Todd Graham has been hired away from Pitt to become the new head football coach at Arizona St. (Photo by Getty Images)
Arizona St. this morning filled the last of the 4 football head coach openings in the Pac-12 this year with the hiring of Todd Graham, late of Pitt.
After releasing Dennis Erickson (effective after the Maaco Las Vegas Bowl against Boise St.) after a second 6-6 season, the Sun Devil administration hoped for an "up and comer", and had targeted Houston's Kevin Sumlin. Arizona St. (and a lot of others) were blindsided by Texas A&M firing Mike Sherman, and promptly scooping up Sumlin, who was also a coach of interest at UCLA, and nationwide, but jumped at a chance to move to a "brand name" program that also just happens to be headed for the SEC big time.
After that, attempts to lure Utah coach Kyle Whittingham only upped the size of his new deal with the Utes. SMU's June Jones had the Tempe job offered to him, and he was on his way when ASU alums and boosters stepped in an nixed the deal. Leaving AD Lisa Love, University President Michael Crowe, and Athletics Chief Operating Officer Steve Patterson (yes, the same guy who was once GM of the Trail Blazers during one of the lowest of lows of that programs), without a lot of viable options.
Tennessee assistant Justin Wilcox was mentioned as a possibility, in a disaster in the making scenario where Wilcox was supposed to become the head coach, and retain most of the existing offensive staff of coaches (that are his elders). Once cooler heads prevailed, and the Sun Devil coaches started jumping ship within the conference, that idea passes as well.
And today, they announced hiring Graham, a move that the most common reaction to was a rush to Google him in search of answers to the question of "Who?"
Graham, 47, guided the Panthers to a 6-6 record in the Big East in this, his first year there, and a berth in the BBVA Compass Bowl, against, ironically Jones' SMU Mustangs. The year included a 26-14 home loss to Utah, who as Pac-12 fans will recall, were in the middle of losing 3 of 4 games at that point as they worked to get Jon Hays up to speed as they recovered from the loss of their starting quarterback.
Graham further endeared himself by announcing his departure to his team, in the midst of bowl preparations, by having his director of football operations forward to them a text message from him.
In fairness , Graham was one of those "up and coming names" as recently as a year ago, after leading Tulsa to 3 seasons with at least 10 wins and a bowl game in 4 years with the Hurricanes. That followed a 7-6 season and a bowl game in his one year at Rice, after the Owls had been 1-10 the season before. This after 3 years as Tulsa's defensive coordinator, during which the Hurricanes went to 2 bowls.
Overall, his coaching record is 49-29, with a 5-7 campaign his worst.
Interestingly, he also was an assistant under Rich Rodriguez, now his instate competition down the road in Tucson, in 2001 & 2002 at West Virginia.
It would appear that Graham will have an inclination towards an offense that is more flashy than less, but does also have some defensive awareness. Whether he can recruit to that (remember, the Sun Devils have Brock Osweiler returning as quarterback, but are also graduating most of their starters) any time soon remains to be seen. Whether he can even retain what was shaping up as a good looking recruiting class by Erickson is a question of immediate relevance region wide, never mind just across the Pac-12.
Especially given that he has essentially no ties to the west, southwest, or the Rocky Mountain region.
Guess where most of the ASU recruits, football and otherwise, and their alums, boosters, and advertisers, are located.
If the UCLA hiring of Jim Mora has been panned as the Bruins having to "settle" for him, after they were turned down by more attractive names who would never have accepted AD Dan Guerrero's offer, at least that hiring did not lead people first to a Google search.
Honestly, not enough is known yet about Graham, or whomever he assembles on his staff, to assess how Arizona St. may perform on the field, in terms of scheme or their level of success. With the Sun Devils scheduled to visit Reser next season, one or more of ASU's non-conference/early season games will be must see tv (live or recorded) for Beaver fans and coaches, and the rest of the Pac-12 for that matter.
This move MAY work out, though it will take some time to see if that plays out. It clearly looks like Arizona St. felt they needed to make a move to improve on the mediocre results they have had under Erickson, but didn't follow the approach Washington St. Athletic Director Bill Moos took of not releasing a coach that was at least serviceable until he actually had an upgrade lined up. For the foreseeable future, this looks like a move that will be a struggle to be a lateral move.
Arizona St. will be an unknown quantity, but it may or not be a large quantity.