Pitt coach Graham quits for Arizona State job


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Todd Graham today resigned as Pitt's head football coach and has been hired as the head coach at Arizona State University.

The resignation, which surprised many, came after a series of fast-moving developments. Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson announced the resignation in a statement issued by the university this aftenoon.

"Mr. Graham first advised Mr. Pederson of his intentions via telephone Tuesday evening," the statement said. "During that conversation, Graham requested permission to speak to another institution. That permission was denied ..." Graham subsequently told the university he was leaving.

"There had been no earlier indication of a desire to leave his position at Pitt," according to the university statement. "In fact, he expressly stated that his coaching experiences at the University of Pittsburgh had been entirely positive and that his decision was based solely on personal family reasons."

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Pitt executive vice chancellor and general counsel Jerry Cochran said, "Obviously this is not the way we would have expected Mr. Graham to handle any possible departure. Beyond normal expectations with respect to professional conduct, he has failed to comply with the terms of his contract."

Pederson further explained at a news conference tonight that he had reached out to Graham and to Arizona State athletics director Lisa Love to discuss the subject of permission for Graham to speak to Arizona State but neither party returned his calls.

He said the school will conduct a search starting immediately and will not limit itself to coaches with head coaching experience. He said there is no timetable for finding a replacement but the school would like to have someone in place quickly and unlike last year, they will not use a search firm to assist in the search.

Pederson said he was as disappointed in Graham as he had ever been in someone in a professional capacity, not just that Graham is leaving after one season but the way he handled leaving.

"Obviously this could have been handled better," Pederson said.

Pederson also named Keith Patterson, Pitt's defensive coordinator, as interim head coach for the Panthers' Jan. 7 game in the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala. Pitt's players were informed of Graham's resignation by email. The message was first sent to Pitt assistant athletic director/football operations Blair Philbrick, who sent it on to the players.

"I have resigned my position at Pitt in the best interest of my family to pursue the head coaching position at Arizona State. Coaching there has always been a dream of ours & we have family there. The timing of the circumstances have prohibited me from telling you this directly."

Graham was introduced at a news conference in Arizona tonight and started by saying that he wanted to tell his players at Pitt that "he loved them and he was proud of them." He also pulled out many of his familiar catch phrases - "we want to be high octane" "we will be in the left lane with the hammer down" -- in describing the program he wants to build at Arizona State, including talking about the character and commitment he will expect from his players.

That isn't likely to sit well with Pitt's players, who have spent the past ten months listening to Graham talk about character, commitment and integrity then watched him walk out the door without even so much as saying good bye.

"I usually have a lot to say but I am at a loss for words," Cam Saddler said, "but this is disappointing to me and I want to apologize to all Pitt fans for being so enthusiastic when they hired Coach Graham because I obviously jumped the gun in judging his character. It all sounded exciting, his offense and stuff, but here is a guy that talked about commitment, loyalty, faith and character and yet he doesn't seem to live by those things. A text message is all we get? That's just wrong."

Pederson also had to spend some of the news conference defending himself and his own job status as he was under fire earlier this year when the guy he hired Graham to replace - Mike Haywood - was arrested on a domestic violence charge and subsequently fired.

Haywood was Pederson's choice but he said that Graham was chosen by committee and that he isn't worried about his job security, he is just focused on finding the best coach possible to lead Pitt's program into the future and making Pitt a better place every day.

Pitt chancellor Mark Nordenberg issued the following statement in support of Pederson.

"Steve Pederson has played a major role in the transformation of intercollegiate athletics at the University of Pittsburgh -- making key contributions in such important areas as success in competition across a broad range of sports, the overall growth and development of Pitt student-athletes, the construction and renovation of state-of-the-art facilities, and securing a strong conference home in increasingly unsettled times. He remains an important member of Pitt's senior leadership team."

Some names which will likely emerge over the next few days as possible candidates are Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads, Baltimore Ravens secondary coach Teryl Austin, Alabama defensive assistant Sal Sunseri, Penn State interim coach Tom Bradley, Florida International coach Mario Cristobal and Patterson, who said tonight he has informed Pederson of his interest in the job.


Paul Zeise: pzeise@post-gazette.com . First Published December 14, 2011 5:00 AM


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