ARIZONA FOOTBALL

Todd Graham and Rich Rodriguez both on ESPN’s hot seat list entering 2017

Dec 1, 2016, 6:00 AM | Updated: 11:20 am
(Associated Press)...
(Associated Press)
(Associated Press)

After disappointing seasons for Arizona State and Arizona, head coaches Todd Graham and Rich Rodriguez enter 2017 on the hot seat.

Even though both ASU athletic director Ray Anderson and Arizona AD Greg Byrne said they support their head coaches heading into next season, ESPN writer Adam Rittenberg ranked Graham No. 4 and Rodriguez No. 7 on his list of NCAA football coaches on the hot seat to begin 2017.

Graham, hired in 2012, finds himself on Rittenberg’s list after leading ASU to a 5-7 season. The past two years, he has put up an underachieving 11-14 record. During Graham’s first three seasons as head coach, he tallied a 28-12 record, which included winning the Pac-12 South in 2013.

Graham’s struggles mostly come on the defensive side of the ball.

ASU ended the year ranked as the sixth-worst overall defense in the nation. The Sun Devils gave up seven yards per play and 520 total yards, which are both the second most of any team. While many teams weren’t able to pound the ball on the ground, they were able to soar through the air as ASU allowed an NCAA-high 357 passing yards per game. The Sun Devils allowed the sixth-most points per game this year (39.8).

The trend line here is troubling as Arizona State is 11-14 since consecutive 10-win seasons and a Pac-12 South division championship in 2013. A $14 million buyout prevented ASU from making a change, but Graham must show improvement next season. This season is just the second time Graham will miss a bowl game as a head coach, and he has improved academics and off-field conduct. But Arizona State wants to take the next step after making significant investments in the program.

Rodriguez’s seat is less hot.

After being hired in 2012, the Arizona coach has tallied a 36-29 record. His only negative record during his tenure at Arizona came at 3-9 this year and featured an eight-game losing streak that was snapped when they beat the Sun Devils in the Territorial Cup.

Arizona’s overall offense was ranked in the bottom half in the nation, much in part due to an injury-riddled season. The defense was a no show as well, ranking 10th-worst in the NCAA by allowing 38.3 points per game and recorded the fourth most first downs allowed (25.17). Discipline was clearly an issue as well on both sides of the ball. The Wildcats ranked second in number of penalties (8.50).

That there was so little talk about Rodriguez’s job status despite his worst season since 2008 at Michigan speaks to a few factors. Arizona isn’t in a position to pay Rodriguez to walk away. Also, would Arizona be able to land a more accomplished coach than RichRod, who was coveted by other Power 5 schools as recently as last year (South Carolina)? He will need better results on the field and better results on the injury front in 2017. If not, the school likely will have to pull the plug.

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Todd Graham and Rich Rodriguez both on ESPN’s hot seat list entering 2017