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ASU Football: Todd Graham can't stop gushing about Lindsey, Norvell hires

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The offseason is a time for optimism, but Graham has well-founded reasons for being excited about his new OC and passing game coordinator.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Todd Graham could not stop gushing about his revamped staff, especially new offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey and passing game coordinator Jay Norvell, at Pac-12 Media Days.

"We're very fortunate," Graham said to a handful of local media members. "It's kind of a perfect storm. All of those guys (on the coaching staff) have meshed, too. It's been amazing."

This offseason, Lindsey turned down a head coaching offer at Southern Mississippi—the school he had served as offensive coordinator for—in order to join Graham's staff.

The ASU head coach admits he was nervous when he received the call regarding the offer, but said he never thought Lindsey was a goner.

"That would've not been fun. I'm grateful that he didn't (leave)," Graham said. "My stomach kinda dropped on that deal. Matter of fact, I had just walked out of doing a home visit with N'Keal Harry. I get in the car and he says, 'They just offered me a job.' I mean, what do you do? I was like, ‘Jiminy Crispies!'"

But Lindsey stayed. He was even rewarded with a $100,000 pay increase for his loyalty. More importantly for Arizona State, Graham got his man—the very guy he set out to add to his staff when former offensive coordinator Mike Norvell accepted a head coaching job at Memphis.

"When I wrote down what I was looking for as a (offensive) coordinator, I wanted a guy that we're not starting over with," Graham said. "I wanted a guy that learned in our system, knew our system, believed in our system; I didn't have to convince about our system. Minimal change as far as terminology and learning curve for our players."

Lindsey has previously worked under Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn, a product of the Graham coaching tree, and an offensive mastermind Graham helped construct a dynamic power-spread offense attack.

"Complexity in organization makes simple the operation," Graham said. "It's not the first time I've done this. I've been through them all. I know how to transition them, but I can't (instill) to their core values; they believe something or they don't. I knew who I was hiring."

That's what really sweetened the deal: Lindsey's background. Graham said he admired that he and his new offensive coordinator shared similar pedigree having both been high school head coaches.

His previous work with quarterbacks and his success developing them is a trait Graham cherishes. That, especially when considering the Sun Devils represent the only Division I program to not have a quarterback on their roster who has thrown at least one pass.

For him, it was clear cut who he was looking for.

"We have a new quarterback, so I wanted a guy who was a developer of quarterbacks," Graham said. "That's all he's done his entire life, is develop quarterbacks."

Graham's offense is founded on the principle of using what defenses are taught against them. He said that, admittedly, he's began to wander away from his foundational beliefs, which has led to less success offensively.

This season, he would like to get back to what he believes in: getting the quarterback in rhythm, getting the ball into the hands of playmakers, running the football well, and not turning the ball over.

"Rhythmic passing—not just raise up and throw it," Graham said of his idea of a quick passing game.

"Rhythm passing, getting the ball out on time, because I don't wanna take negative plays, and that's something that I think we'll be better at than we've in any of the four years than we've been here, because I know (Lindsey) gets that and he understands that because he's a quarterback guy," he said. "It happens a lot faster than you coach it. So we will be more of a rhythm passing (offense)."

Lindsey's understanding is no further proven by the fact his leading receiver from a season ago, Michael Thomas, led the country in yards caught on slant routes, averaging 19.6 yards per pass caught running slants. N'Keal Harry is someone many think can serve in a similar role.

"We're gonna give him the opportunity," Graham said of the highly-touted recruit. "I've gotta see him practice before we do anything."

The man who will be tasked with developing Harry is Norvell, whose primary title is receivers coach. He's a man whom Graham is equally excited about adding to his staff.

"Jay made it really difficult for us because he was so qualified and such a great coach," Graham said.

Norvell has past stops as offensive coordinator and/or receivers coach at Nebraska, UCLA, Oklahoma, and most recently, Texas.

"The guys that he's coached and developed... What he's brought, what I really think, is the development of our receivers," Graham said. "What he brings there is really gonna be invaluable."

The recognition Norvell received during the spring seems to be just by Graham's estimation.

It's one of the stronger units on the team, as are the running backs.

Graham says personnel drives everything the team does. If that's true, Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage will certainly be key fixtures within the offense.

"Chip, he fit all the criteria, and part of that is we're gonna run the football," Graham said.

The duo of Richard and Ballage had a couple of standout performances last year, including against Oregon and Arizona when they combined for 262 yards and 215 yards, respectively. If they can find consistent, dominant form, the maroon and gold offense will be able to mask the inexperience of their quarterbacks, should it be an issue.

Success of the offense also hinges on the play of the offensive line, which will trot out an almost entirely new group onto the field this season.

"The key for us is just not doing too much with four new starters on the offensive line, keeping it simple," Graham said. "I've got a lot of confidence."

In the midst of that confidence, however, is the comprehension this is a team undergoing many changes being coached by a staff featuring a handful of new faces in important roles.

"I'm giving you all the positive side," Graham said. "The negative side is that we've never worked together."

Regardless, he's insistent this group is a capable one, and his decisions were only made with the thought of putting his team in the best possible position to win football games.

"My approach is different," he said. "I'm very relational when it comes to (making hires). You've gotta fit a place. You've gotta know what you're getting into. That's a lot of it. You could have one out of nine guys on your staff not fit, and it causes a lot of problems."

Graham says this group appears to be working well together.

"How they mesh. How (offensive line coach) Chris Thomsen meshes, (running backs coach) John Simon—I really like this group," he said.

The belief entering the new year is that this coaching staff, including the new hires, meshes well enough to return the team to better form.