Early on right after the “story” broke, it seemed almost as if Arizona State coach Todd Graham was offended — maybe even hurt — by the accusations of his team stealing signals, and maybe cheating in the process.
Now, though, he seems amused.
“No, but we’ve got Dr. Evil up in the press box with with his telescope and all that,” he joked with Doug and Wolf on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Friday morning. “I was thinking about wearing safari binoculars around my neck for this next game.”
Now that would be a sight to behold, though it’s doubtful any other coaches would steal the look.
See what we did there?
Graham, getting serious, went on to talk about how the idea of stealing signals, which is something he has admitted to and says every other team does, too. He explained how as he was rising through the coaching ranks he has held jobs where his role was to identify personnel groupings in order to try and help ascertain what an opponent might do, and now, as more teams have turned to no-huddle offenses, the idea of trying to gain an edge by knowing what they might be doing is almost a necessity.
“The no-huddle really changed how everybody communicates, and the no-huddle is really an advantage for the offense,” he said. “I think that, obviously, what our whole deal is being able to look over there, and most people signal their formation so we can get their formation signals because they’ve got to signal fast, so you’re able to get that and all that.
“The no-huddle really changed that, but by the time — if you’ve tried to get a play or something like that — I have to be honest with you, very few times we actually get a play, but if you do you don’t have time to do anything about it because people like Oregon and Utah or the ones in our league are going so fast.”
Graham added that trying to pick up on signals “is a way where the defense can have a chance,” noting that his team — and many others — have a plethora of signals and signalers in order to try and combat their opponent picking up on things.
And that’s probably the thing right there. The idea that a team could try and steal signs is not new, nor is it all that crazy. Of course a defense will try and pick up on whatever it can in order to stop an offense, just as an offense — like Utah did by going to a huddle in the fourth quarter of their 34-18 win over the Sun Devils a few weeks ago and Oregon did by using giant white sheets to block their signals in a 61-55 triple OT thriller last week — will do whatever it can to maintain its edge.
That’s football. That’s sports. That’s probably why Graham called it “comical” that people would come out and insinuate the Devils are doing something wrong, and why the Pac-12 released a statement saying that for all the talk over the last week about what ASU is or might be doing, there have been no formal complaints filed against Graham and his staff.
Which leads to another question, which is why this all of a sudden became a story about ASU when it’s pretty well accepted that most programs, at least if they are doing things right, at least attempt to do the same thing.
“Really, it’s only been one team,” Graham said, citing Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost. “I don’t know, we must be good at it.”
What’s funny, Graham said, is that the member of the coaching staff who used to be the best at identifying what opponents are doing is his son Bo, who no longer works for the school. Now, the coach said that job falls on Danny Phillips, who does what they call “analysis stuff.”
Whatever you call it, be it sign stealing, analysis or observation, the point is as far as anyone knows ASU has done nothing other than prepare itself the best it can within the guidelines of the rules. Is that really a problem?
“There’s not anybody that I know I’ve ever worked that doesn’t look at the other team’s sidelines trying to get signals for groupings or formations or anything like that,” Graham said. “It’s absolutely silly for someone to act like — now if you’re videoing somebody’s sideline or you’re doing the audio, you’re definitely violating the rules, but it’s a part of the game just like signals in baseball or anything else.”
Of course, one way to remove the possibility for stealing signs would be to go the route of the NFL, where a quarterback can get the play calls in via remote headset, thereby eliminating the need for signs or signals or anything that can be stolen. Granted even that method of play-calling is not foolproof, but it would remove some of the gray area that exists in the game today.
Graham said he does not have a problem with the idea and would be all for it, but until that is an option, they will continue to try and disguise their own signals while trying to pick up on their opponent’s.
Besides, as Graham said anyone who runs a no-huddle offense understands how little picking up on signs can actually help.
“When we’re running our offense, we don’t even worry about somebody getting our signals because by the time the signal is sent in you have about six seconds before the ball is snapped, so it’s pretty difficult to be able to do something with it,” he said. “It’s an interesting deal. You could talk all day about it, but it is a part of the strategy of being able to identify because the strategy of football, to me, it’s mathematics. It’s about angles, it’s about where you deploy your personnel and the angles and the things and the numbers and how they add up.
“Formation determines so much of that, so it’s so important that you can get that formation quicker and the invention of the no-huddle it made it very difficult, it happened so much more rapid that if you don’t get someone’s formation signals, I would tell you there’s not one game probably that another team doesn’t have the groupings or the formation signals. If you don’t, it’s very difficult to navigate against the no-huddle.”
In short, if you’re looking for an apology or a change in approach to coaching his team, you’re not going to get one from Graham.
“I don’t worry about what somebody else thinks or somebody else does or says,” he said. “My whole deal is I owe it to my players and to our fans to do everything I can within the framework of the rules.
“One of the things I do take offense to is someone insinuating that we might in some way violate the rules. One, if I thought another coach in our league was doing that I’d pick up the phone and call him. The second thing that I would do is make sure I’d let their school know that, and do it in a certain way. But we absolutely do everything by the rules. Anybody that works around here would know that you won’t work here very long if you get in the gray area. We don’t even talk about the gray area — a lot of people talk about being in a gray area — we’re not even mention being in the gray area, so it does bother you.”
It also disappoints Graham that he has had to spend much of the last week defending his program and tactics against something he and most people see as a non-story.
“It amazes me with all the things that we have, with all the media obligations and all the things that you have to do that we would invent something as silly as this to be talking about,” he said. “And we invented it — not the media, the coaches did it — so it’s very interesting.
“But as far as that deal, we’re doing what we’ve got to do to help give our guys an opportunity to win games and evidently we’re not very good at it because we’ve lost two in a row.”
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