Not even 24 hours after fans had celebrated ASU football’s Territorial Cup victory over UA did chaos brew in Tempe. Head coach Todd Graham was fired Sunday morning after beating UA for the fourth time during his tenure at ASU.
Graham said he opened up his bible Sunday morning to Proverbs 3: 5-6 where it reads, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”
While mixed emotions were plastered across social media, Graham said the decision by ASU Vice President for University Athletics Ray Anderson was a surprise, but his faith has guided him.
Anderson credited his decision to Graham’s “full body” of work at ASU, but Anderson also said Graham had an enduring impact on the ASU community.
“When I think of Todd Graham, what I think of is the things that are very positive,” Anderson said. “In my view, everything is judged on competitive consistency. And so, in matters of academics and how you want to encourage your student-athletes and your football players to be true student-athletes, coach Todd Graham has done a marvelous job, and we will applaud him and thank him forever for having led in that effort.”
Nevertheless, Graham said in his press conference that he is grateful to everyone who gave him the opportunity to coach at ASU.
“Six years ago coming here, it was a very different place, and you always want to leave a place better than you found it,” Graham said. “I really feel like we’ve done that. I want to thank all the people in the athletic department … that played a tremendous role.”
Graham said he was appreciative for the opportunity to coach for the ASU football program.
“From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank the University, Dr. (Michael) Crow, for the opportunity they gave me here," Graham said. "It was a true blessing for me and my family to come here – what incredible memories ... I got a full heart today. I’m just so grateful for the opportunity and the blessing.”
Although Graham is not set to return next season, he said he’s “fired up” about the opportunity to play in the team’s upcoming bowl game.
“It’s a big deal to me and a big deal to our players,” Graham said.
The bowl games are critical to a program’s success, but Graham, during his time at ASU, was committed to improving off the field as well.
“... We were a 2.2 GPA, and that does mean a lot to me that we’re a 3.0, and that we’re doing what we should do for young people, and that’s help them get an education,” Graham said.
Critics have called for Graham’s job before – the have taken jabs at his coaching style, but through it all, he has remained committed to teaching certain values to his players.
“No way I wouldn’t come here (to address the media),” Graham said. “How can I teach the values to our players and not come in here and address the fans, and address the people that buy the tickets, that provide me with such an incredible life and experience to be a teacher?”
Teaching was one of Graham’s goals, which means watching his students thrive was the ultimate treat.
“It’s been so great to see those guys that are leaving your program and going on and reaching their dreams, their goals and their aspirations -- that are going on to great success in the NFL, but also great success as family men and guys that know what it is to be a champion in life,” Graham said.
Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Ryan Newsome, one of those players aiming to break through to the NFL one day, brought up a forgotten point.
"The coaches can only coach so much – it's up to the player to absorb what the coach is teaching and apply it to the field," Newsome said a few days after the team’s loss to Texas Tech University. "If we don't, that's on us, and it sounds cliché, but it really is. I mean, I'm looking at the guys (and) I'm like 'Hey man, coach Graham can't play for us' – we gotta do what we gotta do for him, and play the hardest that we can."
As Graham’s days with the program are numbered, the focus, even throughout the madness that has gone on, is clear – win the bowl game.
“I want to finish,” Graham said. “We teach these players how important the finish is, and I want to finish.”