As ASU Vice President for University Athletics Ray Anderson explained his reasoning for letting go of ASU’s sixth-year head coach, he seemed to be complimenting Todd Graham more than criticizing him.
He praised Graham for encouraging his players to become “true student-athletes,” he noted that he wanted whoever comes in next to “embrace the culture” that Graham brought in and deeply consider keeping some of the current assistant coaches – Graham’s assistant coaches.
It’s obvious that Graham’s footprints and markings are going to be scattered all over the ASU program for years to come, and it seems like Anderson wants it that way.
Anderson’s main flaw of Graham is that he led a program that had overall been average – failing to win the conference and reach any major bowl games during his tenure.
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“I have got to believe with better leadership in terms of competitiveness consistency,” Anderson said. “In terms of the performance and preparation to perform on Saturday night will elevate us.”
But plenty of coaches are at the helm of average programs and don’t get canned — most don’t exceed the expectations that Graham had this season either.
There had to be an area or areas of coaching that Anderson just didn’t feel like Graham was doing right. That question seems like it was answered when someone asked Anderson what characteristics or traits he wants from the new coach. Anderson only mentioned one thing:
“(The new coach has) to be a dynamic recruiter,” Anderson said. “You’ve got to be able to go into anybody’s house in Southern California, Northern California, Louisiana, Texas, and sell the vision and recruit.”
Recruiting has been something Graham has been questioned about before – some saying that his best seasons came with Graham’s predecessor Dennis Erickson’s players.
Guys like Taylor Kelly, Mike Bercovici, Will Sutton, Carl Bradford and Jamil Douglas among others were brought into the program by Erickson, but helped Graham get off to a great start including back-to-back 10-win seasons in 2013 and 2014.
And all of those players, aside from Kelly, demonstrate something Graham dropped the ball on after coming in behind Erickson – recruiting in California.
Erickson dominated California in his time at ASU, signing 19 kids from the Golden State in the 2010 class that included Bradford and Douglas. But in Arizona State’s 2017 recruiting class, Graham and Co. didn’t pick up one recruit from the hotbed of California — instead focusing their attention on Texas and Arizona.
Graham could’ve used ASU’s outdated facilities as an excuse for getting beat out on the recruiting trail to schools like USC and UCLA, but the next Sun Devil head man won’t. ASU finished up their upgraded facilities this year and Sun Devil Stadium will be fully finished in 2019.
“Certainly, in terms of facilities we don’t have to apologize and feel like we’re second to anybody anymore, in my opinion,” Anderson said. “Now that we have that we can go out and recruit against anybody. We have to effectively recruit in California, in Arizona, in places in addition to Texas at a high level because the other Pac-12 schools against whom we play are going to continue to really mine those areas.”
Anderson sees ASU as a sleeping giant. A program that he believes should be top-3 in the Pac-12 and top-15 every year.
He believes the Sun Devils can get there if their next head coach recruits great talent and then eventually develops it progressively.
“You get (to be a top-15 team) by doing what we’re talking about, which is upgrading your competitive performance in all those areas I mentioned: recruiting, player development,” Anderson said. “You can recruit them, but when you get here, are you developing them to play at the high level and then hopefully, to play at the NFL if they want to because you’ve actually developed them.”
The thing is, though, if Anderson wants the current coordinators from Graham’s staff to remain in Tempe, then he believes that they are coaching and developing the ASU players well. So, the only improvement from there would be bringing in the top-tier recruits for offensive coordinator Billy Napier and defensive coordinator Phil Bennett to coach.
But, hey, maybe Anderson felt that Graham’s coaching was impeding on that of Napier’s and Bennett’s – such night and day styles that he would fire one and advocate for the other two.
Whatever his thoughts on the matter were, Anderson will now need to put someone in place that can recruit high-class talent to Tempe and, through coaching, develop them into NFL-caliber.
“We want to get to the point where we’re recruiting four- and five-star athletes because they know the development for the player and the development for the coaching and the retention for the coaching is not going to potentially get in their way if in fact they want to play in the NFL.”