While fans of the Pitt Panthers will find this hard to believe, Todd Graham isn’t interested in leveraging his successful season with the Arizona State Sun Devils into a bigger and better job. The first year Sun Devils head coach is ready to lay down a foundation and make Tempe his last coaching move for a very long time. No, really.
Skepticism is easy to understand. Graham came west under less than amicable conditions with his former employer. Graham took over a Pitt program that was hiring it’s third coach in a year and was looking for the former head coach of the Tulsa Golden Hurricane to bring his up-tempo offensive style and some stability to the program. His first year was rocky on the field and the Panthers finished just 6-6.
Then the offseason got even rockier. Shortly after the end of the regular season, early in December, Graham informed Athletic Director Steve Pederson that he had engaged in discussions over the vacant head coaching job at ASU. When the AD informed Graham that he didn’t have permission to talk to other schools, the head coach abruptly resigned from Pitt and accepted the job with Arizona State.
The fallout in Pittsburgh was immediate for Graham. Players, who received a text message informing them of Graham’s departure, publicly bashed their former coach. Fans and alumni denounced their former head coach in every forum possible and Graham’s reputation took a major hit.
For now, it looks like Graham is ready to repair his image out in the desert with Arizona State. He knows his word won’t count for much, but he’s adamant about staying put:
“I absolutely love it here. What my family went through leaving Pittsburgh, let me tell you: I almost didn’t do it. I knew it was going to be vicious. But Dr. (Michael) Crow is the person that convinced me, and now I have no interest in going through another transition.
“I know people will say, ‘Yeah, yeah. Whatever.’ But there’s zero interest in anything else. Frank Kush is the architect, and I’d like to be the apprentice. And this team here? They’re the ones who set the foundation for the championships we’re going to win in the future.”
So the coach who once said that coaches were “like mercenaries” now asks Arizona State fans to trust in him for a long commitment to excellence. After a debut season that accomplished so much (a bowl bid, a chance at eight wins, a win over the Arizona Wildcats in Tucson), it will be easy for the Arizona State faithful to get caught up in the excitement.
But Graham’s history of quick exits forces us to ask: Is the “mercenary” coach really ready to settle down?