The Arizona State athletic department has been extremely busy over the past eight months, much busier than any athletic department would like to be. In a world where a college athletic department is only as relevant as its football program, a successful athletic department is like a well-oiled machine, a machine that requires little maintenance and has been designed to thrive against its competition.
The most underrated attribute regarding machinery is longevity. Considering the fact that the Sun Devils' previous athletic director and previous head coach amounted for only 12 years of combined service to the university, it's safe to say that particular machine hasn't been running very smoothly for some time now, and has certainly lacked longevity.
This isn't going to be the easiest piece for me to scribe, mostly because the landscape of Sun Devil athletics has been completely revamped since I turned in my equipment last winter. This is going to be a challenge, mostly due to the fact that I am a loyal Dennis Erickson supporter; without him, I wouldn't have been given the opportunity to write about college football with the ever-so important qualification of having played it.
But from the first moment I suited up in a Sun Devil uniform, my allegiance was pledged to Arizona State University. It was my opinion that the perfect way to write my first piece was to approach my inaugural column with the intention of reaching out to fellow alumni about the importance of managing their optimism, as well as approaching the outsiders, the non-believers and the naysayers with a bucket of cold water to wake them from their massive hibernation regarding the potential powerhouse which lies in the Valley of the Sun. Look at is as two letters; one written honestly to the first party, and another written the same way to the second. Let's give it a try.
To the outsiders:
First and foremost, it's time to stop picking on Todd Graham.
I can't accurately calculate the amount of times I have been asked the question, "What do the fellas' think of Todd Graham?" over the past 6 months, mostly because the question has been asked of me so frequently that keeping track of the encounters would be an unrealistic task.
But that doesn't mean I don't know the answer. The "fellas", as my former teammates seemed to be referred to as recently, have all bought in. And if they haven't, they have been cordially shown the door. Todd Graham runs a dictatorship, and if you don't follow the rules, you might as well be an illegal citizen. I can't believe the tweets and comments I have seen regarding Graham's departure from Pitt. Honestly Pitt fans, and I'm speaking logically here, if he's such a terrible coach and person...then why are you so upset that he left?
The people who like to refer to Todd Graham as someone who bails on programs (mostly Pitt fans) love the fact that they have—what they believe—is substantial evidence of their claim due to Graham's early departure from Rice. It's almost comical; Pitt fans seem to be more upset about Graham having left Rice than the people in Houston.
Why wouldn't a coach leave a perennial cellar-dweller for the opportunity to coach at a higher level, especially when such a university doesn't value a solid and consistent commitment to their athletic programs but instead tends to focus on their commitment to academic prestige? If anything, it is commendable that Graham was able to lead a program like Rice to such success in such a short time serving that program.
I remember watching the coverage on ESPN following Arizona State's hire of their new head football coach. I was grieving the end of a let-down season, and the firing of my head coach. Usually people are excited when they're about to take a trip to Vegas, but myself and my teammates—especially the seniors—were still on the mend from a season that was supposed to be the start of something special but instead went sour.
But that didn't mean I had lost pride in my institution. It was during that coverage of the hire when I witnessed ESPN's Todd McShay declare that he believed the hiring of Todd Graham to ASU didn't make sense. His reason for this concerned the question of why a coach would want to leave a program that shares facilities with the Pittsburgh Steelers, to a place where the facilities are mediocre.
Pay attention here, because the keyword is "share." I may be speaking alone on this one, but I felt a source of pride in knowing that I didn't share my stadium with anyone but the rest of Sun Devil Nation. Since when do programs that share facilities with NFL franchises thrive? Nobody wants to share a room with their more powerful big brother. I would feel the potential of being bullied in every nook and cranny of that shared space.
Last time I checked, the University of Pittsburgh Panthers play their home games off-campus at Heinz Field which they share with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Arizona State Sun Devils play their home games at Sun Devil Stadium which rests on the northern part of campus nestled in the center of a mountain like a crown on a map. It has always been Sun Devil Stadium, even when it was shared with the Arizona Cardinals. The Dallas Cowboys defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers for their fifth Lombardi Trophy in Super Bowl XXX, which was played in Sun Devil Stadium. Having hopefully made that point, I was offended when I heard someone call my facilities mediocre.
Also, outsiders, be reminded that you have been napping on Cameron Marshall for far too long. He is constantly slept-on by publications and analysts regarding the top backs in the PAC-12. Look at some of his runs, look what he can do when he gets headed north and south, but most importantly, look at his numbers.
He topped 1,200 yards of offense and scored 18 touchdowns last season. and the man still hasn't gotten the respect he deserves. On top of that, Jamal Miles is as explosive of a playmaker that there is in the conference. The offensive line looks as good as it has since 2007, and having a competitive quarterback situation will, at the very least, bring the best from each of those competing.
Do not continue to doubt this team and their potential in 2012. But most importantly, don't ignore the fact that the new regime at ASU has a great chance to be successful. Players have bought in to the new ideology at Arizona State, which is incredibly essential to the growth of a recently revamped program.
To the Sun Devil faithful:
Your beloved team is in the midst of a turnaround. You are tired of losing, and you want to win...now.
But here's the thing; sometimes, turnarounds take time.
I spoke with fellow PAC-12 Networker Rich Neuheisel recently, and he said he felt as though Coach Graham has the toughest job of any new coach in the conference. Keep in mind, this isn't because ASU doesn't have the necessary pieces to complete the puzzle, but because the differences in ideology from the previous coach to the new is so staggeringly opposite. I know the players believe they can win a championship this year, and I also believe such a turnaround is possible.
There isn't a college football player in the country that prefers to lose, and every one of those players is trying not to do so. Strength coaches around the country are paid handsomely to get the players in the best shape possible, while increasing their strength and durability. Few outsiders understand the amount of work that college football players put into an off-season. They put in so much work, in fact, players everywhere at many programs feel as though they have a chance to win big in the upcoming season they are preparing so hard for. Essentially, everyone is trying to win a championship, and if they don't think they're capable of it, it's already a lost cause.
I can say with all honestly that my teammates and I, those who bought in at least, all expected and believed that we could win a championship last season. Things didn't work out, and the reason for it was chemistry, or a lack there-of. The key to the Sun Devils success in 2012 is not only the production of the man lining up behind the center, but also chemistry.
Coach Graham has continued to preach the importance of the team not beating themselves, and that phrase goes beyond the field where the game is played. A team can beat itself in the locker-room as well. I've seen it happen, and it was a nightmare. Obviously, penalties and turnovers play a big roll on the field, but trust, commitment and respect play an even larger role off of it. When those three words—trust, commitment and respect—blend together cohesively, you develop good chemistry as it pertains to football.
If the Sun Devils can play for each other, play smart, and produce the way they are capable of, then they have what it takes to win big in 2012. Time will tell though, as we will see how things develop throughout the season.
But, Sun Devil faithful, one thing is for sure... you might have the football program you have always wanted in the near future, a winning one.