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Pac-12 Confidential

Bud Withers offers an inside look at the Pac-12 Conference and the national college scene.

December 14, 2011 at 10:21 AM

ASU completes Pac-12 hires by naming Todd Graham of Pitt

Arizona State’s search for a football coach to replace Dennis Erickson, an endeavor that was beginning to look pretty tortured, apparently ended Wednesday morning with the hire of Todd Graham of Pitt, who had been with the Panthers just one year.

It’s the fourth new coach named in the Pac-12 in recent weeks, and unless there are any major surprises coming, the last one for 2011.

Graham, 47, is a Texas native who worked his way through the ranks of Texas high schools. The most interesting aspect of his background is that he worked for two years at West Virginia under Rich Rodriguez — who is now at ASU’s biggest rival, Arizona. (Adding more intrigue is the fact that Rodriguez lured three of Graham’s Pitt assistants to Arizona recently.)

Graham was an assistant at Tulsa from 2003-05, head coach at Rice in 2006, and then headed the Tulsa program for four years. Tulsa scored 170 points in its three bowl games under Graham, including last year’s Hawaii Bowl, when the Golden Hurricane was a 10-point underdog but won 62-35.over the host Warriors.

Graham’s teams have thus been noted for offense, which is odd, because unlike most of the Pac-12’s coaches, he has a defensive background. He was defensive coordinator in his stint as an assistant at Tulsa, but when he returned as head coach, his teams there in 2007-08 led the nation in total offense.

But here’s a dubious fact from his portfolio: Pitt marks the second head-coaching job he’s left in the last five years after just one season.

There’s also this bizarre little nugget: It’s Arizona State’s second straight hire of a guy who left a job after less than a year in the saddle. Remember, ASU plucked Dennis Erickson out of Idaho when he’d been at the school for 10 months.

For Pitt, the head-coaching misery just continues. In 2010, the Panthers fired Dave Wannstedt and hired Mike Haywood of Miami of Ohio. But Haywood lasted just 17 days before he was fired amid a domestic-assault charge. That’s when the Panthers turned to Graham.

Graham led Pitt to a 6-6 season and a spot in the BBVA Compass Bowl Jan. 7 in Birmingham. The irony is that the opponent is SMU, whose coach, June Jones, thought he had a deal to become ASU head coach before the school apparently got cold feet at the 11th hour and bailed on the deal. But Graham will no doubt not be on the sidelines for that one.

I’m a bit wary of a coach who leaves a job after one season — let alone doing it twice. But if you can get past that blot on his record, Graham looks to be a solid addition for the Sun Devils, rescuing a search that didn’t seem headed anywhere good.



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