TEMPE, AZ - DECEMBER 14: Head coach Todd Graham of the Arizona State Sun Devils speaks at a press conference introducing him as the new head football coach at Sun Devil Stadium on December 14, 2011 in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Put together an impressive recruiting class in under two months? Check.
Bring former players back into the fold after years of neglect? Check.
Undertake rigorous outreach efforts to connect with fans, media and boosters? Check.
Spearhead an effort to return the Sun Devils to Camp Tontozona? Check.
Inject legitimate optimism into a situation once beyond bleak? Check.
For Arizona State head coach Todd Graham, that is quite an impressive list of accomplishments over his first four months at the helm. When you factor the situation he walked into on December 14th, 2011, those feats become downright amazing.
At 5:38pm Phoenix time on November 5th of last year, all of the hype and hope surrounding the Sun Devils over the past several months was just three hours away from being fulfilled. At 6-2 and securely atop the Pac-12 South, the only question concerning ASU was who they would face in the inaugural conference title game.
Three hours and 19 minutes later, one of the most staggering and disheartening collapses in recent sports history had begun, as the Sun Devils walked off the field after their stunning 29-28 loss to UCLA.
Another three straight losses followed, resulting in the firing of Dennis Erickson. ASU allowed him to coach in the bowl game, when a clearly disinterested team and coaching staff capped off the free fall with a nationally televised 56-24 shellacking at the hands of Boise State.
The ensuing coaching search was a nightmare. After missing out on their Plan A--Houston's Kevin Sumlin--the ASU administration spent two weeks further tarnishing the Sun Devil name with flirtations with June Jones and other coaching candidates. Once secure recruits waffled, fans threatened to pull season tickets, and boosters were enraged. That made for a situation most coaching candidates wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pitchfork.
Except one. For him, it was a "dream job".
After the chorus of "Who the hell is that?" died down from fans, and with the game of text-message-fueled-snarky-riff-oneupsmanship among national media types going on simultaneously, Todd Graham was introduced as the program's next head coach. Or rather, he inherited the ashes that Erickson had let burn, "irregardless" of his rhetoric.
While players left for the NFL, Graham reshaped a culture. While fans cursed, he preached high-octane. While media scoffed, he spoke victory.
Somehow, Graham put together an impressive staff. In the face of substantial situational handicaps, he secured the state's most heralded recruit as the centerpiece of a very good class. In the face of what we've come to expect from collegiate head coaches, he made promises and then kept them. Huh? Who is this guy?!
He's the guy who asked the media how he can make their jobs easier. The same one that pushed hard for a return to Tontozona. A man who pledged to shake 74,000 hands to rally community support, and may easily triple that. A coach that has won the respect of the players and gotten them to buy into his strict and discipline oriented system--no easy feat considering the last five years contained all the rules of Deadwood.
If the offseason kept score, Graham would be pulling his starters to avoid running up the score. But they don't (much to ESPN's chagrin).
Sure, he's aced every test so far and instilled a near messianic aura about himself to some. All of the accomplishments are nice in May, but that's not why he was brought here and given a $10-million dollar deal.
While his to-do list has a lot of checks on it, his real job starts this fall...
...which means that there's just one thing left to do...
(disclaimer: the following clip is a bit on the PG-13 side)
As you can see, Blade, the Tiger Blood guy and President Palmer all heartily agree.
Sun Devil Nation hopes that within a few years, they can too.
Follow me on Twitter @BDenny29 for the latest on ASU football