Gary Doran

The Unconventional Coach Coaching in the Now


Does it bother you that ASU’s coach Todd Graham seems to call timeouts without a lot of regard to the need for saving them at a more appropriate time later in the game? It sure seems like he calls a defensive timeout faster than Sparky can do a pushup. Well you may want to get used to it, because that’s just Coach Todd Graham’s football nature. He’s an unconventional coach coaching strictly in the “now”.

In terms of the gridiron, Todd Graham is all about the “now”. If his team has a defensive glitch, no matter the size of the glitch, he takes a timeout right then, even though conventional wisdom might dictate saving that timeouts for a more critical juncture in the game. For Coach Graham, there just doesn’t seem to be a more important situation for calling a timeout than the one he currently faces, but it’s not just about the timeouts, many of his other coaching decisions also deal with what’s happening now, and it usually seems to come at the expense of the future. The Graham coaching philosophy seems to be that if he faces an issue now, he deals with it now, and works out the consequences later. That’s something that the ASU faithful needs to start understanding about him. Many of the football decisions he makes do not follow conventional wisdom and are always primarily about the current moment. That seems to be his most important criteria.

The now-ness of Todd Graham doesn’t just stop with automatically taking timeouts when he encounters a problem, in many other areas of his coaching life he has shown that he makes decisions for the moment, and addresses the future consequences, if any, later.

Look at the way in which he arrived at ASU. He had taken his first big leap into a major college football program in going to the University of Pittsburgh. From all accounts, it wasn’t a very good match. Conventional wisdom in the coaching arena would have been to stick it out for an acceptable period of time, and then start looking around. Conventional wisdom sure didn’t seem to play a part in his decision. He made a poor decision and it appeared that he wanted to fix it sooner rather than later. When ASU came calling after only one year, Coach Graham left Pittsburgh right then and there for Tempe. He made his decision to move in the “now” moment, and would deal with what the future brought from that decision at a later time.

Upon arriving in Tempe, he told the Sun Devil Nation that he planned to win now, not in three or four years, but now. To do that, he believed that he needed to load up his recruiting classes with junior college athletes. In his first three recruiting classes, 33 percent of his recruits were junior college athletes, while at the same time; the rest of the conference recruited less than ten percent of junior college athletes.

The downside of this “now” approach to winning right away has been that over those three years, the other eleven conference teams have recruited an average of 20 high school athletes to ASU’s 16 average high school athletes per year. That equals out to roughly twelve more high school athletes being recruited into the each of the other conference programs than what ASU has recruited into its program. Again, Coach Graham made his win now decision and structured everything for that purpose leaving any shortfalls it caused for future considerations.

Another example of Coach Graham’s “now” philosophy is last year’s defense; the starters played an inordinate amount of snaps at the expense of developing the younger players. It may have been that with the total focus on winning right then, the risk of developing younger players was just too great to try even modestly, or so it seemed. Again, the Graham philosophy seems to be to take care of now, and deal with the future, in the future.

Still another example of Todd Graham’s “now” philosophy is his talk coming into the 2014 season. Even though the team was replacing nine defensive starters, he talked a whole lot about winning championships in the present tense. One could ask if that kind of talk should have waited until a later time when both sides of the ball looked stronger. That just isn’t the style for Todd Graham, who lives his gridiron life solely in the “now”. Why wait to talk about championships later when they could be won now? If the team fails to meet the high expectations he set, he will deal with that at a later time.

One last example of his focus on the now rather than the future is the fact that this week he is seriously considering playing true freshman Renell Wren and burning his redshirt year seven weeks into this season. Conventional wisdom would discourage burning a redshirt year for only a half of a season, however, Coach Graham’s “now” philosophy seems to be that there is an immediate need now and it needs to be addressed now. Again, that philosophy seems push future consequences from a “now” decision into the future where it will be dealt with then.

We can complain today about the lack of experience of the younger players on this year’s defense or the lower number of high school recruits currently in the program or the timing of timeouts, however, the Graham “now” philosophy won in 2012 and won even more in 2013, and has won four out of five games so far this year. He is also slowly building up the number of young “up and coming” high school recruits without a real glaring void. So far, the future hasn’t yet made him pay for too many of his “now” decisions. Will that be the case going forward? As Coach Graham’s philosophy would say: “Let’s deal with that in the future.”

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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