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Column: With strong foundations, ASU athletics set to be major player for years to come

In the wake of the University of Texas canning Steve Patterson, his other former employer, Arizona State, is quietly building itself to becoming an elite program of its own.

Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sports

In collegiate athletics, a school's reputation can often precede its quality, and programs with rich histories essentially have a lifetime of donor support and recruiting advantages built in. Universities such as Alabama and Notre Dame were blessed with early success in the formative days of college football as a national staple, and thus despite not being located in areas known for much outside the campus they sit on, find consistent success in maintaining a top tier program. Kansas was the birthplace of basketball and the home of Wilt Chamberlain, and the Jayhawks' tradition of excellence is their calling card for recruits and head coaching targets.

Arizona State has that caliber of a program on the baseball field, as a run of greatness under Bobby Winkles elevated the Sun Devils to the highest echelon of baseball programs, and despite its recent lack of postseason success, is a prime destination for recruits and top coaching candidates.

It's that tradition of excellence, and all the money that came with it, that lured Steve Patterson to the University of Texas-Austin after making a strong mark on the Sun Devils in his time is ASU's athletic director. He hired Todd Graham, who has since brought the football program back to national respectability, and improved the university's relationship with branding giant Nike. Patterson set the Sun Devils on the right path towards status as an all-around competitor, but left far before the job was near completion.

Two years later, Patterson is out of a job and the Sun Devils are better than ever.

To say that the ASU community was uncertain about the future of Sun Devil Athletics moving forward after Patterson's departure is an understatement. Even when Ray Anderson was hired, his lack of experience at the collegiate level was concerning.

But while Patterson's time at Texas turned rocky early and spiraled out of control late, Anderson has ensured that the Sun Devils' stock kept rising post-Patterson, and ASU's in a better position in regards to universal appeal to recruits than it ever has been.

Anderson hired Tracy Smith, who put together a strong season in his first year as the baseball head coach and has its stock on the rise. Graham never slowed down from his pursuit of greatness for Sun Devil football, and after the Adidas deal that Anderson secured, will have resources and brand marketing that rival any other program in the country. He was behind the elevation of the Sun Devils' hockey program from the club level to NCAA Division 1, and orchestrated the long-awaited undergoing of renovations to Sun Devil Stadium.

Anderson's track record in the NFL in various executive positions speaks for itself, but he didn't have to deal with the fates of student-athletes when he was one of the most powerful men in the country's most powerful league. But in the business that requires many small decisions that affect multiple people, Anderson's shown a better ability to do such than Patterson. Anderson has treated the existing Sun Devil community with the utmost respect, and thus it's rewarding him in form of donors.

Patterson pushed some Texas season ticket holders out of their seats in what was billed as a "loyalty" program after a losing season. Anderson exhibits great people skills and maintains good relationships with ASU coaches, Patterson cut meals for coaches.

Small choices, but with much larger results.

ASU is no Texas. They don't have the donors or the tradition of all-around excellence that the Longhorns have, and the Patterson era in Texas will be looked back on as a minor speed bump on the university's road back to the elite. Texas will rise again, and Charlie Strong and Shaka Smart, a pair of Patterson hires, will be part of that rise.

But even though ASU isn't quite on the same level as a Texas or Ohio State, the job that Anderson has done since taking the position in January 2014 has the Sun Devils on the cusp of joining those elite. With Graham, Smith, Bobby Hurley and the rest of the extraordinary talent that Anderson's hired to coach the Sun Devils, ASU is better than ever. It's a matter of time until one of them breaks the Sun Devils back through for a national title.

The tradition of excellence isn't there throughout, but the foundations are.