The Arizona Republic went so far as to report Monday that sixth-year Arizona State coach Todd Graham “is coaching for his job in Saturday’s Territorial Cup” against Arizona.
“I don’t have anything to say about that,” Graham said during his weekly press conference Monday when asked about the situation.
Graham wanted to talk more about the importance of getting “the Territorial Cup back” after Arizona routed ASU 56-35 last year in Tucson.
“Our guys are measured by this,” Graham said. “I’ve had the privilege of meeting a lot of the former players going way back and the ones that get it done in this game talk about it. The ones that don’t, don’t like talking about it … there’s nothing more miserable than losing this game.”
The reports of Graham’s demise might seem premature in that the Sun Devils (6-5, 5-3 Pac-12) are tied for second in the Pac-12 South with Arizona (7-4, 5-3) after they were predicted to finish fifth at the outset of the season.
They are also bowl eligible for the first time in three seasons following last week’s 40-24 win at Oregon State.
“We’ve made tremendous progress,” Graham said. “I know as a staff it’s been a lot of fun getting to build these guys, and I couldn’t be more proud of the job that they’ve done. You look at the things that we’ve done and the teams that we’ve beaten, the progress that we’ve made I think has been very impressive.”
The reason for the win-or-else report by the Arizona Republic: Graham’s program is not the same after he went 28-12 in his first three seasons, succeeding with many players held over from the Dennis Erickson era.
After capturing the Pac-12 South title in 2013, ASU has gone 17-19.
“All season, several within and around the program have felt that ASU needed to reach at least seven regular-season wins for Graham to have a chance to keep his job,” Republic reporter Doug Haller writes.
ASU athletic director Ray Anderson has not quelled the speculation that Saturday’s game is a must-win for Graham. He mentioned he will not comment on Graham’s situation until after the regular season.
He also said in general terms that the program is under review for “sustainable improvement” going beyond the win-loss record. In other words, Graham’s tenure at ASU could be in doubt even with a win over Arizona on Saturday.
“Winning is important but winning can be defined in a number of ways,” Anderson told the Republic. “When you get down to it, we don’t have any specific numbers that we’re looking at. You want to see how a program is changing that gives you confidence that this is a sustainable improvement and it’s not just going to be a blip and then you fall back.
“You want to get a sense that there’s continuity here, there’s upside here, where you look at it and say, ‘This makes sense, we’re heading in the right direction.'”
Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez, who himself was perceived to be on the hot seat entering the season after going 3-9 last year, acknowledged Monday that he and Graham “have always had a great relationship.”
“You know, he worked for me before … I don’t know if they allow him to put that in the game program or something,” said Rodriguez, who hired Graham to be part of his staff at West Virginia in 2001. “We’ve known each other for a long time, way before I hired him in West Virginia.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.