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ASU coach Todd Graham understands his job could be on the line

Arizona State head coach Todd Graham yells during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Southern California Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ryan Kang)

TEMPE, Ariz. — Arizona State football coach Todd Graham hasn’t shied away from questions regarding his job security. Following the first day of training camp on Tuesday, Graham met them head on.

“If you’re 5-7, I don’t really think that you should get an extension,” Graham said, referencing the Arizona Board of Regents’ decision not to extend his contract by a year this summer — a move that had been a rubber stamp in previous seasons. “I do have a good contract, a five-year contract with over four years left on it with a great investment and commitment from Dr. Crow and Ray [Anderson], but we’re in the performance business, man. I signed up for it so I have no problem with that.”

By now, everyone remotely associated with the program knows the lay of the land.

Graham is coming off 6-7 and 5-7 seasons. His pass defense has statistically been the worst in the nation the past two seasons and the team gave up big plays at an alarming rate last year, allowing 18 touchdowns of 50-plus yards, including three in a dismal season finale against rival Arizona.

When Vice President for University of Athletics Ray Anderson told Arizona Sports in November that Graham would return for another season, he also made it clear that he expected Graham to “evaluate his program and make the appropriate adjustments — very frankly particularly on the defensive side.”

On Tuesday, when referencing the Board of Regents’ decision not to extend Graham’s contract, Anderson said: “I can tell you it was my decision to make.”

Nobody knows how many wins it would take for Graham to restore confidence and keep his job.

While it’s hard to envision Anderson signing off on another year if Graham can’t get to eight wins, there could be circumstances that keep him around if ASU goes 7-5. It’s probably more about what’s happening in the program, and whether Anderson feels the program is again moving forward.

Graham has tried to fix the defense with the demotion of good friend Keith Patterson and the hiring of longtime confidant Phil Bennett as defensive coordinator, but the secondary is still an issue. Armand Perry retired for health reasons and Kareem Orr transferred unexpectedly to Tennessee Chattanooga, removing two key veterans who had some success on a unit that hasn’t enjoyed much.

The Sun Devils’ Achilles heel will be heavily reliant on young unproven players.

“We went to four straight bowl games. We didn’t get it done last year,” Graham said. “That’s a minimum expectation that we have to do every year, but I’m not sitting here shooting for a bowl game. I’m shooting to win championships and it can be done.”

While Graham’s critics prefer a black and white assessment of his performance to the nuance that really defines it, there is plenty for Graham to tout.

The program’s academics are at an all-time high and Graham has worked tirelessly to forge relationships with the boosters, alumni and ASU’s past, a stark contrast to his immediate predecessors, Dennis Erickson and Dirk Koetter.

The fruits of that labor were evident as Graham addressed the media in the new student-athlete center at rapidly transforming Sun Devil Stadium.

“This building was made possible because of unprecedented support in this program,” Graham said. “In talking to those guys I spent a lot of time with them. It wasn’t because we won a few football games. Winning is important; ain’t no doubt about it, but it’s because of how we’re doing it.”

All of that is important, and it warrants more than a mention, but Graham understands the bottom line that determines every coach’s fate

“I really like that. That’s why I went into this business,” he said. “I’m not really cut out to be an intramural coach.

“If you look at and see the investment this university has made to me, it’s been remarkable and I’m very grateful for that and grateful for the opportunity we have here, but you have to perform. That’s what I signed up for and I don’t have a problem with that one bit.”

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