Pac-12: Nebraska

Opening the mailbag: More on Graham crackers

December, 16, 2011
12/16/11
5:15
PM ET
Happy Friday.

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To the notes!

Zach from Mesa, Ariz., writes: Not sure how I should feel about Todd Graham coaching my Sun Devils. Seems like a used-car salesman and he really hasn't done anything.

Mike from Philly writes: I'm not going to call you an idiot, even though that might help get this published, but you've missed the mark on Graham. Not sure if he can coach, but he's completely full of it. He's a liar. He's spineless. Why would anybody want him to lead their sons?

Ted Miller: Got plenty of feedback on my admittedly quasi-Machiavellian takes -- and here -- on Todd Graham bolting Pittsburgh after one year for Arizona State and texting his departure to his players instead of meeting with them face-to-face. I have many thoughts on this, but I'd rather not do another 1,000-plus word column. So I'll try to be brief. Briefer, at least.

Let's start with this: Recall just a week ago when Graham said, "I don't know how else I can say it. I've said it on three different occasions. I'm not going to be the Arizona State's coach."

Oh. Wait. That wasn't Graham talking about Arizona State. That was the best coach in college football. That was, gulp, then Miami Dolphins coach Nick Saban, talking about Alabama, not Arizona State, and who just days after saying that became... wait for it... wait for it...

Alabama's coach!

And what did Saban say when he later sat down with ESPN Chris Mortensen, who asked if Saban's disingenuousness would be an issue for him in recruiting going forward?

"The number one thing for me, Nick Saban, whatever anyone thinks, is to be a good person," Saban said. "Honesty, integrity, loyalty, being fair and honest with people is always been the trademark of what I've done."

So know that when Graham talked about how important "relationships" were for him Wednesday, that same forehead slap of indignation over the unintentional irony has happened before. And will again. It's the nature of their business.

You cannot compare Saban's and Graham's resumes, of course. But Saban has long been a climber at the highest level while Graham has been scratching and clawing -- some might suggest scurrying -- to arrive at an A-list job. That means you often leave unhappy people in your wake.

Do any Alabama fans care about Saban's messy departure from Miami? Are you kidding? No coach in America is more beloved by his fan base. Why? Have you looked at Saban's win-loss ledger and trophy case?

Same goes for Bobby Petrino at Arkansas, who didn't even finish his only season with the Atlanta Falcons before bolting for the Razorbacks, leaving behind only a note for his players.

Graham, suffice it to say, is not alone in the Hall of Coaching Transition Infamy. Don't gloat Arizona fans. You might recall your new coach, Rich Rodriguez had some issues at West Virginia, too.

Then let's consider this name: Mike Riley.

Riley left Oregon State in 1998 after just two season -- his hometown team! -- for the San Diego Chargers, where things went badly. But he got lucky. The Beavers were willing to re-hire him in 2003, believing he'd learned the proverbial "the grass is always greener lesson." No coach in the nation has been more loyal to his university since then while not getting super-rich. At $1.3 million a year, Riley is now the second lowest paid coach in the Pac-12.

He could have doubled his pay when Alabama came calling. He could have tripled his pay when USC came calling. But he remained loyal. And he's been praised for it. Which is nice.

Yet now, despite averaging nine wins a year from 2006-09 at a program that didn't post a winning season from 1971-98, two consecutive losing seasons have him sitting on the conference's hottest seat heading into 2012. There's a vocal minority of fans who believe he should be fired now. A larger percentage believe he needs to make a staff overhaul. My belief is he won't survive a third consecutive losing season.

If Riley had been "disloyal" to Oregon State and bolted in 2010 for USC -- he was widely seen as then-athletic director Mike Garrett's first choice -- he would have more job security today than he does now and a far more financially-secure future for his family. This side of the story is rarely considered, but such cautionary tales pass by word of mouth among coaches -- i.e., watch your back and look out for No. 1.

Maybe Graham is a double-talking con artist. Or maybe his circumstances and opportunities just have been different than other coaches, particularly in terms of timing. Maybe he felt like he and his family being unhappy at Pittsburgh was a good enough reason to leave for a place they wanted to go.

What Arizona State fans need to know is this: This is a tempest in a teapot. It's the story of the week. If Arizona State wins eight games next year, there will be grins all around in Tempe. And if the Sun Devils go to the Rose Bowl within five years with Graham, his exit from Pitt will, at most, be a curious sidenote.


Brian from Pullman, Wash., writes: In your post "Imagining the perfect coach," you said that "There are only 10 or so destination jobs in college football -- places where there really isn't a move up." I'm curious to know which universities you believe are on this list.

Ted Miller: My list of 13 destination jobs would include (in alphabetical order): Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, LSU, Michigan, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Penn State, Texas and USC.

Of course, everyone's personal list would be different. I'd rather be the coach at Stanford or California -- Bay Area! -- than Nebraska or Oklahoma. But the quality of area restaurants is more important to me than most coaches.

And immediate circumstances matter. Even before the Penn State scandal, following Joe Paterno would have been an extraordinary challenge. No one likes to be the man after the man.

Factors? Tradition, stadium size, all-time winning percentage, recruiting base and revenue.


Lolita from Riverside, Calif., writes: My name is Lolita Anderson. I am Dres Anderson's mother. I am so elated! Thank you so much for my son's recognition. You absolutely made our family's Christmas! By the way what rubric do you use when making these decisions? This is Awesome!!! Go Airforce! Go Utes!!

Ted Miller: Most of it has to do with on-field performance.

But some of it is based on having a cool mom.

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