Graham Harrell's Future: Why Texas Tech and Mike Leach Are To Blame

Bleacher ReportCorrespondent IJuly 20, 2009

LUBBOCK, TEXAS - NOVEMBER 1:  Quarterback Graham Harrell #6 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders looks to pass the ball down the field during the game against the Texas Longhorns on November 1, 2008 at Jones Stadium in Lubbock, Texas. (Photo by: Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

What will a career filled with 15,793 passing yards, 134 passing touchdowns, and a career 69.8 completion percentage buy you in the NFL?

But wait.

Those numbers come from a spread offense. 

So the exchange rate is worse than the Zimbabwean dollar. Fifty billion Zimbabwean dollars for 70 American cents is the opportunity of a lifetime.  The Bill Gates of Zimbabwe currently manages a lunch meat heavy portfolio. 

For all those numbers, for all his accolades, all they bought Graham Harrell was a scant whiff at the NFL and a ticket to Saskatchewan and the Canadian Football League.

One of the greatest statistical passers in NCAA history, a Sammy Baugh Trophy winner in 2007, and the 2008 AT&T/ESPN All-American Player of the Year was told ‘no thanks’ by the NFL. Strange.

The Reason

Since Mike Leach arrived to coach Texas Tech in 2000, his teams have put up gaudy offensive numbers that will shine like gilded monuments in the pages of history.  Leach brought his own extreme brand of the pass-first spread offense.  His version is dubbed the Air Raid offense, so it means pass-first AND pass-second.  

Harrell averaged over 54 throws a game in 2007.

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Harrell averaged over 48 throws a game in 2008.

So the kid certainly has a lot of experience throwing the football: just not the right kind of experience. 

It’s like spending 30 years in the meatpacking industry doesn’t mean you’ll be great at cooking up a couple of steaks.

Harrell, in the spread offense under Leach, mainly took three-step drops and had one read to find the open man.  It was all quick reads and quick throws.  Get in and get out. 

The NFL is different.

If the spread offense is like McDonald's, then the NFL is like a lovely evening at Applebee’s.

The NFL quarterback is required to stay awhile, take a seat under center and evaluate multiple targets while dropping back.  It’s more five- and seven-step drops and less dine-and-dash.

The Problem

Mike Leach loves his program at Texas Tech and wouldn’t change it for the world.  He defends it like he’s talking about a house that he built with his bare hands.

But what Leach doesn’t see are the cracks in the foundation, the holes in his master plan.

If the goal is ultimately to compete with Texas and Texas A&M on a yearly basis, both on the field and in recruiting, there are some truths Leach must face about his beloved Air Raid attack.

Leach must forfeit the elite quarterback recruits to other schools, schools that play a pro-style offense. 

The Camp

From Monday to Wednesday, the Elite 11 Quarterback Camp is being held in Aliso Viejo, CA.  This year, the 12 best senior high school quarterbacks from around the country will come together and compete. 

None have committed to Texas Tech.

An elite high school quarterback wants to travel down a road that leads to the NFL, not Saskatchewan.  That’s why USC has been so successful.  Pete Carroll has a track record, Mike Leach does not.  

An elite quarterback is far better off going to USC and being a backup than zipping it around Lubbock.  For example, John David Booty is probably the best quarterback on the Vikings and Matt Cassel is now a star in Kansas City.

The Good News

Mike Leach can produce wide receivers: Everyone knows about Michael Crabtree. 

But in 2003, Wes Welker graduated from Texas Tech with a unique skill set that could have only been honed by the spread offense. 

Welker was an inside receiver, not a wide receiver, playing in the slot for four years. 

The Patriots have discovered the value in that experience.

Welker has 223 catches, 2340 yards and 11 touchdowns in the last two years alone.

The Rub

Graham Harrell isn’t the first Texas Tech quarterback to put up numbers and not get a call from the NFL, but that doesn’t make it any easier. 

Even though his dazzling numbers couldn’t get him into the NFL, hopefully, they can buy him a nice, warm jacket.

Because in Saskatchewan, it gets pretty cold.


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