Some support it, others critique it, but at the end of the day, the five-year extension ASU gave head coach Todd Graham last week is less about football and more about a culture change.
Graham is currently in his second year as the head coach of the ASU football and owns a 10-6 record that includes a bowl win over Navy to cap off his first season.
The new contract, which will extend out until 2018, was announced days after the Sun Devils upset the Wisconsin Badgers to improve to 2-0 on the season and move in to the Associated Press Top 25.
Many have criticized the decision to extend Graham’s contract for a number of reasons.
Some point out that it’s too early to deem Graham’s ASU career a success — that after 15 games, there just isn’t enough evidence that Graham is the man to get the program turned around in a long-term way.
There is some validity to that argument. It’s such a small sample size.
While the Sun Devils had a winning record last year, they still finished tied for second in the Pac-12 South and four other teams in the conference had more wins than the Sun Devils.
The bowl win was impressive against a talented Navy team and the nationally touted triple-option offense, but at the end of the day, a victory in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl isn’t what the program wanted.
ASU wants to be competing in the Rose Bowl. ASU wants to be fighting Oregon and Stanford for the Pac-12 crown.
Aside from Graham’s tenure, the other major complaint about the extension is that ASU is extending Graham’s contract for the wrong reasons. Here is where his past comes in to play.
Graham is known for having quick success turning around a program, then jumping ship and moving up the college ranks.
He spent a year as Rice’s head coach and guided a team that went 1-10 in 2005 to a 7-5 record in 2006 and a berth in the New Orleans Bowl.
His success earned him a lucrative extension from the Rice administration yet just days after signing that new contract, Graham left the university to take a job at Tulsa.
He spent three years at Tulsa before taking a job at Pittsburgh.
Once again, Graham’s pattern for leaving an organization in a hurry reared its ugly head.
After going 6-6 as Pitt’s head coach, he resigned his position after Pitt’s athletic director Steve Pederson informed him he did not have permission to talk to other schools about coaching positions.
Shortly after resigning, Graham accepted the position at ASU.
People fear that Graham might pull a similar stunt in his current position in the near future.
With rumors swirling that Texas head coach Mack Brown might soon be fired and that the Longhorns eye Graham as a potential replacement, fans and observers have been wringing their hands in worry that the Sun Devil head coach will similarly bolt for a better offer.
While Graham has said nothing to indicate he is anything other than fully committed to ASU, the concerns are still there and rightfully so.
People will complain that it is the fear of being spurned by Graham that led ASU to extend his contract even though Graham is still able to leave his extended contract. If that were the case, ASU may collect up to $1.5 million.
I see the merits to these arguments. I really do. But there is more to look at here than Graham’s coaching history both here at ASU and elsewhere.
This isn’t so much about the man but more so what he represents.
ASU is making a committed effort to change the culture around the football program, wanting one that competes at the highest level and excels both on the field and off it as a respected organization.
The attention to details and the commitment to winning and winning the right way is the cornerstone of ASU football’s renaissance.
The Board of Directors clearly feel like Graham, regardless of how he has left his past schools or how well he has done so far, is the right man to guide the program through this change and emerge on the other side as a team that year-in and year-out competes for the Rose Bowl and the national championship.
That remains to be seen.
Support the contract, don’t support it, but don’t be confused about what this contract represents. It isn’t about a 10-5 record. It isn’t about a fear of Graham jumping ship. It’s about ASU steering itself in a new direction with Graham at the helm.
Reach the columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @icbeck21