MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — If you can, remember back to those Christmas mornings when you were a child, when your parents — or Santa Claus, if you still are a child — were so proud of the presents they had gone out and procured for you.
There was the anticipation you had to open them but, somehow it seemed, that it wasn't long before you discovered yourself playing with the wrapping as much, or more, than the present itself.
In some ways, that's what it felt like on Thursday when West Virginia finally took the wrapping off its own gift to itself, offensive coordinator Graham Harrell, and turned him loose to the public on its own website with Dan Zangrilli, one of its voices doing the interview while leaving the public's media completely out in the cold with no access at all at the moment.
And, because of that, we got ribbons and gift wrap to deal with rather than being able to ask the "Magic 8-Ball" questions that might have penetrated into his inner workings.
Despite that slight, perceived or not, the interview did allow us all to understand that Graham Harrell is here to try and make offensive football exciting and fun again, unleashing his version of Mike Leach's Air Raid attack upon the Big 12 ... a conference in which it was perfected by Leach with Harrell as his record-shattering quarterback at Texas Tech.
To understand Harrell's approach, one must first understand how he sees himself and what he had to say of learning at Leach's knee and what his own understanding is of the Air Raid offense, for those who are practitioners of it all create their own nuances.
"I played for coach Leach, I've coached with Coach Leach, I'm still close to him. Anyone who has cme from him falls under the 'Air Raid' tree," he said. "But if you look at anyone who came from him whether it's coach (Lincoln) Riley, Dana (Holgorsen), myself, Sonny Dykes ... if you turned on the tape none of us looks the same.
"Yes, it's the 'Air Raid', but what's the 'Air Raid?' What the 'Air Raid' is is a philosophy and everyone who has success with it does not scheme the offense the same way. You can't be great at everything. That's what coach Leach has mastered and why everyone who has come from has had success.
"The philosophy is that you have to have an identity. You have to figure out who you are and get really good at being who you are, but you can't do everything."
The possibilities of what you can do are many and tempting.
"In offensive football, you see a play and think, 'Man, that's a good play,'" Harrell explained. "Well, in offensive football there's hundreds of good plays out there, but you can't get good at hundreds of plays. You can get good at a handful of them. You use what fits your personnel. That's why we look different from year to year because we use what fits our personnel."
Harrell has gone with 12 personnel this past year at USC when short on wide receivers, but the year before that he went mostly with 10 personnel because his receivers were a strength.
"We are going to figure out what we can do well, then dress it up and motion it. For that quarterback it won't be 200 plays. It will be 30 plays. I think you can get good at 30 players. Still, you can dress it up and make it look like 200 plays to the defense."
The idea is making life simple for his players, difficult for the defense.
"It gets back to the point that I don't want my guys overthinking or hesitating because I took what they are good at but made them think too much and slowed them down. That's not our job," he said. Our job is to make them be the best they can be.
Here is the good news after what West Virginia remembers most about last season, that being how difficult it was to put points on the board.
"I expect to score. There's a mentality that has to be set and we will do a lot of that this spring," Harrell went on. "We want them to think if we touch the ball, we expect to score. I don't care what the score is, whether we're up by 30 points or down by 30 points."
Now we are getting deeper into his philosophy, especially fixing one thing that was badly broken last year. That, of course, was an inability to make explosive plays.
"Explosive plays are very important," Harrell said. "Everyone talks about how the turnover battle is the No. 1 predictor of wins and losses, but if you look at explosive plays, who wins the explosive play battle is just as predictive of winning the game as is the turnover battle. If you can win the turnover battle and the explosive play battle, you are going to win. You can write that down."
So, there will be an emphasis on explosive plays, by land or by air, it matters not.
"Explosive plays are extremely important." Harrell said. "You have to take shots. But there's a lot goes into it. In the run game, you have to find ways to be explosive, so when you have the right box, you have to get into the right runs. You need big runs.
"In the passing game there are guys who make you throw out of need. Well, if you make one guy miss, you can still get an explosive play. Then, there's pushing the ball down the field. You won't make them all, but you have to be willing to push the ball down the field and take the shots when you need to."