Todd Graham took Mark Schlabach's mother out to a nice seafood dinner then never called her again.
He then double-dipped his potato chip at Pat Forde's party.
To cap it all off, Graham gave away the location of the secret Rebel base on Hoth to the Empire, with predictably disastrous results.
Surely, he had to create such mischief and personal offense to most of the prominent national media to warrant their ire for just about everything he does, right? Leaving a middle-tier FBS coaching job after one year for a better all-around situation (granted, at another middle-tier program) does not warrant the vitriol that Graham has received since the middle of December, does it?
Apparently it does.
By now, we are months removed from such scathing columns written by otherwise exceedingly talented columnists. But while time has passed and the immediate animosity has died down, the general disdainful attitude towards Graham remains.
Take for example this past Tuesday. On a routine conference call, Graham addressed a number of issues, including the quarterback battle, spring ball and Junior Onyeali's suspension. He then mentioned the large increase in class attendance by his players (66% to be exact) since taking over and said "You have to have accountability".
When that was tweeted by the excellent Bruce Feldman of CBS, the Pavlovian reaction of many national media members upon hearing "Todd Graham" kicked in.
I know it seems like we the media hate Todd Graham. We don't. I mean, he's too dang funny to hate.— Ben Kercheval (@CFTBenKercheval) May 8, 2012
I mean, it's really tough to hate someone who's a walking punchline.— Ben Kercheval (@CFTBenKercheval) May 8, 2012
That's just a brief (and mild) three minute sampling of what has become par for the course for much of the national media towards Graham. Again, these are all talented and insightful writers for prominent media outlets. They are absolutely entitled to their opinion, however it was formed.
The genesis of this resentment is old news barely worth rehashing. To harp on a coach for job-hopping these days is borderline hypocrisy. It's not like Graham "Petrinoed" the University of Pittsburgh. He took a job that he felt was better for him and his family. The text message scandal each has a side signing a different tune. The continued sniping from Pitt fans (I still receive bitter tweets and article comments) comes straight from the halls of any junior high in the country. But the fact is he did leave after just one year, and in less than ideal circumstances.
But is this ongoing grudge fair? Based on the reaction many ASU fans have had to the treatment of Graham, absolutely not. Then again, that is in large part due to the "circle the wagon" and "protect your own" mentality of the hometown fan. In the end, the answer is somewhere in the middle, and I'm not here to judge these or others on their opinions. In a sports media landscape in which Skip Bayless is still employed, criticism or grudge-holding towards a football coach hardly registers on the lasting impact scale.
In the grand scheme of things, it's mostly meaningless. As long as Graham wins over the local fans, recruits and boosters, it works out for Sun Devil Nation. But what, if anything, can he do to overcome this annoying national stigma?
Most in the national media haven't seen the work Graham has done since his arrival, and it's hard to fault them for that. With over 120 FBS schools, the Fordes, Feldmans and Schlabachs of the world aren't going to be so granular in their coverage of a school that has largely been a disappointment since Frank Kush left. They are going to deal in the high-level, 140-character friendly news items and go deeper if those larger notions warrant it.
But what they are missing what should count most in forming an opinion about a man and a coach. A quick summary for those just waking from their pre-Christmas coma: he put together a good recruiting class at the 11th hour, built new bonds with media and former players, changed an entire culture of apathy and indifference and resurrected a fanbase's love and interest. Not too shabby, eh?
We as local media members, fans, former players and anyone else connected to the program all have had a front row seat to witness this remarkable turnaround. We've been among the "74,000 hands" he has shaken during his tireless community outreach efforts. We see a program that was knocked to the mat now re-energized as the theme from Rocky comes on.
But, that works on a local, not national scale. Something or some combination of things need to occur to raise that profile.
The simple answer to the national media issue is "win". Yep, winning does a great many things, but it does not cure all. If he can come out and win 24 games over the next three years, that will be great, but the talk will then turn to "Where will Todd go next?" Next time a head coach is fired or leaves a school, jump on Twitter and see how many "Graham to (school)" jokes you see. Over/under is set for 25.
So then it must be time, right? Get a second contract from ASU after his current deal expires after the 2016 season. Be there for the finished renovations to Sun Devil Stadium in 2017. Doing so will indicate that his vision has been a success. These days, losing coaches don't stick around for five years, no matter how noble their cause.
However, it may not matter. Graham may stick around for 12 years, win a few South Division titles and people will still label him dishonest, a liar and a scoundrel. If that was the case, I'd taken that in a heartbeat.
Graham's job is not to win a national popularity contest. It is to win games, mold young men and make a positive impact in the community, and he's thus far demonstrated that he is on his way to doing just that. While the people with the biggest platforms and voices may vehemently disagree, the ones in maroon and gold may ultimately not want it any other way.
Follow me on Twitter @BDenny29