There is only one Coach Graham on the ASU football team.
Or at least that’s how coach Todd Graham wants it. As head coach, Graham calls most of the shots for the program. Executive in-game decisions, recruiting and the overall philosophy of the team — that’s all him.
Then there’s Bo Graham.
Bo is Todd’s son and works as the team’s running backs coach and a recruiting coordinator. He joined ASU before the 2012 season as a graduate assistant and got promoted to his current position after Larry Porter vacated the job in January.
Everyone on the team is well aware of the Grahams’ relationship, but they never let their relationship spill over into their responsibilities at work. The two seldom interact in practice, as Todd usually spends most of the sessions coaching the defense while Bo works with the running backs.
They also have slightly different coaching styles. Todd’s loud voice could be heard anywhere and anytime on the field while Bo leads with a quiet demeanor.
Make no mistake, though, Bo still shows some flashes of his father.
“He’d get cranky at times,” senior running back Marion Grice said. “He’s on you a little bit when you mess up.”
There is a clear separation between their personal and professional relationships. Bo calls his father “Coach Graham” at all times on the football field and even at home in most cases. He said he’s been calling his father this for a long time.
“When he wants something, when he wants money or wants me to buy him a car, it’s ‘Dad,’ but everything else is ‘Coach,’” Todd said with a laugh. “He’s Coach Bo. There’s only one Coach Graham.”
Sophomore running back D.J. Foster notices the similarities between the two Grahams. He said the only major contrast between them is the generations that separate them. The age gap makes Bo easier to work with because of how well he can relate to his players on a generational level.
“It brings another aspect of coaching that I’m experiencing for the first time having a coach closer in age,” Foster said. “Coach Bo is a great coach.”
It’s natural for a son who ends up working in the same industry as his father to want to separate himself, but not Bo.
Bo has studied Todd’s coaching philosophy and concluded it’s a working formula. He wouldn’t build his own coaching foundation any differently.
“I believe in what coach (Todd Graham) is trying to accomplish,” Bo said. “I know that it works. It’s not always easy winning.”
Wherever Todd went, Bo followed.
Bo played wide receiver at Allen High School in Texas when Todd was still moving up the football ranks and was a head coach at Allen. In 2001, Bo walked on to the University of West Virginia’s football team, where Todd was part of Rich Rodriguez’s coaching staff as a defensive backs coach then later defensive coordinator. Bo only played one season before getting his first coaching job under his father as a student assistant.
Todd later became the defensive coordinator at Tulsa in 2003 before accepting head coaching positions at Rice in 2006 and back at Tulsa in 2007. One of the only constants of those moves was having Bo on his coaching staff.
Bo once deviated from the pattern, though, becoming the offensive coordinator for Tulsa Central High School in Oklahoma in 2009. He rejoined Todd at the University of Pittsburgh in 2011 as the Panthers’ head graduate assistant.
It looked like the two were going to settle down, but the Grahams were on the move again.
Bo was on an in-home recruiting trip in Philadelphia in the middle of December 2011. Todd called and broke the news to him that he had accepted the head coaching job at ASU. Bo immediately stopped his campaign, drove back to Pittsburgh and flew straight to Phoenix the next morning.
“I didn’t know until the last second,” Bo said. “It was a big shock to me.”
Todd’s backlash from Pittsburgh fans has been well documented, but Bo said he received criticism as well. Bo said he endured through the criticism and that it was an example of his father’s teaching put to work.
“The biggest lesson he’s taught me is to have a plan for adversity,” Bo said. “When bad things happen, you’ve got to be able to react in a positive way. He used to say that.”
Bo said his relationship with Todd is “built on conflict,” meaning that the two learn from the trials they face every day. As expected, there are high coaching standards that come with being Todd Graham’s son.
“From a coaching standpoint, I accept that challenge,” he said. “I know I’m not a normal assistant coach, so I have a chip on my shoulder to prove myself.”
It has been enjoyable for Todd to influence Bo by coaching him throughout his entire life. He appreciates Bo for sharing the same passion he does and said the two “are building special.”
“I can remember coaching him in high school, and that’s one of the reasons why I coached him, was I wanted the opportunity to influence my son,” Todd said. “I remember standing on the sidelines, he caught the game winner with six seconds left, and it’s about the only time I ever cried on the sideline. I stopped that in a hurry.”
Like any young coach, Bo’s dream is to one day be a head coach. Bo would like to eventually coach against his father in the “Graham Bowl,” similar to the way Bobby and Terry Bowden competed in the “Bowden Bowl.”
“We’re both extremely competitive and we’ve talked about that,” Bo said. “That’d be an awesome day to be moving on and taking the things I’ve learned to build my own program. To one day have that situation would be awesome.”
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