Every summer, as a new college school year gets close to beginning, there’s always speculation about which coaches might be on the hot seat.
At Arizona State, the school’s athletic director may also find his chair is warming up.
Ray Anderson was introduced as ASU’s new AD in January of 2014 and has generally received good reviews for his work during his first 3 1/2 years. He was an executive with the National Football League when ASU picked him to replace Steve Patterson, but he appears to have adjusted to the college game quite nicely.
But the smooth road he enjoyed at first has become littered with pot holes.
Besides being a good fund-raiser, a college athletic director is judged on his ability to keep his sports programs at the top of their game. And that particularly applies to the ‘major’ sports, the ones that bring the university the most attention, and the most revenue. That includes football, baseball, and men’s basketball.
And right now it’s those three sports that are turning up the heat on Anderson’s job evaluation. All three are suffering through losing seasons that have tarnished the Sun Devil reputation.
Men’s basketball should probably share less of the blame than the others. Bobby Hurley has had just two seasons to work the kind of magic he used at University at Buffalo where he led that team to a school record-matching 23 wins, its first Mid-American Conference title, and its first-ever berth in the NCAA Tournament.
He has posted just 30 wins, split evenly between his first two seasons, but there are signs the program is headed in the right direction. Both of Hurley’s recruiting classes have earned top-20 rankings, the first time in 15 years a men’s basketball program at ASU has broken into the top 20. As he adds the talent, the wins will come.
The baseball program is also under relatively new direction. Tracy Smith just finished his third season at the helm, a season which will go into the record books – but for all the wrong reasons.
After a couple of mediocre seasons in which the team finished tied for third in the Pac-12 each year, last year’s squad won just 23 games, the first time in 55 years a Sun Devil baseball team finished with fewer than 30 victories. The .418 winning percentage is the lowest in program history and the 23-32 record was just the second losing season ever and earned the team a tie for last place in the conference.
But it’s Todd Graham that will enter the 2017-18 school year as the coach with the most to lose. His football program is the crown jewel of the sports offerings, the one that gets the most visibility – and the most scrutiny.
He went 8-5 for the 2012 season, his first as head coach, marking ASU’s first winning season in five years. Graham followed that with a couple of 10-win seasons, capturing the Pac-12 South Championship in 2013. But things took a bad turn after the 2014 season and Graham has endured two straight losing seasons.
Anderson’s contract expires in February of 2019 and there’s no reason to think at this point that he won’t be offered an extension when the time comes.
But, between now and then, he may have to make some difficult personnel decisions in order to keep his job.