Todd Graham is exiting his ASU coaching post with grace, class
TEMPE, Ariz. — As soon as Arizona State Vice President for University Athletics Ray Anderson had concluded his press conference to announce the firing of coach Todd Graham on Sunday, Sun Devil Athletics spokesman Mark Brand made an unusual announcement.
Graham wanted to address the media.
About 50 reporters and cameramen (maybe more) made the trek from the Dutson Theater at the south end of the Sun Devil Stadium to the media room in the new student-athlete facility that Graham’s fund-raising efforts helped build at the north end of the stadium.
After about 10 minutes, Graham appeared. What followed was a remarkable show of grace, class and accountability.
“It’s been an emotional day,” said Graham, who admitted his firing took him by surprise about 14 hours after ASU defeated Arizona, 42-30, in the Territorial Cup Game just outside that media room. “I was so proud of our team last night and what it meant to us.”
Graham read from a script in which he thanked everyone from university president Michael Crow, former and current players, former and current assistants and their families, Sun Devil staff members, Sun Devil Nation, the people who supported the program and even the media, insisting that he would continue to support the program and he would always be a Sun Devil.
“We put our heart and soul, everything we had into this thing,” he said. “This building is my life’s work and I’ve got a full heart today. I’m just so grateful for the opportunity and the blessing.”
Graham said that despite the firing, the past three seasons’ trials and some unachieved goals, he is proud of what he accomplished at ASU.
“Six years ago, coming in here, it was a very different place,” said Graham, who has a 46-31 record and five bowl appearances in six seasons. “You always want to leave a place better than you found it and I really feel like we’ve done that.
“I walked in here and we were a 2.2 GPA [grade point average]. That does mean a lot to me that we’re a 3.0 and we’re doing what we should do for young people, and that’s helping them get an education.”
Graham said he felt compelled to address the media because he wanted to walk his talk; keep setting an example for the Sun Devil players.
“No way I wouldn’t come here,” he said. “How can I teach the values to our players and not come in here and address the fans and address the people that buy the tickets — that provide me with such an incredible life and experience to be a teacher?
“Life isn’t easy but I think it’s important when you face adversity as a teacher that you demonstrate to your players how you should handle that.”
Graham singled out his four wins against Arizona, the famous Jael Mary win at USC in 2014, a win over Notre Dame in 2014, and clinching the Pac-12 South title in 2013 at the Rose Bowl as special memories.
“We’ve had success,” he said. “Maybe it wasn’t enough.”
When asked if he would have done anything differently, Graham offered humor: “I’d have won every game I lost,” he said, eliciting laughter. “I don’t really have any regrets.”
When asked if he planned to continue coaching, he said, “I will coach until they throw dirt over the top of me.”
On that note, Graham confirmed that he would coach in the Sun Devils’ bowl game, which is likely to be the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas.
“If I’m going to go out, I’m proud to go out with these seniors,” he said. “I’m fired up.
“We teach these players how important the finish is and I want to finish.”