TEMPE, Ariz. — They’ll be on opposite sidelines with different goals Saturday, but two years ago, for about a week, they were on the same sideline (OK, same building) with the same goal: Putting Arizona State in the best possible position to succeed.
Todd Graham had just been hired as head coach. The man he replaced, Dennis Erickson, fired weeks earlier after losing the final four regular season games in 2011, was staying on to finish his fifth year coaching the Sun Devils by leading them against Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Incoming head coach sat down with outgoing head coach.
“When I was hired he was very gracious,” Graham said. “I asked for the opportunity to visit with him and he visited with me and was very gracious; just kind of gave me the lay of the land. Nothing but respect from my standpoint for him, a guy that has national championship rings on his fingers.”
Graham and Erickson may run into one another again this week when ASU visits Utah.
After a year away from the game, Erickson came out of retirement. He was hired in February to join Utah as co-offensive coordinator with Brian Johnson under head coach Kyle Whittingham.
Utah (4-4, 1-4) is coming off its bye. And while they have struggled lately, losing three of four, their most recent win came against No. 5 Stanford, 27-21.
“Obviously got tremendous respect for Coach Erickson. He’ll be a hall of fame coach,” Graham said. “Very grateful for the job that he did here bringing young men like Taylor Kelly and Fink (Evan Finkenberg) and Will Sutton and Alden Darby. I was very, very fortunate to be at a place that had really quality people that really was a great fit for me. Nothing but respect there.”
The feeling is mutual. Erickson was one of the first to congratulate Graham and what were now his former players after ASU beat Arizona last season, 41-34.
“He was very gracious last year when we won the Territorial Cup and dropped us a line,” Graham said. “Really appreciated that.”