Just two seasons into his tenure at ASU, head football coach Todd Graham has revived a program in dire need of change. In 2012, Graham led the Sun Devils to their first winning season (8-5) in five years. In 2013, his 10-2 regular season record earned him the Pac-12 Coach of the Year.
Graham instills a quiet confidence in his players and coaches and it trickles down to the fans, alumni and community. There has been a lot said about Graham’s affinity to change positions at a moment’s notice but he has said “this is a destination job” about coming to Arizona State.
His coaching career began in the spectacle of “Friday Night Lights,” coaching for a dozen years in Texas and Oklahoma before being hired by Rich Rodriguez as linebackers coach at West Virginia University.
He would go on to lead the Tulsa Golden Hurricane defense to two bowl games in three seasons as defensive coordinator before he was offered his first head coaching gig at Rice University.
Graham’s impact was immediate at Rice, he took a one-win Owls team to their first bowl game in 45 years, finishing 7-5 and earning Conference USA Coach of the Year.
Graham accepted a significant pay increase and contract extension to stay on with Rice, but Tulsa came right back into the picture. The Golden Hurricane wanted Graham back, offering him the head coaching position. Graham returned to Tulsa in 2007.
Once again, Graham’s culture of success was nearly instantaneous at the helm of Tulsa’s football program. In his four seasons, Graham’s Golden Hurricane collected three 10-win seasons, three Conference USA West Division titles and three convincing Bowl victories.
Former Tulsa and Arizona State head coach John Cooper, who lead the Sun Devils to a Rose Bowl victory in 1987, is one who has recognized Graham’s knowledge and success.
“I don’t think I can say enough good things about Todd Graham,” Cooper told the Tulsa World. “If I was named the head coach of some school tomorrow, I would send my entire coaching staff down to Tulsa to learn a few things.”
The big payday loomed for the “Coach du jour,” and the University of Pittsburgh called the loudest. A storied program producing the likes of Dan Marino and Tony Dorsett, the Pitt Panthers would be the school where Graham would make his mark…or so he thought.
With only 24 hours to decide on whether to leave Tulsa, Graham now admits that the move was hasty and ultimately a mistake.
“I take responsibility for being at a place for one year and leaving,” he told Lisa Horne of Fox Sports. “I made a mistake. The mistake was I probably should have never gone to Pittsburgh in the first place.”
“I’m from the South, he explained. “[Pittsburgh] was a different cultural change for me. I did not feel comfortable.”
After a successful high school career, Graham received numerous accolades as a defensive back at East Central University even though he entered college at 5’9”, 132 pounds.
Following ECU, Graham made it as far as NFL training camp with the Arizona Cardinals whose 1987 media guide called him a “ferocious hitter,” so he is more than satisfied to call Arizona home and put down roots.
Welcome home, coach.