With Todd Graham out, Anderson's next move is critical

The head coach may be gone, but his coordinators have earned the right to stay

With the ousting of head coach Todd Graham, it seems for the moment that ASU's football team has been thrust into a limbo of uncertainty. Who will be the next coach? Did Todd Graham deserve the pink slip? Where does the future of the program lie?

Given the questions and uncertainty engulfing the team right now, it is not irrational to call into question Anderson's decision.

For the sake of stability, Anderson's next move should be to ensure that coordinators Billy Napier and Phil Bennett keep their jobs next year.

If you asked ASU football fans who Napier and Bennett were at this time last year, you would probably get nothing but blank stares in return. That is because Napier and Bennett, ASU's current offensive and defensive coordinators, are only just finishing their first year with the Sun Devils. 

Yet, in their first season on the job, Napier and Bennett are the only vestiges of the staff Graham constructed.

In a column I wrote at the beginning of the season about Bennett's new defensive scheme, I noted that one of the biggest challenges with introducing a new system is the learning curve that players — especially the younger ones — face in adapting to a new style of play and the nuances that come along with it. 

And there have been incremental improvements, especially on defense. ASU's points allowed and passing yards allowed per game have both seen significant improvements over last season's lackluster performance, despite facing one of the 30 toughest schedules in college football. 

On offense, Napier has reignited the running game with the one-two punch of seniors Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage.

In other words, Napier and Bennett have been rare bright spots, not cause for concern, in the Todd Graham roller coaster. 

Of course, with Graham's termination, the debate now is centered on whether or not he coached and recruited well enough to keep his job for at least another season (he did). 

However, what is important now is the direction Anderson steers the ship in. 

What gets lost in the craze of new coach sweepstakes is that regardless of who is hired, consistency in play-calling and scheme on both sides of the ball is critically important for players. 

Indeed, Anderson has stressed that in his search for a new head coach, he hopes to give Napier and Bennett "the opportunity to come back" under the next coaching staff.

If Anderson holds true to his word, ASU's squad has a perfect opportunity to transition seamlessly to a new coach. 

"If you don't overhaul the whole staff, the transition runs better," Greg Moore, azcentral.com sports columnist, said. 

There is no reason to reinvent the offense that redshirt junior quarterback Manny Wilkins has finally found a comfortable role in for his final season, or the defense that ASU's young secondary is just beginning to get a firm handle on.

So what can be expected from a new coach if not a new scheme?

It is clear that Anderson wants someone who does not think the same way Graham did, even if the coordinators stay on. 

"(Anderson) wants somebody to fill a different role. Somebody who is a non-traditional thinker," Moore said. "It's really important to get up and running fast. You don't want to lose out on any more recruits."

One weakness that Anderson will no doubt look to shore up is player development.

"If you want to develop pros, you need to bring in a pro coach who can say to a recruit, 'Actually, I know exactly what it takes'," Moore said. 

In that sense, Todd Graham certainly did not make the cut, with only one player making an NFL roster last season.

Sure enough, at the top of Anderson's wish list right now is ex-NFL coach Herm Edwards. 

"(I'm) hearing Anderson is definitely targeting coaches with NFL roots, most likely minority candidates. I wouldn't dismiss the Herm Edwards thing at all," ESPN sports journalist Adam Rittenberg said. 

Nonetheless, it is all speculation right now, and until Anderson picks his guy, the rumors and uncertainty about the program's future will be the center of discussion for most every ASU football fan and writer. 

In times of tumult, Anderson is wise to remember that consistency is key, and right now, that consistency lies in coordinators Bennett and Napier.


Reach the columnist at jmsloan3@asu.edu or follow @jakeuzzi on Twitter.

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Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors. 

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