he loves sitting in a room with a TV and not talking to players, that he's actually genuinely interested in getting into actual coaching; he reportedly interviewed for a couple of high school coaching jobs in Texas before taking this position with Leach. The question, then, is when and how is that going to happen?
One possibility is that Harrell is only in this spot temporarily. While WSU already has its full allotment of graduate assistants, offensive GA Kevin Freitag is a holdover from the Paul Wulff era who is in his second season in his position. Since most graduate programs are two years or less, it's reasonable to think Freitag could be moving on at the end of this academic year, which is coming up quickly. In that case, giving Harrell this administrative job in April is just a way for Leach to get him in the fold immediately and give him a head start.
Another possibility is that Leach anticipates one of his nine assistants to move along after next season. The lack of turnover on the staff this offseason -- everyone is back -- is the exception and not the rule, and Leach could have promised Harrell a spot as soon as one opens up with the opportunity to learn the craft of coaching from a great staff for a year. And if a position doesn't open up, Harrell can move along to another school.
I know nothing at all about Freitag's situation other than what's publicly available, and even if Harrell stays in this current position, he's going to help the Cougars win ballgames. But if I was a betting man, I'd guess Harrell will be a coach sooner than later, probably before next season starts.
EDIT, 4/30: Jacob Thorpe caught up with both Leach and Harrell after practice yesterday. The relevant quotes:
"(He is) very knowledgeable, always been a student of the game. His dad is a coach so he's studied it since he was a child and then just the opportunity for people to be around him," Leach said. "And he's been to the Super Bowl and all that other stuff and has a lot of great experiences he can share."
Now Connor Halliday is Leach's senior quarterback, who Harrell refers to as the "guinea pig" because he never had a chance to grow up in the Air Raid offense and observe other, successful quarterbacks.
While Harrell can't give him technical advice he can lend an ear and guide him down a similar path to success.
"No question at times that's the most important thing I can do for him. Just someone that has been through it and coach is tough on his quarterbacks. He expects a lot out of them," Harrell said. "So at times when he is tough on you, to have someone that's been through it and kind of bounce ideas off of or say, ‘how did you handle it?' at times I think that is my role."