Graham and Rodriguez traveling uncertain roads this season
Todd Graham’s and Rich Rodriguez’s careers have mirrored one another since they were respectively hired by ASU and Arizona.
Rodriguez joined Arizona in late November 2011, just before Graham took over at Arizona State in early December.
Since, Graham led the Sun Devils to two 10-win seasons in his first three years in the program while Rodriguez led the Wildcats to a Fiesta Bowl appearance in 2014, the first 10-win season since 1998.
Now they both sit on the hot seat and in 2017 need to show promise in each of their respective programs.
ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg included both coaches when crafting his preseason hot seat rankings, with Graham ranked second and Rodriguez ranked fourth.
Graham is 39-26 heading into his sixth season and is coming off his worst campaign as the Sun Devils’ coach by going 5-7.
Why he’s on the hot seat: He hasn’t backed up the bluster, going 11-14 (6-12 in Pac-12 play) over the past two seasons. In June, Arizona State did not grant Graham’s one-year rollover clause for the first time since his arrival.
Arizona State’s defense has been terrible the last couple of seasons. Just last year, the Sun Devils ranked second-worst in the FBS in total defense and second-worst nationally in passing defense.
After Graham finished his first three seasons with a 28-12 record, he has not been able to put together a winning season in the last two years.
The Sun Devils head into the season facing a tough schedule that does not offer optimism with six schools who won at least nine games in 2016 and two teams ranked (No. 8 Washington and No. 4 USC) inside the top-10 in the AP poll.
Down south in Tucson, Rodriguez has had problems sustaining success as his program has not been ranked in the top 20 in a preseason AP Poll in his tenure.
The Wildcats haven’t capitalized on their surprise 10-win season in 2014. They’ve won as many games since and have gone just 4-14 in Pac-12 play. Another clunker could encourage new athletic director Dave Heeke to shake things up.
Rodriguez may be more of a favorite to hold onto his job compared to Graham because the school has only seen one season with at least nine-wins since 2000 compared to Arizona State, which has four nine-win seasons since 2000.
How he gets off the hot seat: It shouldn’t take too much, as Arizona is a tough place to win and Rodriguez boasts strong credentials. But the Wildcats need to compete better after dropping six league games by 21 points or more.
The Wildcats have a lighter schedule compared to the Sun Devils as they only have four teams with at least nine wins in 2016.
Turning it around begins this week.
The Wildcats open 2017 this Saturday against Northern Arizona, and the Sun Devils begin their season Thursday against New Mexico State.