Not a good sign: No contract extension for ASU’s Graham


Evidently, a half-million dollar contribution doesn’t necessarily buy job security.  If Todd Graham didn’t know that before, he does now.

The head football coach at Arizona State University ponied up a cool $500,000, putting it together with a similar donation from the school’s athletic director, Ray Anderson, to give an early boost to the fund-raising campaign for the renovation project on Sun Devil Stadium.

That was September of 2014 and Graham was just about to begin his third season in charge of the program and riding pretty high after posting an 8-5 inaugural season in 2012, the first winning regular-season record in five years; beating rival Arizona; and posting the first bowl win in seven years.  The next year he won 10 games, claimed the Pac-12 South championship, and was named 2013 Pac-12 Coach of the Year.

The euphoria lasted one more year, as Graham’s 2014 squad went 10-3 and was division runner-up.

But back-to-back losing seasons followed and the Texas native finds himself on the hot seat going into his sixth season.  The tenuous nature of his future in Tempe was further confirmed this week when his five-year contract was not given an extension, something that has been pretty consistent in the past.

Graham’s contract has been given one-year extensions each year since 2013 – but not this year, says Anderson, in responding to media inquiries.  Anderson, who didn’t hire Graham since his own tenure didn’t begin until January of 2014, pointed out that the extension was not an automatic provision in the contract and didn’t necessarily need to be rolled over.

Graham is under contract through 2021, but the annual extensions kept the length of his original contract consistent at five years.  But, by cutting off a year, ASU would save a considerable chunk of money should the school decide after this season that it wants to release Graham.  He would have to be paid the remainder of the contract obligation for the four remaining years and, since his annual salary is $3.2 million, the school would save that much by not extending it before the coming season.

But the coach could also benefit from not receiving an extension.  His contract penalizes him for leaving before it has expires, standard for most head coaches’ contracts, and if the contract has just four years to run instead of five, he could save himself $500,000 on the penalty.

In a strange twist, that would sort of cancel out the donation he made.

Graham seems to sincerely love being at ASU and has repeatedly said this is where he would like to finish his career.  But he’s been a bit of a nomad throughout his coaching career.  When he accepted the job in Tempe it was his fourth head-coaching gig in seven years; he had been at Pittsburgh just one season before jumping ship to move to the desert.

So if next season doesn’t goes as well as he hopes and he begins to feel a lack of support, he could pull the trigger himself rather than wait to be fired.

Here’s the real irony in all of this:

If Graham doesn’t turn things around this season and is asked to step aside for a successor, he will just miss enjoying the results of his generous support three years ago.

The stadium renovation project he helped fund is scheduled for completion in time for the 2018 season.

(Photo: ASU Athletics)