Friday, January 05, 2018

Reflecting on the Todd Graham Era: Why he leaves a lasting legacy

Todd Graham runs with his team before a game against the Oregon State Beavers at Reser Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

January 4, 2018
Brittany Bowyer

To many, Todd Graham was nothing more than an NCAA college football coach at the largest university in the country. To some, Graham was the driving force behind a positive change in college football culture. While some were outraged with his firing and others were pleased, his imprint on the program cannot be denied.

It’s a well-known fact that when Graham arrived at Arizona State the program was an absolute wreck. There were a number of off the field incidents taking place, there was no sense of “student” in the term “student athlete” and relational turmoil between players was clearly visible on the field.

This all took place under the Dennis Erickson era, which spanned from 2007-2011. When the former athletic director Lisa Love announced that Todd Graham would be taking over at Arizona State, few could have imagined how much of a legacy he would be to the program.

It was not just his ability to raise graduation rates by putting an increased importance on the scholastic aspect of the student-athlete experience. Nor was it his ability to bring the school back into the national spotlight for the 2013 and 2014 seasons.

It was his ability to motivate the players to be the best they can be both on and off the field. It was his ability to build character, and turn boys into men.

It was his ability to bring back a sense of tradition within the program, such as the installation of the Pat Tillman statue in Sun Devil Stadium and the tradition of giving the players a picture of someone special, reminding them of who they play for. It was bringing back camp Tontozona, where Sun Devil Great Frank Kush used to take the team to practice. It was bringing Frank Kush around as a guest, to remind the players of what it means to rep maroon and gold as a Sun Devil.

It was his generous contributions to the program in order to help build a state-of-the-art facility, which would have a positive impact on the current players as well as bringing in recruits. It was his ability to improve local recruiting efforts, which was lacking for many years in the past.

Among the many things unmentioned about Graham was how he believed in players that many coaches would overlook, and he would be able to get the most out of those players.
It was his ability to bring in top Junior College recruits like Jaelen Strong and Marcus Hardison, giving them a chance to shine on the big stage when the NCAA wasn’t in the cards the first time around.

Graham also had a good number of players enter the draft and go on to play in the NFL, which was something that was lacking under Erickson.

Nov 25, 2017; Todd Graham celebrates after defeating the Arizona Wildcats during the Territorial Cup at Sun Devil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Also often forgotten was how he was able to unite the players so they played as a team and got along better. He made the team feel like a family, truly embodying the term “Sun Devil Brotherhood”.

His faith in God helped play a part in this too, as he and a small group of players and coaches started going to church together every Sunday at the beginning of the season. By the end of the season, it became something that nearly every player looked forward to each week.

Finally, it was his 4-2 record over the Arizona Wildcats and his 46-32 overall record with the Sun Devils that will leave a lasting impact.

It says something when fans are pleading on social media to keep a head coach, even after a 7-5 regular season record. For Graham, and much of Sun Devil Nation, it was about more than just football… A culture that they hope will stick with the program despite Graham’s absence.

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