Brandon Harris believes he would have been, and he still will be, a “force to be reckoned with” in a spread offense.
LSU’s run-heavy, pro-style system is a big reason, he said, why his three years at LSU ended like it did — with him announcing earlier this month that he’s transferring to North Carolina. Even former LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, after his firing, told Harris that he is “made for a spread system.”
The highly touted Bossier City native points to former coach Les Miles’ resistance to change as a major factor in a rollercoaster of a career in Baton Rouge that’s ending out of his home state.
“I think time will tell why it didn’t work out here,” Harris said. “I think a lot of it has to do with what type of quarterback I am. I think I’m made for a wide open system.”
Like so many fans and administrators last offseason, Harris hoped Miles would change the offense, and he saw signs of it. The Tigers added several spread concepts, for instance. Harris and several receivers lobbied Miles to change, the quarterback said.
“I feel like we thought we were going to change the offense,” he said. “Obviously, I heard that every single year since I’ve been here, a promise that we were going to change and we were going to throw it more. Of course, ultimately, we didn’t do that.”
In a wide-ranging interview with The Advocate on Wednesday, LSU’s former starting quarterback opened up on his time in Baton Rouge.
He talked about the good: the near comeback he led against Mississippi State in 2014, his showing against Florida in 2015 and his passion for LSU. He touched on the bad, too: the choice he made three years ago to sign with a program that employed a pro-style offense, his interception in 2015 at Alabama and his missed chance to redshirt as a freshman.
Harris is a heavy favorite to win the staring job at North Carolina and lead coach Larry Fedora’s pass-happy spread system. Fedora’s even promised Harris that he’d throw it “more than 16 times a game.” Harris says he’ll arrive in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in July after completing classes at LSU in late June, becoming immediately eligible as a graduate transfer. He will officially graduate from LSU in August, he said.
He chose the Tarheels over a host of schools that were interested. He said they included Texas, Baylor, Temple, Oregon and a few Southeastern Conference schools that he declined to name.
Harris wanted to play out his final season at LSU, he said, and he believes coach Ed Orgeron will lead the Tigers back to "dominance."
That said, he decided to transfer after not receiving any playing time in the latter part of last season under Orgeron and his shuffled staff.
“The writing’s on the wall,” Harris said. “There’s no need to explain anything to me.”
Why did you choose North Carolina?
I knew it was going to be an opportunity, especially what I went through last season, from afar, you go to saying, ‘It’s because you’re scared of competition we have here at LSU.’ You’ve got to realize these are the same guys I competed with since I’ve been here, and I’ve always won the battle and been the starter.
When you’ve dealt with so much over a course of your career here, there’s always time for a fresh start. Carolina was a team I noticed … I knew towards the end of the season, they had a quarterback with the opportunity to go first round. When the opportunity presented itself, where I had the opportunity to go there, I couldn’t pass it up.
Tell me about Larry Fedora’s system.
It’s what I ran in high school. He’s got a number of quarterbacks who have been successful over a career. He made me feel wanted. I couldn’t pass it up. His way to adapt a quarterback … he runs the offense. He assured me I was going to throw it more than 16 times a game and maybe even during the first quarter.
How big of a deal is that to you — throwing the ball more?
That’s huge. I ran the spread system in high school, where we threw it every down. Got to college where we had a former coach who had a lot of success running the ball. The biggest selling point to me was his track record with quarterbacks.
He can finally develop me into what I want to be, allow me to showcase my skill set on a national stage, where I get the opportunity to play in some big games and hopefully get the opportunity to make this a career one day.
Teammates developed a nickname for LSU running back Darrel Williams.
You knew coming here that you were coming to play for a man who likes to run the ball, right?
I knew that, but at the same time, you’re making that decision at 17 or 18 (years old) and the quarterback that was here before you (Zach Mettenberger) threw for 4,000 yards that year. You think the trend is changing. Of course, it just didn’t change. Ultimately, both parties decided to move on. I’ve decided to move on to North Carolina.
Did you feel like you were promised things by the last staff regarding the offense and promises were broken?
I feel like we thought we were going to change the offense. Obviously, I heard that every single year since I’ve been here. A promise that we were going to change and we were going to throw it more. Of course, ultimately, we didn’t do that.
How frustrating was that for you?
The most frustrating part was the opportunity we had and the talent we had, not being able to win and win an SEC championship, ultimately get into the playoffs and win a national championship … we work hard. Coach (Tommy) Moffitt trains us hard throughout the offseason. I feel like every single year … I don’t think anything physical has every been questioned.
What hurts the most is not having the opportunity to bring back a championship to here in Louisiana. Obviously, it means a lot to me being a Louisiana kid, knowing what LSU means to this state.
Les Miles made promises to a lot of people last year during the offseason that LSU’s offense would change. Was there a certain time last offseason where you noticed that things were changing or did it never happen?
Yeah, I felt like we were changing. We were implementing some spread stuff. I thought we were going to be a little bit more balanced (last) season. When Steve (Ensminger) took over, we were a lot more balanced. Steve took over whenever we were kind of out of it.
I thought we had an opportunity to change. Obviously, that was one of the biggest things. I felt like the offense we were running was good. Just feel like we needed to be more balanced. I don’t know what the ratio was. I’m sure it was 80 (rush), 20 (pass) or 70-30.
You’ve got to realize when that has won so much the previous years … Now, college football is a trend. Everything is changing. More teams like Baylor, North Carolina, Clemson … Deshaun Watson, think he threw it 58 times (in the national title game).
How difficult was last season for you with the benching and midseason firings?
It’s hard, man, when you give so much heart to a school. I’ve given everything I have to this school. Obviously you have to make sacrifices whenever you come to a place like this. When you want to win and when you have a common goal, you have to make sacrifices. Obviously, I made sacrifices.
But the hardest thing for me last season was dealing with practicing hard and not getting the opportunity to play, especially when you feel like … you go through a coaching change and ultimately you never touch the field again. That was one of the biggest telling points for me. I wanted to get back here, wanted to come back here for another season, but the biggest thing for me was, you say it’s open competition going into spring, right? But you never gave me an opportunity to get back on the field.
That’s not disrespect for (Ed Orgeron), but how do you expect me to believe that it’s going to be an open quarterback competition? Which I had no problem with. I think I would have done damn well in an open quarterback battle, but you don’t give me an opportunity to get back on the field.
I was your starting quarterback going into this season. All of the sudden, I’m not good enough to get back on the field. What have I done? Did I do anything personally to affect that status? I don’t know.
For all intents and purposes, K.J. Malone will be LSU’s starting left tackle come the season…
Did you think you’d potentially get in during blowouts at Texas A&M and against Louisville in the bowl game?
I thought … I never went to him. I’m not that type of person. My dad reached out (before the bowl game) and kind of wanted to know the status of what was going on. You’ve got a new coordinator coming in, you want to get a tryout before the new coordinator comes in just so he can see what he’s dealing with.
But, two, I thought (against) Alabama I was going to get an opportunity to play, especially because we couldn’t really move the ball. That opportunity never came. After a certain amount of time, where I didn’t get to play against Alabama — a team I played against last year and team I played against as a true freshman — when you don’t get that opportunity, that time, the writing’s on the wall. There’s no need to explain anything to me. You kind of are making a business decision. At the end of the season … I’m not going to be a distraction to the team during the season, but my dad and I will address it at the end of the season and we did.
What’s the best moment of your LSU career and the one you’ll take with you?
Best moment would have to be probably when we lost to Mississippi State. We had an opportunity to come back and win that game. That’s the biggest highlight moment. I was super excited for that game.
Biggest take away, college football is a business. I think everything in business and football and anything, it’s ‘What have you done for me lately?’ That’s the thing I’ll take. In real life, that’s going to be your job. If you’re a salesman and you aren’t selling cars lately, they’re going to move on to the next thing. Regardless of the situation, you’ve got to make the most of it and realize it’s real life and, in life, you’re going to have some challenges to fight through.
The best moment you picked is interesting. Y’all were behind by so much in that Mississippi State game that you had not choice but to spread it out and throw it. You excelled. Is that an example of what you can do in a full-out, pass-heavy spread system?
Right. I think so. Even if you look at our Florida game (in 2015). I said those comments after that game that were detrimental to me, but if you look at that game, we spread it out. We threw it. We came out throwing the ball. Florida was ranked like a top 5 defense at that time. We had great balance and was able to do that.
Then if you look at, we go into the Alabama game and I think we would have had the same kind of scheme, what we would try to do, and we ran it and it wasn’t effective.
After the Florida game, what did you say?
My whole career, people kept saying, ‘Do you feel like you’re a liability?’ I’m confident in my ability. I’m confident in what I can do, how I can play. The biggest thing, I got tired of hearing it. It’s shots at you. It’s like, ‘I can play.’
I was just being asked to run the scheme that we were being asked to do.
In the short term, Brandon Harris’ decision Monday to transfer away from LSU after he gradua…
What would be a good season for you this year at North Carolina?
I set high standards for myself: 3,500-plus yards, maybe 4,000. Very easily done in Larry Fedora’s offense because I know it’s an offense where I’m going to get to throw it a lot. Thirty-plus touchdowns and eight rushing, possibly. It’s a wide open spread where they run the quarterback. I want to say Mitch (Trubiski) ran the ball 100 times last year. Or 80-90 times last year.
Do you have a relationship with Les Miles’ son, Manny, who’s a walk-on quarterback at North Carolina?
We have a great relationship. I love the Miles family, his wife Mrs. Kathy, obviously Ben going to Nebraska. I know his older daughter through passing.
We talked. I remember when Manny decided to walk on at North Carolina. I followed him through high school because he’s a good kid.
Overall, why do you think that it didn’t work here at LSU and do you ask yourself that?
Definitely. I’ve learned everything happens for a reason. That’s a great question — why didn’t it work here? I have no idea. You can ask yourself that about 13 other quarterbacks who transferred away from here in 10 years.
I think the thing is, the difference in the approach here. I think it will change now. They’ve got another good offensive coordinator. I think Coach Canada will change the trend. From dealing with him for a month, he’s getting the most out of guys.
I think time will tell why it didn’t work out here. I think a lot of it has to do with what type of quarterback I am. I think I’m made for a wide open system.
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That being said, during your recruiting process your finalists, with LSU, were Auburn, Ohio State and Texas A&M – the latter three run spread systems. Are there regrets?
Obviously, you look back and you, ‘There’s some regret,’ because I think I would have been more successful. I believe, in my heart, I would have been a force to be reckoned with in those systems, just because of the familiarity to what I ran in high school.
Yeah, there’s some regret, but I would take this because it’s a life lesson and something I learned from.
Do you still keep in touch with Cam Cameron?
I don’t. Last time I communicated with him is when I opened the process back up, looking to transfer. He contacted me and said, ‘Hey I saw.’ Gave me some suggestions. We met before he packed up his stuff and left. He’s busy right now. There’s an open line of communication if he needs to reach me. But currently we don’t speak on a day to day basis or a weekly basis.
What kind of advice did he give you?
He kind of told me that he thinks I’m made for a spread system, that he could see me at a Texas Tech or Ohio State-type offense.
Did you and Cam have those discussions last offseason?
Yeah. It was more about being consistent. That way he could show that we could move on to this offense, just being consistent on early downs the way he could try to implement this offense. Again, it just didn’t work. It just didn’t work.
What were your emotions like the day he and Les were fired?
Coach Miles I love to death. Coach Miles is an incredible coach, true definition of a player’s coach. A guy that’s been a figure to Louisiana for a long time. It was a sad day to see Coach Miles go and Coach Cam as well. Coach Miles, I idolized him and truly cared for Coach Miles and the way he carried himself, as well as the way he interacted with us on a day to day basis.
Was there ever a time where you went into Coach Miles’ office, maybe with Cam, and said, ‘I’m a spread guy. Let's change’?
Yeah. I had tried to suggest opportunities to run (a spread) and open it up a little bit. Not only did I but some of our receivers wanted to throw it a little bit more. But at the end of the day, Coach Miles won a lot of games doing that offense. Can’t do anything but respect it. We had a great, great defense and a great offensive line. That’s kind of what we did.
I asked about your best moment already. What about your worst moment here?
A moment or pass that you want back still to this day?
Second half Alabama game. I was rolling out (and threw an interception).
Who was that meant for?
I was throwing it to (tight end) Foster (Moreau). Again, he was a freshman. I made freshman mistakes, too. He kind of turned up. I guess he thought I was going to run it. Next thing you know, his guy fell off and picked it, but it’s not that big of a deal.
Have the media and fans been too critical of you during your career?
Fans are going to be fans. Criticism comes with anything, especially playing at a school like this. Expectations are high every single year. We put that burden on ourselves because, ya know, we’re pretty damn good around here. You can’t argue what LSU has done in the past, with the coaching staff and players we’ve accumulated over the course of time.
More so with fans it’s been the frustration over the years because every year you expect to win. I think LSU wants the same dominance that Alabama has. Personally, I think they should want that. That’s the expectation that we should have for ourselves. I think that’s the expectation we do have for ourselves.
Why do we keep falling short? I don’t know, but I think now they’ll get over that hump. I don’t know if it will happen this year. I don’t know if it will happen next year, but I think the level of dominance will begin, probably, again.
Where are you at academically and when will you arrive at North Carolina?
I’ll be done with school here at LSU in the end of June. I graduate in August, but I can move on, because I’ll be technically done, by the end of June. Obviously getting something saying, ‘Hey Brandon has completed all of his course work. Just waiting on graduation date.’