This week, season three of FX's popular and critically acclaimed series Justified premiered. For the uninitiated, the series follows the adventures of Deputy U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens, a modern day lawman with a gunfighter's swagger and old fashioned ideas on enforcing the law.
As Givens battles the evil-doers in his native Kentucky, the Arizona State Sun Devils should take note of some of Givens' principles, as they look to reverse over three decade's worth of general mediocrity.
ASU has shown several traits in recent years that far too often resulted in mistakes, penalties and above all, losses. Now with a new sheriff in town (pun intended) in the form of head coach Todd Graham, it's time to start "speaking victory". Should ASU follow these five lessons from Deputy Givens, their rebuilding efforts would be off to a great start.
Rarely does a situation arise in which Givens' trusty pistol is not drawn. In the roughneck regions of rural Kentucky, such aggression has often proven to be the difference between life and death. While he doesn't always fire, Givens has no fear in being the aggressor in any situation, whether taking down the Bennett clan or matching deadly wits with Boyd Crowder.
For the Sun Devil defense, their performance last season have shown anything but aggression.
After ranking eight in the nation is tackles for loss, ASU placed a dreadful 57th in 2011, and the pass rush was relatively punchless, ranking 59th.
That figures to change, as Graham is installing an all new and aggressive 3-3-5 defense. Graham loves to attack offenses, and last year his Pittsburgh defense ranked third 3rd in sacks and 12th in tackles for loss in the country. With arguably superior talent in Tempe, those results bode well for 2012.
However, being aggressive is not worth much if you can't...
Keep Your Composure
A key part of being a great gunfighter is knowing when to shoot and when not to pull the trigger. There have been several occasions when a criminal has attempted to goad Givens into a violent confrontation, but Givens has shown a critical ability to gauge situations and determine when discretion is the better part of valor.
One of Graham's most daunting tasks is reversing the lackadaisical and indifferent culture surrounding the program. One the primary symptoms of that disease has been a disturbing lack of on-field discipline.
Over the last four seasons, of the 120 FBS teams, the average rank in penalties-per-game for ASU has been 116th, including finishing dead last in 2009 and 2011. Over that same span, Graham's teams (Tulsa 2008-2010, Pittsburgh in 2011) have averaged a rank of 16th.
Too many times ASU has been their own worst enemy. If Graham's disciplinary ways take hold, the Devils will be one step closer to becoming perennial contenders.
Know Your Opponent
Going into a situation in reckless manner guns a' blazing is a good way to get killed. Getting the outcome you are looking for is dependent on your preparation, and that is a creed followed by Givens.In this week's episode, he came face to face with a cold-blooded killer who liked to force his victims to play an unwinnable game. However, having done his homework, Givens was able to slyly turn the tables and put a bullet into his adversary.
Another symptom of ASU's terrible culture has been a failure to prepare properly. For evidence, simply look at the games over the last two seasons in which ASU was the solid favorite over a clearly overmatched team, yet lost: Oregon State and Cal last year, and all four games this past November.
Thinking they can slack off on preparation and coast on their substantial talent has been a mistake that figures to be a thing of the past in 2012.
Be Comfortable in New and Familiar Surroundings
Born and raised in Harlan, Kentucky, Givens was assigned to Miami, where, despite being markedly different from his home region, he fearlessly locked horns with a drug cartel, climaxing Givens shooting a cartel thug dead atop a hotel. That leads to a transfer back to Kentucky, where Givens goes to work keeping law and order over his former stomping grounds. No matter where he is, Givens keeps the same demeanor and approach.
Over the last four seasons, the Sun Devils are 5-17 in games away from Sun Devil Stadium. Yes, that's a winning percentage of .227. There's no two ways about it, that is a disastrous figure. The Devils will continue to be a Pac-12 also-ran if they aren't able to play with the same ability and approach on the road as they do in Tempe.
Do What It Takes
At the end of the day, there is a job that needs to be done, come hell or high water. Sometimes you have to take an all-out aggressive approach, other times require a more cerebral take and sometimes a willingness to bend and stretch limits and boundaries is needed.
Raylan Givens has taken down the nefarious Bo Crowder, the Bennett clan and scores of other criminals because he isn't afraid to take any action necessary to do his job.
The Sun Devils need that same kind of mentality. For far too long, they've wallowed in mediocrity, content with the same old shtick again. With just three 10-win seasons since 1975, the university, alumni, players and fans are more than ready for the team to turn the corner.
The hiring of Todd Graham seems to be a step in the right direction. However, it remains to be seen whether all the angst endured will ultimately be justified with sustained success.
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