EL PASO, Texas- To say that the last month surrounding the Arizona State football program has been tumultuous would be an understatement. After the Sun Devils defeated archrival Arizona 42-30 on November 25, Athletic Director Ray Anderson announced that head coach Todd Graham would not be returning for a seventh season as head coach less than 24 hours after the game.
Graham announced that he would stay on through the team’s bowl game.
That was only the beginning. Since that decision, Anderson has brought in Herm Edwards as head coach with hopes of retaining the majority of the staff. But even then, it hasn’t worked out that way.
Defensive coordinator Phil Bennett said that he would be leaving following the bowl game while offensive coordinator Billy Napier left to take the head coaching job at Louisiana Lafayette.
I’ve done this for 40 years and I thought I had seen everything but I just added another chapter to my book this year,” said defensive coordinator Phil Bennett on the transition, “The demands of this job, as we all know, are tough, but Todd has made it seamless. We’ve stayed on schedule, our practices in Tempe were very much upbeat. I’ve been floored at how things have been kept together.”
As the Sun Devils get set to face NC State at 1 p.m. MST at the Hyundai Sun Bowl, the players have done their best to phase out those distractions.
“We handled it pretty well,” said senior defensive back Chad Adams, “We’ve had a couple of weeks to practice and prepare for the bowl game. We want to go out there and get the win for Coach Graham since he’s done so much for our program.”
“It’s just the nature of the game,” Wilkins said, “There just comes a time where you have to realize things for a reason. I think our faith is strong and Coach Graham’s faith is strong and we have a strong relationship and I think that’s been very good for us.” ‘
There is one current Sun Devil who has faced a similar situation. Wide receiver Ryan Newsome transferred from the University of Texas after his freshman season. That same year, the school fired then-head coach Charlie Strong and brought in Tom Herman to take over as the next head coach.
“You don’t expect situations like that to happen but I feel better prepared to handle it this time around,” Newsome said, “You just have to take it in stride and do everything in the right way. We want to go out and play well for Coach Graham and the seniors. They’ve been through a lot and they deserve our best.”
As for Graham, the Mesquite, Texas native has noted earlier in the week that he’s happy to coach his final game as Arizona State’s head coach in his home state. He’s also spent time this week contemplating on what he’s accomplished during his time in Tempe.
“You reap what you sow. How you do anything is how you do everything,” Graham said, “You don’t just fall apart when things get bad. That’s what I learned growing up, so we’re not a program in disarray.”
That faith in his team has earned the trust of the current Sun Devils, who want to send out their coach with a win in his final game.
“One of the things that was important to me is people say, ‘Why would you want to continue?’ Well, how could I not?” Graham said, “How could I preach values to these players every day and then you lose your job and you don’t finish with them, I’m going to finish. Where I come from, there’s no quit in you and so that’s why I’m here. I want to finish with these guys and I want to teach them and model to them the values that we’ve taught in our program. I think this last month has been a big deal because of that.”
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