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Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Wins, not loyalty, will measure Graham

By Ted Miller


A glimpse at the future ...

On the evening of Jan. 17, an Arizona State pep rally broke out in the most unlikely of places -- at a basketball game.

With the Sun Devils cruising to a win over Northern Arizona, the Sun Devils' newly minted head football coach, Todd Graham, took the microphone at halftime.

"One of the things I can guarantee you is we will be blue collar, hard-nosed and physical," Graham told the spirited crowd. "We are going to restore the Best of the West!
We will work to bring Pac-12 championships, BCS bowl championships and a national championship to Arizona State!"


The above is plagiarism. Apologies. It's a paraphrase of Graham's introduction from his official bio on the website of the Pittsburgh Panthers, where Graham bolted Wednesday for Arizona State after just one 6-6 season.

College football is a crazy business. Sometimes it makes you want to take a shower. But to employ a hackneyed term that has become so because it's so convenient: It is what it is.

Graham is going to get hammered in Pittsburgh and all points outside -- and some points inside -- Tempe. Graham, for a second time in his career, is one-and-done. He previously bolted Rice for Tulsa after a single season in 2006. Not only did Graham suddenly leave the Panthers in the lurch, but he announced his decision to his players via a secondhand text message.

That won't play well with many folks. Panthers players are blistering him on Twitter. And it will stick to Graham for a while. It looks cowardly and reminds folks of the horrible transition for Randy Edsall from Connecticut to Maryland, where his first year was an absolute disaster. When the media comes calling this spring and next fall, it will be a central part of their "Meet Todd Graham at ASU" stories.

It will mostly be malarkey. But it will be everywhere, which is often how malarkey becomes accepted truth.

Todd Graham
Todd Graham is leaving Pitt for Arizona State after one 6-6 season.
Look, folks: Being a college football coach is a job. It is not a charitable calling. Loyalty? There are going to be more than 25 coaching changes next fall. There are 120 FBS teams. The nature of the business is to get fired or to climb. It's best to do the latter.

Todd Graham wants to coach at Arizona State more than Pittsburgh. Most folks would. So instead of doing something he doesn't want to do, he's doing what he wants to. His only loyalty should be to his family and friends, not his bosses.

Some will throw around insults like "liar." They will say things like Graham told his players he was staying. Well, he was staying. Until he got a better offer. The lesson the players should learn from this is to be ambitious and to learn how the big-boy world works. In other words, Graham just helped them grow up.

By the way, this is not an inconsistent opinion from me. Some Arizona State fans might recall this about former Sun Devils coach Dennis Erickson when he left Idaho.

Is this a ringing endorsement of ASU's hiring of Graham? No.

Understand: The only Pitt game I watched this season was the Panthers' home date with Utah. The Utes won 26-14, manhandling what looked to me like a feckless team with the worst offense in the history of the world.

That said, Graham has a solid track record. Sure, he bolted Rice after one season. But he did so after taking a 1-10 team to its first bowl game in 45 years and winning Conference USA Coach of the Year.

At Tulsa, he went 36-17 and 3-0 in bowl games. His final season, 2010, he won 28-27 at Notre Dame.

He's a defensive guy -- he got his start in big-time college coaching working for new Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez at West Virginia -- who is known as much for potent offenses. To use his term, he likes "high-octane football." He's a longtime believer in the no-huddle, spread-option.

He had some clumsy media moments this past season. He's a fast talker who doesn't shy away from taking shots at players. But the general feeling among Pitt fans was positive. Until he left. Now he's the second coming of Lane Kiffin.

How's the third coming of Lane Kiffin going?

Still, it's impossible to ignore the reality that being a perceived mercenary climber brings baggage that will make Graham's job more difficult.

It's likely some Sun Devils will greet any early talk of "family" and "the Sun Devil way!" with eye rolls. Graham's reputation will make it more difficult for him to mend a fractured locker room. Selling loyalty and commitment to recruits will not be easy. It also will make it harder for school administrators to get boosters to open their wallets.

The first question some will ask: "What's his buyout?"

Here's a statement from Arizona State:

"Criteria for our head coach was established, and the word that was at the forefront of discussions was `energy'...energy towards promoting our program in the community and with former players. Energy towards instilling discipline, leadership and in recruiting. Energy towards representing our brand in every facet of the program," notes Love. "In Todd, we have not only hired a young and sitting head coach, but one with a history of success on the field and in hiring top-notch assistant coaches. For the first time in his career, he will be taking over a program with a strong nucleus at the beginning. We are excited to watch Coach Graham take over a very well-positioned program and elevate it to the next level."


So: boilerplate.

Arizona State's coaching search was sloppy. Graham was well down the list of top candidates. And the June Jones debacle -- no matter how the school has tried to spin it afterward -- was embarrassing.

But the ultimate measure of this coaching search is no different than the ultimate measure of Todd Graham. And it is devoid of sentimentality: wins and losses. Stay out of trouble with the NCAA. Graduate players who stay off the police blotter. Yes, in that order.