With Todd Graham's introduction as Arizona State's next head coach, Sun Devil nation can now breathe a collective sigh of relief and take a step or two back off the ledge.
While ASU's long national nightmare is over, their work is just beginning.
Graham inherits a team and a program facing challenges on most every front--a disappointing team that imploded down the stretch, fan apathy, key coaching staff defections, a crumbling recruiting class and an overall culture of mediocrity...just to name a few.
With that in mind, here are the most pressing issues facing Coach Graham as he steps into the job.
Call D.J. Foster
ASU's recent history of recruiting the top in-state talent has been nothing short of abysmal. While the team was very successful in the fertile California regions under Dennis Erickson, the Sun Devils were routinely beat out for the best Arizona players.
That appeared to be in the process of changing as ASU was closing in on the state's 2012 crown jewel, Scottsdale Saguaro running back D.J. Foster. The four-star recruit was ridiculously dominate this seasons, scoring 59 touchdowns and rushing for over 3,000 yards, and his explosive talents figured to be a perfect fit for ASU's offense.
Foster had said he would come to ASU if Erickson remained, and even after Erickson was fired, Foster altered his claim to say that he'd still come if ASU retained offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. Now that Mazzone is gone, Foster has yet to close the door on the Devils, leading many to believe his heart lies in Tempe.
Securing Foster would be a huge lift not only to ASU and the chances of maintaining the quality of ASU's 2012 class, but it would make major progress in reversing the troubling trend of ASU's inability to recruit in their backyard.
Assemble the Staff
A head coach is really only as good as the staff he assembles, and with such a late hire, Graham must be diligent and efficient in creating his staff.
The only two members of ASU's current staff that would have conceivably have been held over were offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone and wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator Steve Broussard, although both are now off the table after accepting positions at UCLA.
It's been reported that Graham will bring both of his existing coordinators-Keith Patterson on defense and Mike Norvell for the offense-as well as Paul Randolph as the defensive line coach and Spencer Leftwich for the offensive line.
He will round out the staff with coaches with deep ties throughout the west because Graham realizes that he must...
Win the West
Pitt's 2012 class was shaping up to be a very impressive talent haul. Led by five-star running back Rushel Shell and four other four-star players, Graham had assembled the nation's 18th ranked recruiting class for the Panthers.
However, looking at the list, one thing stood out: There was not a single commit from west of the Mississippi River or south of Tennessee. While Graham had done outstanding work in the talent-rich western Pennsylvania and Ohio
areas, his lack of anything out west is troubling.
It's compounded by Graham's history in the fertile Texas and Oklahoma areas. A native Texan, Graham played college ball in Oklahoma, and was a head at two Texas high schools before taken over the reins at Rice and Tulsa.
At ASU, that lack of presence in the West will need to be immediately rectified if he is to have success. He'll need to select dynamic recruiters that can get top players from California, Texas, Oklahoma and of course here in Arizona. That may be his most difficult task.
One of Graham's favored phrases is "high octane", a view he extends from the style of play on the field to the preparation involved in becoming a winning team.
But the phrase that has made the biggest immediate impact and the one that is in the most need of translating into tangible results is "speaking victory".
The reason for Arizona Stat's struggles during the Erickson era most often had nothing to do with being the less talented team or having inferior schemes. They simply were not mentally tough, disciplined or prepared enough to become consistent winners. This resulted in a lackadaisical culture that now is in dire need of a jarring reinvigoration.
Graham is the kind of coach that can manage such a turnaround. A tough-minded, blue collar coach, Graham has a proven track record of taking moribund programs and making them winners.
This ASU program suffered through a November that was nothing short of a disaster and then a coaching search that became a source of national ridicule. Graham's task in revitalizing this team, program and fanbase will be steep.
But if his dynamic press conference is an early indication, he brings something that early in the week seemed like a near impossibility-legitimate hope and excitement for 2012.
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