Gary Doran

Graham’s Place Among the 2012 Coaching Hires


Todd Graham was a very strong hire for the Arizona State football program back on December 14, 2011 by then athletic director Lisa Love.   In fact, that particular off-season saw a slew of seasoned head coaches move to new schools in a volume that was quite rare at the time.

For the sake of this discussion, we’ll pay homage to Urban Meyer and the home run hire made by Ohio State athletic director (and former ASU athletic director) Gene Smith, but focus on the other candidates who served by their employer from the 2012 – 2017 seasons.

Since the start of the 2012 season, former Arizona State head coach Todd Graham (who was let go by the school a day after securing the Territorial Cup with a win over rival Arizona), was either first or second in half of the categories being ranked in the table below. In arguably the two most important categories, Graham was first in conference wins and in wins against his arch rival. Another very important category was his second-place ranking in having a winning percentage in the month of November. That usually is a sign of a team that improves during the season.

All of these high rankings speaks volumes about the job that Todd Graham did during his tenure at ASU. It also speaks volumes about Ray Anderson’s high expectations for his football program in firing a coach with that overall performance record.

It’s interesting that of the six coaches in the table, the top three performers were all fired within the past seven days. What does that say about the expectations at those institutions? Trajectory plays a big part in the decisions, as both Todd Graham and Jim Mora had early successes followed by down years, while on the other hand, Mike Leach started slowly (albeit with much less to work with), but has seen improvement over the last three seasons.

Down in Tucson, it seems that the emergence Khalil Tate may have saved Rich Rodriguez’s job, even though in four of the ten categories listed, Rodriguez ranked the lowest of the six coaches. That may shed some light about football expectations in the Old Pueblo.

Although former Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin ranked third overall, he didn’t perform that well in several important categories. In the all-important conference winning percentage, Sumlin was third overall just edging out Jim Mora. Additionally, his overall win total was padded in that Texas A&M only played eight conference games in the SEC per season. Over the six years, Sumlin’s Aggies compiled a 26-3 non-conference record. Many of those non-conference games were with somewhat soft opponents. All those non-conference wins may explain why his teams garnered 46 weeks being ranked in the top 25, even though his team’s record against Top-25 opponents was only fifth best of this group.  All those non-conference games may have skewed that first first-place ranking.


The table above (247Sports Composite Rankings) proves out that Sumlin can recruit. He was not only top in the six-year average class ranking, but also top in how much he improved the recruiting ranking compared to what it was before he was hired. Todd Graham was second best in the percentage improvement from before he was hired (the Dennis Erickson era), which again, is a strong grade of his six-year performance with ASU. Larry Fedora was the only hire that actually saw the class ranking slip, from a top 20 average class before he arrived to one in the 30s during his tenure.


Sometimes in the pursuit of wins and losses, the quality of student athletes gets pushed aside, yet with Todd Graham’s solid performance in the on-field categories, he still did a stellar job in improving his student athletes’ Academic Progress Rate (APR) scores. He has placed ASU on a trajectory that hopefully will be maintained by future coaching staffs.


Based on the ranking of these different categories, it seems that the firing of Todd Graham now may not have been the wisest decision when the entire tenure is considered. Trajectory plays a big part in any coaching decision, and Graham’s first three years were far better than his second three, but one would have to consider if the 2016 season was the bottom mark for Graham, and the 2017 season was the start of a climb back to what he accomplished earlier on at ASU. One more season may have answered that question.

While Sumlin is rumored to be a candidate for the vacant ASU position, one would wonder why when looking at his performance in the above categories compared to Graham. The only category listed above where Sumlin truly excels compared to Graham is in recruiting, and that may have been helped by being in the very talent-rich recruiting area of Texas. The real question may be; can he draw the same level of Texas talent to Arizona all while meeting the criteria of success that Ray Anderson outlined in last Sunday’s press conference?

We’d love to hear your opinion on the coaching change! Leave us a comment below or sound off on our Twitter and Facebook pages.

About Gary Doran

Gary Doran

Gary graduated from ASU many years ago. After careers working in banking, finance and the financial administration of academic research funding, he is now interested in utilizing his passion for numbers towards two things he thoroughly loves; Arizona State University and college football. He is looking forward to finding the “stories” buried within the numbers on a football stat sheet. He has gone to ASU football games all the way back to the days of Frank Kush and the WAC. He has been married to an amazing ASU graduate for almost forty years, and they currently live in Ventura, CA. Although this may disqualify him from talking football, he and his wife enjoy the practice of yoga and dancing the Argentine Tango. Ole!

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