Pittsburgh’s Todd Graham to be new ASU football coach

The swirling dust devil surrounding the search for a new Arizona State football coach has apparently died out long enough for the school to hit a new target.

ASU will announce in a 5:30 pm press conference today that Todd Graham, the head coach at the University of Pittsburgh, will be taking over as the new football boss in Tempe.

Media reports began swirling earlier today when Graham sent a text message to his Pitt players to let them know he resigned his position “to pursue the head coaching position at Arizona State.”  He told them he was on his way to Tempe “to continue those discussions.”

Sounded kinda like a done deal.  So the word spread quickly.

Maybe Graham was the appropriate choice since he has been living in a whirlwind environment lately, not unlike the situation at ASU where it looked they had already made their hire twice, first with Houston’s Kevin Sumlin and then just days later with June Jones at Southern Methodist.

But last-minute changes in those game plans left the Sun Devils at the altar.  No deal.  No coach.  But lots of angst within the ASU community and its fan base.

Graham has been at Pittsburgh all of one full season after leaving Tulsa, where he compiled a 43-23 record.  He went 6-6 in his first, and only, season at Pitt.

He stepped into chaos at Pittsburgh, where officials there will now be looking for their fourth head coach in just over a year.  The Panthers fired Dave Wannstedt last December, had Mike Haywood on board for two weeks, and then welcomed Graham to the job because he promised to bring in the “high octane” offense he had used in previous jobs.

Twelve games later he was headed for the desert to replace Dennis Erickson, who has failed to produce a winning season at ASU in the last four years.

Erickson was a controversial choice when ASU Vice President for Athletics Lisa Love hired him because, despite the fact that he had won a couple of national titles, he never stayed with any program very long and had a trail of coaching stops on his resume.

The job in Tempe will be the fourth head-coaching stop for Graham in seven years.  One year at Rice, four at Tulsa, and then a hit-and-run at Pitt.

At Rice, he was named the 2006 Conference USA Coach of the Year.  But he earned his reputation at Tulsa, where his teams twice led the nation in total offense.  His 2007 and 2008 teams had back-to-back 10-plus wins for the first time in school history.  And his 10-3 win over Notre Dame during the 2010 season was one of the biggest wins ever for the Oklahoma program.

Graham, whose background is actually on the defensive side of the ball, was still coaching high school ball in 2000 but has enjoyed a meteoric rise in the coaching ranks that began with a job as an assistant on Rich Rodriguez’s staff at West Virginia in 2001.

According to reports in the Pittsburgh media, Graham’s short stay at Pitt was not a smooth ride.  The fan base never warmed to him, and grew increasingly disenchanted as the season progressed.

And he didn’t endear himself much to the administration either, since it was no secret that Graham was job-hunting while working for his new employer.

But evidently the ASU boosters have gone along with Love’s pick this time and the 47-year-old Texas native will inherit a program that has become a contender during Erickson’s reign.

Taking it to the next level – and keeping it there – is another matter.

But Graham will need to stick around a little longer in this job if he wants to accomplish that.

(Photo: Tulsa Media Relations)