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Football hires Pittsburgh's Todd Graham as new coach

Todd Graham (Photo by Beth Easterbrook)
Todd Graham (Photo by Beth Easterbrook)

Todd Graham woke up Wednesday in the Steel City as the coach of Pittsburgh. But by the time the sun set, he stood in Tempe holding up a Sun Devil jersey with his name freshly printed on the back.

The ASU athletic department officially announced the hiring of Graham as its new football coach 17 days after former coach Dennis Erickson was fired.

"It's a great day for us in that we believe that we've found a coach that can help us move to the next level," ASU President Michael Crow said. "We were first after a sitting head coach who was the entire package and coach was the person that we focused on. He met all of the requirements and conditions as well as the special characteristics that we were looking for."

The move was an end to a long search that saw many names, but never Graham's, float around with nothing ever coming to fruition. According to The Arizona Republic, the coach signed a five-year contract with a base salary of $2 million plus incentives.

"This is a dream come true for me," Graham said. " I'm excited where this program is and I'm excited about the future. Our goals as a program is that we are going to first and foremost bring out the best in every single person's character that's involved in our program.  I believe that that is the key component to winning and winning every day.  I'm not interested in winning on Saturday and losing on other days."

Graham was 6-6 in his first season with the Panthers this year, leading them to the BBVA Compass Bowl. He previously was the head coach at Rice and Tulsa before moving to Pitt. As an assistant coach, Graham held multiple defensive coordinator positions, including one at West Virginia in 2002.

His career record is 49-29 and 3-1 in bowl games. At Tulsa, he amassed three 10-win seasons. In games decided by seven points or less at his past three jobs, Graham was 16-13 with wins over Notre Dame and Houston.

"All roads pointed to Todd Graham," ASU Vice President of Athletics Lisa Love said. "He embodies the characteristics that we're looking for as a teacher and as a developer of young men. I believe the ASU football program is going to launch under his watch."

Love and Crow both declined to comment on when exactly they made Graham ASU's main target but all involved said the process was rapid. So quick that the coach informed his players at Pitt of the news via text message, causing an outcry from some Panthers on social media sites.

"The last few hours have been extremely gut wrenching for me," Graham said. "The timing did not allow for me to address the team and I really regret that.  I reached out to them in the only way that I knew how, the only means that I had at my disposal because I absolutely did not want them to hear about this on the news.  I plan on my return to Pittsburgh to reach out to them and to communicate to them."

Graham spoke about past Sun Devils like Frank Kush, Pat Tillman and Jake Plummer and how he wants to model the program around their legacies. He detailed his high-octane offense and hard-nosed defense with Rose Bowl aspirations.

" I want you standing up and how you do that is you have explosive plays," Graham said. "We attack, put it in the left lane, hammer down, and we don't let up.  That's what our program is going to be about."

Part of Graham's lure was the discipline his past teams showed on the field. Pitt ranked No. 21 in the nation in fewest penalty yards per game this season while ASU was No. 116 out of 120 schools.

"It's the number one thing we emphasize," he said. "Getting guys to do what their supposed to do. If you're inspired and motivated, you can reach your potential. We're going to have 100 percent accountability. You have to set the standard."

First on the agenda for the new coach will be recruiting. With the "dead period" of NCAA mandated little-to-no contact with recruits starting Dec. 19, Graham has only a matter of days to speak with potential future Sun Devils. ESPN ranked Erickson's 22-man class as No. 24 in the country, but some of the players backed off after he was fired.

"To the recruits,  I can't wait to share with you our football and our style," Graham said. "I can't wait to start talking to you about character and discipline that we run our program with. So sit tight, I will be calling as soon as I possibly can.  I don't sit in my office, I'm a Facebooking machine. I'm into building relationships with kids and I think that they'll be excited to hear our brand of football and excited to meet the staff that we put together."

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