Ryan’s Hope for Harrington

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December 17, 2001
Ryan’s Hope for Harrington

Oregon’s Joey Harrington, he of the bigger-than-life billboard smack-dab in the middle of Times Square, did this year exactly what he set out to do: he kept the Ducks in the hunt for the national championship, earned a trip to the Downtown Athletic Club and beat Oregon State on the season’s final weekend.

Now he turns his attention to the NFL. Scouts have been impressed with Harrington’s intangibles: he’s 24-3 as a starter with 7 come-from-behind victories and an undefeated record in bowl games. He also has prototypical NFL size and smarts. But from there, the buzz on Harrington is mixed. There are some who think he has the chops to be an effective NFL signal caller; others think he might lack the necessary skills.

Recently, The War Room tracked down Ryan White of The Oregonian for a first-person look at Harrington and his prospects.

HPF: What has been the biggest reason for Harrington’s improvement in his TD/INT ratio this year, improving from just 20/13 in 2000 to 23/5 in 2001?

White: The biggest reason is probably just experience. He’s another year older and he knows this offense as well as anyone has ever known it. One of his biggest goals this season was to be more consistent. He wasn’t happy with the way he played in a couple of games last season. Specifically, last season’s game against Oregon State where he threw five interceptions was a big motivator for him. He has also worked with offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Jeff Tedford to refine his throwing motion. Harrington felt he got that taken care of in spring football and it seems to have worked out well.

HPF: Harrington was among four finalists for the Heisman Trophy this season. What impact did the "Joey Heisman" billboard in New York City really have on improving his chances and how do you feel Harrington has handled the additional media scrutiny?

White: I think the billboard got his name out there. Good press or bad press, people were talking about Harrington and Oregon in the offseason. That attention then led people to watch and see how he and the Ducks did. Had they not performed as well as they have, they probably would have taken some pretty good shots from around the country. Right now, however, that billboard is looking like a pretty good investment.

As for how Harrington has handled the scrutiny, I’d say he’s handled it as well as anyone not really wanting the attention could. The staff at Oregon helped him out by streamling the interview process for him, making him available on Tuesday mornings and Thursday afternoons. It’s been a pretty big change for him, and one he’s had to adjust to, but he seems to be doing fine.

HPF: Nebraska’s Eric Crouch beat out Harrington (among others) to win this year’s Heisman. Did you think Harrington deserved the award?
I think all the finalists, as well as a few players who were not in New York, could make an argument. There were certainly reasons why Harrington could have won, but I don’t think any of the choices were necessarily wrong. No player ever asserted himself as a favorite this season and that showed not only in the voting, but in the number of votes that weren’t even turned in.

Harrington said last week that it was weird to be a finalist for an award, and not be certain what exactly the award was given for. It was an interesting thought. So I guess the best way to answer the question is, yes, Harrington did deserve the award, but not any more than Crouch or Grossman or Dorsey.

HPF: After reading a few of the "Diary" installments Harrington’s been writing this year for The Oregonian, he comes across as a thoughtful, intelligent young man. What are your impressions of Harrington off the field?

White: He is thoughtful and intelligent. He can also be a bit of a goofball. Basically, he’s your average college kid. He would love nothing more than to just blend in with the rest of campus, hang out with his friends and do the things all college kids like to do. A lot of stories have played up his piano background, and he is a very talented piano player. I think he’s a pretty well-rounded guy.

HPF: Harrington’s 4th quarter comebacks are impressive, but there’s been some concern for why Harrington’s Ducks have needed a comeback in the first place. From your vantage point, are these comebacks ‘Montana-esque’ or are they more ‘Plummer-esque’?

White: Kind of hard to say. The belief around here is that’s that just how things go with this team. There doesn’t seem to be any one reason why they keep needing the comebacks. This season at home against USC, the defense gave up a couple of long touchdowns and that resulted in the need to charge down the field for a last-second field goal. Against UCLA, that was just a tough game on the road where the offense put together a heckuva drive to take the lead with less than 10 minutes to play in the fourth. From my vantage point, it seems Harrington just gets done what he needs to get done most of the time.

HPF: Oregon’s lone loss this season came at home against Stanford, and the game itself was lost in almost the exact opposite fashion in which Harrington usually wins them. After a quick start (3 TD’s in the 1st qtr.), the Ducks fell apart, losing a 14-point lead late in the 3rd quarter. What made that game different from the rest for Harrington?

White: That was just a strange game. The Ducks had two punts blocked and lost an onside kick in the fourth quarter. Those three plays left the defense on the field and in rough spots. Also, Oregon’s two scores in the second half came on kick returns, which led to the defense going right back on the field. The general consesus was that all of those things worked against any kind of an offensive rhythm. The Ducks tried to throw deep a couple of times and that didn’t work. Like I said, it was just an odd day all around.

HPF: Please rank Harrington among Fresno State’s David Carr and Illinois’ Kurt Kittner as an NFL prospect and explain why you put Harrington where you do.

White: A gut ranking would put him between Carr and Kittner, but I haven’t seen enough of either of them to say for sure. I’m also not all that qualified to be a talent scout. As for Harrington as a prospect, I think he has a good arm and probably of equal importance at that position is the fact that he’s smart. He understands Oregon’s offense and he has a great understanding of defenses and that has helped keep him out of trouble this season as much as anything.

HPF: Houston’s new offensive coordinator, Chris Palmer, scouted Harrington at a Ducks game earlier this year. What, if anything, have you heard from this encounter, and what do you expect Palmer saw as Harrington’s strengths and weaknesses as an NFL quarterback?

White: To be honest, I’ve heard nothing of that encounter. There are scouts around Eugene all the time and the press box is full of them at every game. As for what Palmer saw as Harrington’s strengths and weaknesses, I’ll again be honest, you’d have to ask him. I’d hate to put words in his mouth.

Ryan White has been at The Oregonian since 1997. He covers Oregon football, basketball and many, many other things. He most recently attended the Heisman presentation in New York. We want to thank him for taking time to deliver an insightful look at Joey Harrington.

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