I’m yelling down the hall talking to a friend I haven’t seen in a few months. I’m 10 minutes early walking into what I think is an empty meeting room. Someone else is holding the door open for me, so I’m looking back to the person I’m “speaking with,” paying little attention to what’s in front of me.
As I turn to look into the room, I am met with almost 200 eyeballs. Every eye easy to read. The eyes speak to me, saying, “Who is this guy?” No one actually says this, but I know I’ve just busted into a meeting I had no right to be in, despite thinking I was early. I take a seat with total embarrassment.
“Coach, will you close that door and not let anyone else in until we’re done?!”
I haven’t seen the head coach of the Pac-12 South champion Arizona State Sun Devils in weeks. My first time in his presence starts exactly how anyone would not want it to go.
The meeting continues with every player preparing for the ASU Spring Game sitting in the seats of the Dutson Theater with coaches scattered up the sides, along the wall and standing on the lower level.
The players and coaches were scheduled to meet with Pac-12 referees to learn the 2014 points of emphasis, how games are officiated and to gain a feel for what truly constitutes a violation worthy of a flag. This is part of coach Todd Graham’s continuing fight against penalties and his desire to continue to lead the Pac-12 with the fewest.
I was asked to fill in for Tim Healey as ASU’s play-by-play voice for the Spring Game since he was on the road with ASU baseball. I was invited to listen to the meeting with the referees because ASU knew I’m a rules geek. It makes me a better talk show host and sideline reporter when I can sit in on a meeting like this. There’s no harm for ASU in letting me into the meeting, because there weren’t going to be any big secrets discussed.
Coach Graham was finishing up his meeting with his players before the officials were to be invited into the room. Now I’m in the room, uninvited. Since the head coach of Arizona State didn’t stop his meeting and wait for me to leave, I figured it was less of a distraction if I stayed.
If you’ve ever wondered what Todd Graham says to his kids in a closed-door meeting, don’t. If you ever thought the coach must be hamming it up for the cameras while you watched the Pac-12 Network’s “The Drive,” stop. Everything Coach Graham says to his players through the media is exactly what he says to his players without the media.
On a white board was written:
3) PT 42
“When I was hired to be ASU’s next coach, they told me to bring discipline to the program. If you’re not disciplined, you’re not thinking about team. You’re worried about yourself. Disciplined players lose themselves in the team concept.
“You may think it’s annoying that Coach cares about being on time. I know if you’re not on time, you’re not a championship player. Championship players are in early because they want to win the championship. We’re about winning championships at Arizona State. Championship teams have championship players. I’m just telling you now, championship players can’t wait to get to work.”
After he spoke on character, he talked about the effect Pat Tillman had on his country, on football and on ASU. His love in talking about Pat Tillman is not confined to just media schtick to prove to you — and those of us in the media — that he “gets” ASU’s history. Coach Graham seemed to be able to see right through every face looking at him to ensure the message was received. He wanted every player to play like Pat, work in the classroom like Pat, compete like Pat and to try and be like Pat.
Coach wasn’t done. The screens on the wall lit up with film of some of Pat Tillman’s best plays as a Sun Devil. Coach implored every player to perform with Pat’s passion. He explained that Tillman’s emotion poured out of him, making him not only a great player, but also a great teammate — because others around Pat had to emulate Pat in order to keep up with him. Coach Graham also made a clear distinction between good and bad emotion. Showing major plays where Tillman jumped off of a player he just buried yet never took a cheap shot at an opponent or talked down an opponent, Graham emphasized a “destroy with character” mentality — my words, not his.
Then the conversation turned. He spoke to the players about you. He told them of the great honor they had of getting to play in the Spring Game. He said how important fans are to the atmosphere and presence of Sun Devil Stadium. Coach Graham wanted every player to know they owed it to themselves to compete, but that they also owed it to you. He praised you for the sacrifices you make to be a Sun Devil fan, to go to regular season games and even to come out for the Spring Game. He demanded each player compete to give you the show you deserve.
In case you’ve heard Todd Graham for the last two years but wanted inside access to Todd Graham so you could meet the “real” Todd Graham, you don’t need it. You already know him.