ASU football coach Todd Graham talks about the challenge of hiring “good people” and losing them to other schools entering ASU’s 2017 season on Wednesday. Thomas Hawthorne/azcentral sports
Transfer quarterback Blake Barnett talks about coming to ASU to compete for the starting job on Wednesday. Thomas Hawthorne/azcentral sports
New ASU offensive coordinator Billy Napier talks about the culture at ASU and working for Todd Graham on Wednesday. Thomas Hawthorne/azcentral sports
ASU quarterback Manny Wilkins talks about how his injuries frustrated him last season on Wednesday. Thomas Hawthorne/azcentral sports
New ASU defensive coordinator Phil Bennett talks about his friendship with head coach Todd Graham and his thoughts going into the 2017 season. Thomas Hawthorne/azcentral sports
ASU head football coach Todd Graham talks about the two quarterback recruits, Blake Barnett and Ryan Kelley, on Signing Day on Wednesday. David Wallace/azcentral sports
ASU head football coach Todd Graham talks about top running back recruit Eno Benjamin on Signing Day on Wednesday. David Wallace/azcentral sports
ASU head football coach Todd Graham talks about ASU’s signees on National Signing Day on Wednesday. David Wallace/azcentral sports
Here’s a look at some of the top underclassmen planning on entering the 2017 NFL Draft.
USA TODAY Sports
Head coaches in the college football playoff won’t be the only coaches reaping the benefits.
USA TODAY Sports
The early front-runner became the first Louisville Cardinal to hoist the prestigious award.
USA TODAY Sports
Dan Bickley: Let’s not forget, this was never a season of high expectations. But clearly, Todd Graham needs to change some things. Video: azcentral sports
Todd Graham talks about ASU’s 56-35 loss to Arizona in the Territorial Cup. (Thomas Hawthorne/azcentral sports)
azcentral sports’ Doug Haller and Paola Boivin discuss Arizona’s 56-35 beatdown on ASU in the Territorial Cup. (Thomas Hawthorne/azcentral sports)
At its annual Legends Luncheon during Homecoming week Friday, ASU honored its 1986 football team, which won the school’s first Pac-10 title and beat Michigan in the 1987 Rose Bowl. John Cooper, ASU coach from 1985-87, is being inducted into the ASU Athletic Hall of Fame.
Video: Jeff Metcalfe/Arizona Republic
College football is a cesspool of mercenaries. Commitment and loyalty are one-way streets. These programs are hood ornaments for our nation’s best universities, and yet those in charge often set the worst examples.
“Welcome to life in the big boy lane,” said Ray Anderson, Arizona State’s vice president for athletics.
Yeah, and try not to get run over.
This has been a serious challenge for Anderson, who has done a magnificent job at assembling an All-Star coaching staff across ASU athletics. The missing piece is the football program, which has regressed over the past two seasons, winning 11 of 25 games.
For the second consecutive year, the Sun Devils enter spring football with five new assistant coaches. They’ve lost three top recruiters along the way. They will feature their third offensive coordinator in the past three seasons. They welcome a new defensive coordinator who emerged unscathed from the horrific scandal at Baylor. The instability is frightening.
This is not just an ASU problem. There will be at least 21 new coaches in Division I football in 2017. Last season, five interim coaches or last-minute hires were forced to take over a football program before the team’s bowl game, which is supposed to be the crowning point of the season. The transient nature of the coaching carousel is nauseating.
And then there’s the disturbing tale that new Florida Atlantic coach Lane Kiffin told during a groundbreaking ceremony at his new school, where he claimed that FAU President John Kelly hired Kiffin on one condition: that he resign his post as offensive coordinator at Alabama before the College Football Playoff championship game.
According to the anecdote, Kelly once worked at Clemson, and wanted to give his former school the best chance at defeating Alabama in the title game.
“My president is happy,” Kiffin told the crowd. “Nick Saban is not.”
The biggest problem isn’t a lack of morals in college football. It’s the abundance of money corrupting the principles of duty and honor among coaches, the men who are tasked with mentoring young athletes. Look at what’s happened at ASU over the past few months:
Just seven weeks after the celebrated arrival of quarterback Blake Barnett on Dec. 5, two of the three coaches who recruited the Alabama transfer left for greener pastures – former offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey, who accepted the same position at Auburn; and Jay Norvell, who took the job as head coach at Nevada just three days after the announcement.
The worst example was offensive line coach Josh Henson, who was hired on Jan. 17 and left ASU in less than a month, joining the coaching staff at Oklahoma State, his alma mater.
“The salary escalation in the past 4-5 years has created much more of a mercenary culture in college football,” Anderson said. “The assistants at the top programs are now making more money than a lot of head coaches in the FBS. I used to represent coaches (as an agent), and I don’t necessarily blame them for leaving when they can double their salary and work off lucrative guaranteed contracts. But it’s not good for the game of the schools that can’t pay those kind of numbers.
“We have a philosophy for who we want to be. We don’t want to be like (some of the schools in) the SEC or Big Ten. We can’t justify those types of salaries given our ticket base and television revenues. We’re going to play very solid base salaries and we’ll pay for performance with a bonus program that’s as good as anyone in the country.”
In terms of perception, Anderson admits the hiring of Phil Bennett as new defensive coordinator might not fit the high-brow goals of ASU’s program. But he said Bennett was vetted deeply and absolved from the sexual assault scandal at Baylor, a school that allowed a dangerous culture to infest its football program and endanger female students.
“We do not want to be anywhere near what Baylor and others have become,” Anderson said. “But we did due diligence, talked to Baylor’s athletic director. We were told he was fully cleared, and after all of the investigations, he was allowed to remain at the school if the new coach wanted him. When you put all of that together, we support our guy and our choice.”
Yet Anderson has vowed to help improve the system. He was appointed chairman of the new 13-member Football Competition Committee, which is aimed at bettering and leveling the playing field in college football. The answers are elusive, but something has to change.
In the days after hiring Alabama’s Billy Napier as a new offensive coordinator, a smart maneuver that will help Barnett’s transition and development as starting quarterback, the Crimson Tide lost their own offensive coordinator (Steve Sarkisian) to the NFL. Reports out of Alabama had Napier on the short list of replacements, even though he had just committed to a new life in the Pac-12.
Imagine if Napier bailed on ASU shortly after committing to the Sun Devils, just like Henson did.
“You don’t want to judge people,” Anderson said. “But would I turn my back after making a commitment? I believe if I made my marriage vows to ASU, swearing up and down that this was the place I wanted to be, I could not in the next breath or the next day take another offer and get on a plane and go. While I understand the economic and family pressures involved, I am disappointed in folks who do that.”
Unfortunately, that’s the ugly side of college football, where too many coaches have learned to serve themselves and not the game.
Reach Bickley at email@example.com or 602-444-8253. Follow him on twitter.com/dan.bickley. Listen to “Bickley and Marotta” weekdays from 12-2 p.m. on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.