ASU football coach Todd Graham understands the impact a strong student section can have on the outcome of a game. Graham knows students are largely responsible for the game day atmosphere and believes the Sun Devil students are more likely to support their team if they feel connected.
The State Press recently sat down with Graham and discussed his plans to change the way the students and football team interact.
The State Press: You’ve had a couple of meet and greets at the campuses and were at the UA basketball game also. You went to a few games at Pittsburgh, but is this level of interaction new for you?
Graham: I’ve been to all four campuses. I have visited a lot of students. I eat most days, I like to eat breakfast or lunch at the Memorial Union. I like to go there so I can see people. I’ve gone and talked to the business school. I’ve gone and talked to Barrett College.
I’ve been to quite a few things. I think it’s important. I love collegiate football. The reason why is because of the collegiate atmosphere and that has to do with the students. I want them to know how much I respect them and how much I value their support. It’s not some magical scheme that some coach brings, it’s everyone working together.
There is a passionate student body here and I’m excited to see how they can help change game day and help win us football games.
SP: There are some clips of you at Pitt basketball games as well. Have you always been this outgoing?
TG: I think you have to be genuinely who you are. I’ve always connected with my players and I try to connect with the students. I’ve done that everywhere I’ve been. I think it has a great value.
It’s been highlighted here because I think the potential here is tremendous. I’ve worked my whole career to get this job so I’m pretty motivated.
SP: The day you were hired you said you may use some sort of hand signal to get students involved.
TG: I’d love to do that. One of the things I want to do is I want to get our students involved in game day. When we’re on defense, one of the things we used to do is signal. (A clenched fist is) the signal for fourth down, so before third down we want the crowd to get loud and I would step out on the sideline, give a fist in the air and get them going crazy. We want them to be loud and proud.
SP: Any other ideas on making the game interactive for the crowd?
TG: One of the things we are talking about doing is making game day fun. Getting people down on the sidelines, connecting with the students, making a line when we run out, and stuff like that.
Our kickoff team, we want to call them the ‘Wild Bunch,’ so it cranks up ‘Wild Thing’ and our students would know that’s something we are going to do every time we kick the ball off.
On third down a lot of places I’ve been they play ‘Hell’s Bells.’ When our defense took the field, which is tough, physical and all that stuff, we would play ‘We Will Rock You.’ When our punt team goes on the field, we call them the ‘sharks,’ they will play the ‘Jaws’ theme, so trying to make it fun like that.
Obviously we’ve also got the fork when we win, singing the fight song and celebrating with students. This is their football team is what I want them to know and I’m proud to be their head coach and honored to do that. I’m going to work hard to earn their support.
The hardest thing to do in college football is win on the road so game day atmosphere is important and what drives that atmosphere? The students. That’s what drives the whole energy in the stadium.
I want to do things that no one else is doing. That’s one of the great strengths we have. There are 70,000 students on four campuses or something like that. We’ve got powers in numbers. This has got to be a place that’s difficult to play in. I know we had 10 or 11 thousand students at the game last year, I want that to double … I know they have the student tailgate and stuff like that. Maybe the new stadium will have a student club level.
That’s what I love about college football is the collegiate model and how can you talk about the collegiate model without talking about the students?
SP: The athletic department has mentioned that they are looking into having the students pick the uniforms. Was that your idea and how would that work?
TG: I actually got it from one of our deans, the dean of engineering. What I wanted to do was have their input if they want to blackout, wear all maroon or go traditional with the maroon and gold pants. Even on the road (I’d like to) get the students involved in the selection process.
SP: How many games would this be for?
TG: I think they’re trying to do it for several games, I’m not sure. We’ve got to work with Nike because Nike is going to be involved in that as well. What I’d say is if it’s going to be a blackout, you have flags all over campus, you raise the flags and everybody knows it’s going to be a blackout, that’s what we’re doing. Maroon, everyone is wearing maroon so we’re all sequenced according to what we’re doing.
SP: While the students help and make the game day atmosphere what it is, everything ultimately comes down to the 11 men on the field. How has this team changed since you inherited them in December?
TG: I think we’ve made a lot of great progress. I have a lot of belief in these guys. We’ve obviously changed the values and the discipline in the program, but we’ll find out exactly how much progress we’ve made when we start playing. This team is excited and on fire to compete and we have talent.
We have some guys that are playmakers. We have three really good guys at quarterback (and senior running back) Cam Marshall. We’re going to be able to run the football, big (senior running back James) ‘Tank’ Morrison had a great spring, (junior wide receiver Kyle) Middlebrooks, (senior wide receiver) Jamal Miles had a great spring. We’re going to be able to score points and then we have to play defense.
That’s where the student section comes in. We want to be rocking this place and that makes it difficult. If you play in a place and can’t hear the snap count, that makes it hard to be successful offensively and we’re going to need everybody on board to do that.
I would tell you they made great progress. Reality is we have a long way to go. We’re going to play in a lot of close football games next year and we’ve got to win them. You can win that with discipline, with training. Nobody is going to work harder and we’re not going to make any excuses. This program is about winning championships.
We know thatArizonagame has a greater significance to our students, our community so that’s one we have as a must win.
SP: Close games often come down to kicking. (Sophomore kicker Alex) Garoutte didn’t have the best year last year.
TG: I think speaking victory over it (is key). We’ve got some guys coming in that are going to compete as well, but we’ve got to score points. From the three yard line to the 30 we need to hit every one of those field goals and that’s big. Go back and look at the 2010 Arizona game. I think we had four field goals in there and they had two extra points blocked. That was the difference in the game. I think the big thing is forgetting the past.
SP: Several players have mentioned they will spend the summer running. Aside from the conditioning, what do you want to see from your players when the team reports in August?
TG: The number one thing is coming together as a team. What’s our identity going to be? Our identity needs to be the best character team in the Pac-12, the smartest team and the toughest team. We’ve got a lot of work to do that and all of that is about training so we need to have an incredible summer program.
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