Todd Graham has been in place at the head of the Arizona State football program for quite some time, since 2012, to be accurate.
He is actually one of the oldest head coaches in the Pac-12 Conference behind Utah’s Kyle Whittingham et Stanford’s David Shaw. Rich Rodriguez, Jim Mora and Mike Leach were also hired in 2012, but as Todd Graham, success has come and gone on their respective campus.
However, the face of his coaching staff hasn’t stopped changing over the years. And that is especially true for the last couple years.
This trend might be part of the overall issue for the Sun Devils. 10 wins in 2014, 6 wins the next year and then 5 wins last season. Could that be imputed to the on-going coaching staff carousel? Probably.
Could this downward trend be halted in 2017? We do not know yet. For the second straight year, major changes have impacted the ASU coaching staff.
Good thing or bad thing?
As Bill Connelly explained in this year’s season preview, Todd Graham has built many head coaches and his assistants keep on leaving to earn promotions elsewhere. That cannot be held against him, but, this situation forces the ASU head coach to hire new assistant every year or so.
Continuity is big in order to engineer a successful football program. It has not been the case recently for the Sun Devils.
Big retooling on the offensive side
Chip Lindsey only spent a single year in Tempe. But the reason of his departure was the success he was able to find with the Sun Devils.
Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn (once again) came in and stole an ASU assistant from his long-time friend Todd Graham. Chip Lindsey was hired away by the Tigers for the same position, a predictable move for a young, promising coach.
Looking back in 2016, Chip Lindsey realised a wonderful job considering the situation. The offense ended up showing a strong duo at running back with Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage, behind an offensive line that played alright despite much inexperience. The wide receivers were promising and worked through a difficult quarterback situation.
The overall lack of experience and the mountain of injuries at the quarterback position ultimately set the whole offense back. But the Sun Devils did not sink and kept an average level of play. That is an achievement in itself.
Chip Lindsey cemented its reputation and flew back to the East Coast.
His replacement travelled the other way, as Alabama’s long-time wide receivers assistant coach Billy Napier was signed to take over ASU’s offense.
But he is not the only new piece around for Arizona State.
From Kansas, Rob Likens was named the Sun Devils co-OC & passing game coordinator replacing both Jay Norvell, who left for Nevada to become the Wolfpack’s new head coach, and DelVaughn Alexander, who joined his former colleague in Chip Long as the Notre Dame new wide receivers coach.
Rob Sale also became the new offensive line coach from UL-Monroe, taking over for Chris Thomsen who has gone to TCU for the same position.
Better positions, bigger universities.
Arizona State should be able to keep his personnel but apparently cannot. It tells something about the current state of the football program.
The Sun Devils should not worry about this (new) exodus. Billy Napier is as, if not more, talented than his predecessor and should keep the offense going. With more experience coming, it should even improve.
The quarterback competition is fiercer than ever before in the Valley. But experience still isn't a strength. The skills positions, however, haven’t been this strong in a long time and should provide a big push to the overall offensive play.
Billy Napier is more likely to succeed than fail with ASU’s offense. Mike Norvell and Chip Lindsey are prime examples.
Phil Bennett to the rescue
The situation is a little bit different on the defensive side of the ball.
There is a new chief in town and it was more a necessary than a mandatory move. Arizona State closed last year as one of the worst defense in the country, a few years after being one of the most feared. The downfall is staggering.
It triggered an inevitable change at the helm of the defence. First, Keith Patterson lost the duties of coordinating the defense, although he kept his position job with the linebackers.
But most importantly, former Baylor defensive coordinator Phil Bennett was brought in Tempe to take care and restore the success of the Sun Devils.
The forced marriage with Todd Graham might just worked.
The principles between Phil Bennett and Keith Patterson are roughly identical: big, strong, fast defensive front to wreck havoc, and opportunistic secondary to switch the momentum. ASU does wreck havoc already, but a trustworthy rearguard belongs more to a fantasy.
The 40-plus years of collegiate experience developed by Phil Bennett happens to be a real advantage for the newcomer. His philosophical approach to the defense, too.
Arizona State’s defense can hardly play worse than last year, there is that.
Improvements should be quickly felt, and it’s all relying on the growth from the secondary, which was undoubtedly awful in 2016. Even if it’s not looking pretty bright on this area of the field, the front-seven should lit ASU’s opponents on fire.
And to build this defensive line, Phil Bennett brought with him Michael Slater as the new position coach after a prosperous stint with Kansas, in place of Joe Seumalo.
Aggressive front alongside with porous back lines. The recipe for breakdowns? ASU has experienced it already.
But Phil Bennett’s first task will be to prevent these from happening. They are probably going to regress with the new coach. If not, a bigger seat will be under fire.
That is Todd Graham’s seat.
Their destiny are now tied together with the Sun Devils, for better or for worse.