That light at the end of Arizona State's coaching search is now here, as the Sun Devils have hired Todd Graham to succeed Dennis Erickson.
The hiring took most everyone off-guard, as Graham was not a name mentioned by anyone over the preceding three weeks of the search. Nevertheless, his reached agreement on Tuesday night and the move was announced today, with mixed reaction from the ASU community.
As with any coach not named Meyer, Saban or Miles, there are an abundance of positives and negatives associated with a new head coach at a major program.
Here are five reasons to be excited and five which should elicit worry:
Reasons for Optimism
1) Record of Success: During his time as head coach of Rice, Tulsa and Pitt, Graham compiled a 49-29 overall record and took his teams to five bowl games. His time at Tulsa was especially prolific, with the Golden Hurricanes topping 10-wins in three of his four seasons there. ASU wanted a candidate with a successful head coaching resume and they have one in Graham.
2) Texas Area Ties: One of the most fertile recruiting areas in the nation is Texas, where four and five star recruits are grown by the bushel. A native Texan, Graham has deep coaching ties to the region, having been a high school head coach before his time at Rice and Tulsa. Leveraging these ties will be critical for his success at ASU.
3) Defensive Minded: As anyone who has followed the Sun Devils knows, the defense was the reason for the collapse of the 2011 season. Graham is a defensive coach who brings a hard-nosed and tough minded approach, both traits the program desperately needs.
Last seasons, the Panthers had the nation's 33rd ranked scoring defense and had the ninth most tackles for loss. That attacking style could go a long way in slowing down the speedy offenses in the Pac-12, once he brings in players who fit his 3-3-5 scheme.
4) Knows Offensive Talent: Despite his background on the defensive side of the ball, Graham has been able to field teams with powerful offenses due to his ability to find the right offensive coordinators, as he did with Gus Malzahn at Tulsa.
While at Tulsa, his offenses ranked 1st, 1st, 35th and 2nd in the nation in total offense, truly impressive numbers. That success didn't carry over in his one year at Pittsburgh, but current offensive coordinator Mike Norvell runs a spread offense that runs a no-huddle attack, one that should fit in very well with ASU's personnel.
5) "Young": At 47, Graham is young by coaching standards and one of his oft-praised traits is his energy level. After five years of the lackadaisical Erickson, this is exactly what Arizona State needs. He's also the right age where, if he stays (more on that below), he can establish a foundation in Tempe and be the long-term answer that has eluded the school since Frank Kush.
Reasons for Concern
1) Job Hopping: As mentioned above, ASU is in dire need of a long-term answer in their head coach. The recent debacle that was the coaching search only reinforced the notion that the university's leadership is weak, and having to find another coach at any time in the near future is one that should rightfully scare ASU fans.
Arizona State will be Graham's fourth stop in six years, a startling record of job-hopping in the coaching ranks. The key to building ASU into a power will be maintaining the continuity needed to bring top recruits, and his resume will give no recruit the confidence that Graham is here for the long haul, despite his stance that ASU is his "dream job".
2) Western Recruiting: To his credit, Graham has built one of the best 2012 recruiting classes in the nation for Pitt, including the nation's fourth ranked running back in Rushel Shell and several other four-star prospects.
However, a look at the commit list shows a troubling geographic issue: None are from west of the Mississippi River. Granted, he has done very well in talent-rich Pennsylvania and Ohio, but the lack of western recruits, especially in traditional ASU territories of southern California, could be fatal if not addressed by addition to his staff.
3) Unproven on Big Stage: While he has racked up wins with ease in non-AQ conferences, his one campaign in a BCS conference ended with a pedestrian 6-6 record, made a little more unsettling given the lack of quality in the Big East.
The Pac-12 is a much better conference top-to-bottom than the Big East, and ASU is banking on the Pitt record being the anomaly to Graham's resume.
4) Departure From Pitt: Graham is now in Tempe, which is a good thing given how well he is thought of in Pittsburgh now.
Graham allegedly informed his players via text message of his departure, something that drew the instant ire of Panther players and supporters. In addition, the Pitt administration denied Graham the chance to speak with ASU, something that resulted in Graham's resignation and a strong statement from the school.
5) Keeping the Class Intact: One of the most damaging effects of ASU's prolonged search was the loss of two key assistants, offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone and wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator Steve Broussard, both of whom are now at UCLA.
That duo was instrumental in the creation of ASU's highly rated 2012 recruiting class and one of Graham's major challenges will be trying to salvage as much of their work as possible.
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