Todd Graham to coach Sun Devils

Updated: December 14, 2011, 8:37 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Running down a checklist of qualities for a new football coach, Arizona State athletic director Lisa Love said she wanted someone who was energetic, liked to play up-tempo on offense and preferably had previous head-coaching experience.

Todd Graham seems to fit the bill.

Arizona State plucked Graham after one year at Pittsburgh on Wednesday, hiring the 47-year-old coach to replace Dennis Erickson, who was fired after five mediocre seasons.

"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," Love said in a statement. "Energy towards instilling discipline, leadership and in recruiting. Energy towards representing our brand in every facet of the program. 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."

Graham informed his players of his departure in a text message.

"I have resigned my position at Pitt in the best interest of my family to pursue the head coaching position at Arizona State," the message sent to players said. "Coaching there has always been a dream of ours and we have family there. The timing of the circumstances have prohibited me from telling you this directly. I now am on my way to Tempe to continue those discussions. God Bless. Coach Graham."

Arizona State was looking for someone to turn its faltering program around after it failed to live up to expectations under Erickson.

A two-time national championship coach with Miami, Erickson led the Sun Devils to the 2007 Holiday Bowl and was named Pac-10 coach of the year. Arizona State couldn't sustain the momentum after that, failing to become bowl eligible the next three seasons and foundering down the stretch this year, losing its final four games after a 6-2 start.

Erickson was fired on Nov. 28, though he will coach the Sun Devils against Boise State in the MAACO Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 22.

After a couple of flirtations with other established coaches, Arizona State turned to Graham, who had been tabbed to turn around Pitt's program just a year earlier.

A former assistant under new Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez at West Virginia, Graham had a successful stint in his first year as a head coach in 2006, leading Rice to its first bowl appearance in 45 years. He left the Owls after just one season for Tulsa, where he led the Golden Hurricane to the first back-to-back 10-win seasons in school history.

A defensive player and coach coming up through the ranks, Graham made his mark with an up-tempo offense that made Tulsa a perennial Conference-USA contender. The Golden Hurricane twice led the nation in total offense and his 2007 team set 29 school records, 15 conference marks and four NCAA records, including the largest margin of victory in a bowl game, 63-7 over Bowling Green in the GMAC Bowl.

Graham
Graham

Graham went 36-17 in four seasons at Tulsa and led the Golden Hurricane to three bowl wins before moving to Pittsburgh.

The Panthers forced Dave Wannstedt out in 2010 after six underachieving seasons and replaced him with former Miami (Ohio) coach Mike Haywood, who was fired less than three weeks later after being arrested on a domestic violence charge.

After assistant Phil Bennett guided the Panthers to a 27-10 win over Kentucky in the BBVA Compass Bowl to cap an 8-5 season, Pittsburgh brought in Graham.

The fast-talking, fast-walking Texan preached "speed, speed, speed" during workouts and promised to wear down opponents with an up-tempo attack he believed could work immediately -- and propel the Panthers to their first outright Big East title.

The transition took a little long than anticipated as Pitt let winnable games get away while quarterback Tino Sunseri struggled to grasp the complex system.

The Panthers allowed 57 sacks, easily the most in the FBS, and Graham raised eyebrows early in the season when he placed the majority of the blame on Sunseri, though he later backed off.

Pitt finished 6-6 and was tied for second in the Big East, salvaging a bowl bid by beating Syracuse in the season finale. Defensive coordinator Keith Patterson will coach the Panthers against SMU in the BBVA Compass Bowl.

"I take a nap for 2 hours, wake up to find out my head coach is gone," backup quarterback Trey Anderson posted on his Twitter feed.

The move caps a tumultuous season for the Panthers, who announced in September that they're leaving the Big East for the ACC by 2014 and will now be looking for their fourth head coach in the last 13 months.

Three of Graham's assistants at Pitt this season -- Calvin Magee, Tony Gibson and Tony Dews -- left the program earlier this month to become assistants under Rodriguez at Arizona and Graham followed by telling Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson by phone Tuesday night that he was walking away after one season.

"Obviously this is not the way we would have expected Mr. Graham to handle any possible departure," Pitt executive vice chancellor and general counsel Jerry Cochran said. "Beyond normal expectations with respect to professional conduct, he has failed to comply with the terms of his contract."

Arizona State had a bit of an odyssey in its search after firing Erickson.

The Sun Devils reportedly were in talks with Houston coach Kevin Sumlin, which broke down after Texas A&M fired coach Mike Sherman. The Aggies introduced Sumlin as their new head coach Monday.

Arizona State also was apparently close to a deal with SMU coach June Jones when negotiations broke down at the last minute. Leigh Steinberg, Jones' agent, called the abrupt ending one of the "most bizarre endings" to discussions to bring a client to a new situation.

Ultimately, they went with the energetic Graham, who is 49-29 in six years as head coach and appears to be a good fit for what Love is looking for.

"What we sought in a football coach was someone who would be in it for the long term at Arizona State, who would build and guide a program that would be competitive in the Pac-12 and on a national level year after year after year, who would communicate and connect with the community, and represent our University with honor. In Todd Graham we have that person," Arizona State president Dr. Michael Crow said in a statement.

Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.

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