Pitt's Graham to coach Arizona State

By Will Graves

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 14 2011 1:12 p.m. MST

PITTSBURGH — A person familiar with the decision says Pittsburgh coach Todd Graham is leaving the Panthers to take the same position at Arizona State.

Graham will replace Dennis Erickson said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because an official announcement has not been made.

Erickson was dismissed following a 6-6 season in which the Sun Devils dropped their final four games.

Graham spent just one season in Pittsburgh, where he led the Panthers to a 6-6 mark and a tie for second place in the Big East.

The move caps a tumultuous season for the Panthers, who announced in September they're leaving the Big East for the ACC by 2014 and will now be looking for their fourth head coach in the last 13 months.

Graham replaced Mike Haywood, who was originally tabbed to replace Dave Wannstedt after Wannstedt stepped down at the end of the 2010 regular season.

There was no immediate word on who would coach the Panthers in the BBVA Compass Bowl against SMU.

Three of Graham's assistants at Pitt this season — Calvin Magee, Tony Gibson and Tony Dews — left the program earlier this month to become assistants under new Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez.

Graham will inherit an Arizona State program that couldn't quite break through in what is now the Pac 12.

The Sun Devils were 31-30 in Erickson's five seasons but stumbled after he took them to the Holiday Bowl in 2007 while being named the conference's Coach of the Year.

Arizona State had a bit of an odyssey in its search after firing Erickson.

The Sun Devils reportedly were in talks with Houston coach Kevin Sumlin, which broke down after Texas A&M fired coach Mike Sherman. The Aggies named Sumlin coach on Monday.

Arizona State also was apparently close to a deal with SMU coach June Jones when negotiations broke down at the last minute. Leigh Steinberg, Jones' agent, called the abrupt ending one of the "most bizarre endings" to discussions to bring a client to a new situation.

Ultimately the school settled on Graham, a Mesquite, Texas native with a background as a defensive coordinator but who has built his head coaching resume at Rice, Tulsa and Pittsburgh with what he calls a "high-octane" offense.

It worked with the Owls and the Golden Hurricane but not at Pittsburgh.

The Panthers were picked to finish second in the Big East but found a way to let winnable games get away while quarterback Tino Sunseri struggled to grasp the complex system.

Pitt allowed 57 sacks, easily the most in the FBS. Graham raised eyebrows early in the season when he placed the majority of the blame on Sunseri, saying he held onto the ball too long. Graham later backed off, pledging to "coach up" Sunseri and vowing to be in it for the long haul.

Turns out, he won't even be around to coach the Panthers in their bowl game. He alerted his players via text message.

"I take a nap for 2 hours, wake up to find out my head coach is gone," backup quarterback Trey Anderson posted on his Twitter feed.

The move leaves the Panthers in search of a coach yet again.

Pittsburgh forced out Wannstedt following six underachieving seasons last December and replaced him with Haywood, who left Miami (Ohio) for the chance to coach at a BCS school but was fired less than three weeks later being jailed in Indiana on a domestic violence charge.

Assistant Phil Bennett guided the Panthers to a 27-10 win over Kentucky in the BBVA Compass Bowl to cap an 8-5 season before the Panthers hired Graham on Jan. 10.

The fast-talking, fast-walking Texan preached "speed, speed, speed" during workouts and promised to wear down opponents with an uptempo attack he believed could work immediately and propel the Panthers to their first outright Big East title.

The transition, however, took longer than he anticipated. Pitt let double-digit second-half leads get away three times, most painfully in a 21-20 loss to rival West Virginia the day after Thanksgiving.

The Mountaineers sacked Sunseri 10 times, with nine of them coming in Pitt's final 25 snaps. Graham defended his play-calling while allowing "we have not accomplished what we set out to."

Pitt salvaged a bowl bid with a win over Syracuse in the season finale, with Graham praising his team for sticking with him through a difficult season.

"''This bowl game is going to help us tremendously," Graham said afterward. "We'll get a chance to go to a nice place, get our seventh win and go win a championship. We're not going just to go to a bowl game. I can tell you we are going to win."

The Panthers might. They'll just have to do it without the man who got them there.

AP College Football Writer John Marshall in Phoenix contributed to this report.

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