|Graham says the move to Arizona is the best thing for his family, and Pitt was never a good fit. (US Presswire)|
Todd Graham will take your questions now.
It's been a week since he left one underachieving program at Pittsburgh for another underachieving program at Arizona State. After one season. To be exact it was 337 days-and-done for the 47-year-old Texan. The national firestorm that followed made Graham the Baltimore Colts of his profession -- basically bolting in the dark of night -- even if he did actually fly from Steeltown to the Valley of the Sun early in the morning.
In all the ways the college coaching profession has disgraced itself lately, this one hit a national nerve. It tugged at our sense of fairness and decency.
Graham didn't tell his players of his departure in person, rather commissioning a football operations guy to text them of his departure. Graham says the Arizona State gig was no sure thing. He had to quit his old job before he knew he had the new one. Pittsburgh didn't formally allow him to interview with Arizona State. The school's search firm needed an answer right away.
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And you think you've got problems?
Of all the job-hopping, me-first, money-chasing, college coaches out there, well, Graham was certainly portrayed as one of them. He knows about the outrage, both at Pittsburgh and around the nation. He understands if his reputation has been nailed to a tree and a shotgun emptied into it. He totally gets that his former players destroyed him on Twitter.
But the move was all worth it. He'll tell you that now. There were logical reasons. Arizona State is his "dream job." That's a phrase Graham admittedly has used at least three of his four head coaching stops. But this time he really means it.
If that means anything.
Pittsburgh was an uncomfortable fit for Graham. He was hired at Arizona State the same way he was hired at Pittsburgh the previous year. In both cases, Graham was a fall-back. Dave Wannstedt's successor at Pittsburgh, Mike Haywood, was fired after being accused of domestic abuse. Arizona State swung and missed thinking it had SMU's June Jones wrapped up earlier this month.
None of that makes any difference when a major-college coach leaves town after barely unpacking his bags. Alabama will never forget how Dennis Franchione left in 2002 for essentially the same reason as Graham. He was uncomfortable.
Nine years later and it happens again. A school feels jilted. Opinion makers proclaim that college coaching should stand for more. Never mind that any one of us would do the same thing in our jobs in a heartbeat. Or that the only currency that really matters to ADs and presidents is winning.
"Somebody out there in the corporate world does it and no one says anything about it," Graham said this week. "Everybody on the planet is going to do what's best for them.
"The difference is this: We're working with young people. We're educators. I'm not saying I didn't make a mistake. I'm not saying I didn't have any regrets.
"I think the mistake was making the move in the first place."
Those words should settle with the thud in Pittsburgh, but like we said Graham is here for your questions. Hopefully, we didn't miss anything.
You said you didn't have time to address our players. If you were so high on Arizona State's list, don't you think it could have waited for you to say goodbye?
"I really wasn't [able to do that]. I had to resign my job. I didn't have a job at Arizona State until I got here and met with them.
"When they reached out, I told them [Arizona State] I couldn't talk to them. When I asked them [Pittsburgh] for permission to talk to them, I was told no. We actually took a leap of faith. I actually resigned my job. I said, 'I'd like to have a day to tell my kids.' As a coach you don't control the process. I basically resigned my job at 10:30 at night and had to take a flight the next morning. There was no way for me to talk to my kids. That wasn't my doing."
OK, you quit at Pittsburgh with no certainty at Arizona State. How much of an idea at that point did you think you had the job?
"I thought there was strong interest but I did not talk to them. I had not had a conversation with anybody. I had a search firm that was basically [saying] there was a very, very strong interest. They had just visited with June Jones and that thing fell through. We took a big-time leap of faith."
Do you understand the outrage both at Pittsburgh and nationally?
"I do feel bad. They hammered me about text messaging. I did it because I wasn't going to have them find out on the news. It makes me sick.
"It was one day of getting your head kicked in and probably deservedly so. I was sure willing to do that because this is the first time in 26 years of coaching it benefitted my wife. It benefitted my kids."
Isn't there another side to this? If coaches don't win, there is nothing to keep schools from firing coaches at their discretion. Memphis' Larry Porter and Kansas' Turner Gill did admirable jobs off the field but didn't win. They were both fired this year after two seasons.
"You take Larry Porter. He goes in there and cleans it up and he gets fired ... He gets rid of 20-something players and they fire him in his second year. Why isn't there an uproar about that? At the end of the day as coaches, you have to do what's best for your family."
Earlier, new Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez enticed three of your Pittsburgh coaches to join him in Tucson. You were quoted in some places calling them "mercenaries" for leaving the program. Is that accurate?
"That is not true. I never said that. That really bothers me. I was having a conversation with some of the media people there [in Pittsburgh]. I never said that about those guys ... We were having a conversation with media people, off the record. I said, 'A lot of times coaches jump around everywhere, they're like mercenaries.' I was not referring to them. That was not the context it was used in."
You've been quoted at each stop calling Rice, Tulsa and Arizona State your "dream job." What's the difference now?
"Rice was my first Division I head coaching job, in the state of Texas where I grew up. Obviously we won [going to a bowl at Rice for the first time in 45 years]. Tulsa offered me an unbelievable opportunity. It wasn't even close commitment-wise [between those two schools].
"When we got the opportunity at Pitt, it was my first BCS-level job ... Coming to Arizona is a dream job for my family. It's a dream location for my family."
What about negative recruiting? There are going to be rival coaches who say you're only going to be there one year, two years.
"I don't worry about that. People who do that, don't do anything but hurt themselves."
Should there been a little of "Buyer Beware" at Pittsburgh? You had done this before at Rice, staying for one season before going to Tulsa.
"Being the smallest Division I-A school in the country, I had a president at Tulsa who stepped up unbelievably. That was the reason we were able to turn the place in my opinion. People don't understand the timing of these things."
If an Arizona State football captain comes up to you and asks, 'Why should we be committed to you?' What's your answer?
"I'm going to tell you exactly what I told them on Day One. I think kids genuinely know if you care about them. I put my heart and soul into every place I've been at. I'm going to work hard to earn their trust and earn their respect. I don't think that's something they just give me. It doesn't matter if I was at my last place one year or 20 years."
If a guy on the street has an opportunity to do the same thing you did, wouldn't he and what's the difference?
"That had crossed my mind. I'm not saying I didn't make a mistake. I'm not saying I didn't have any regret. This move, in my mind, was not a mistake. It was for my family."
Is there a different standard for coaches just because you're at a big-time NCAA school, you're coaching amateur athletes?
"It's not like we're coaching in high school. Coaches are fired after one year. They're fired after two years. Once you get fired at this level, you don't get another job. It's hard to get another job ... It's a brutal business."
What would you tell Devin Street, the Pittsburgh receiver, and other players who became Twitter sensations ripping you after you left?
"I regret that I was only there a year, that I didn't get to visit with them face to face, that I'm very proud of what they accomplished on and off the field at Pitt ... I understand with them being angry. I understand them being upset. They have a right to be."
Going forward, it should be quite a Territorial Cup rivalry between Arizona and Arizona State. For the first time in 10 years, both schools have new coaches at the same time. Those new coaches are linked having worked once worked on the same staff.
That's right. Graham was a defensive assistant for Rodriguez at West Virginia.
For two years.