Connections abound for West Virginia, Todd Graham in Catcus Bowl
December 31, 2015 12:00 AM
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports
Arizona State Sun Devils coach Todd Graham at Pac-12 Media Day at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, Calif., in July.
By Brad Everett / Tri-State Sports & News Service
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Todd Graham stood under the maroon and gold pitchfork logo outside Sun Devil Stadium, just a few days before his Arizona State team takes on West Virginia in the Cactus Bowl.
Pitt fans might call it the perfect setting.
As Graham fielded questions from reporters Tuesday, he couldn’t avoid being reminded about the last time he coached against West Virginia, then as Pitt’s first-year head coach in 2011. The Mountaineers grabbed a 21-20 win in what was the most recent Backyard Brawl. Three weeks later and before Pitt played its bowl game, Graham left Pittsburgh — not on the greatest terms — electing to bolt for the desert to take the job at Arizona State.
“We were getting ready to go to a bowl game and all that, and then, heck, I wound up coming here. That’s what I remember,” Graham said.
Saturday, after the Sun Devils make the short drive to Chase Field in Phoenix, Graham will once again stand on the sideline opposite West Virginia and once again across from Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen, a longtime rival of Graham’s who was in his first year at West Virginia in 2011.
“That was a very competitive game,” Holgorsen said. “Every game that we’ve ever coached against coach Graham has been competitive. He’s had success everywhere he’s been.”
Graham went 6-6 in his only season at Pitt and was heavily criticized for how he handled his departure. Graham never told his players he was leaving. An administrative assistant relayed the news.
Four years later, does Graham have any regrets? “I’ve already commented about a billion times on that, so I’ll let that rest,” he said.
Graham is 34-18 at Arizona State, winning 10 games in 2013 and 2014. Expectations were high entering this season, but the Sun Devils have been up and down and are 6-6 after going 4-5 in the Pac-12. Comparatively, Holgorsen is 35-28 in five seasons, including 7-5 this season.
Graham’s defensive coordinator is Keith Patterson, who held the same title under Graham at Pitt. When Graham left, Patterson served as interim head coach when Pitt lost to SMU, 28-6, in the BBVA Compass Bowl.
“It was a crazy, crazy time,” Patterson recalled.
Before reuniting with Graham in 2014, Patterson was the co-defensive coordinator at West Virginia in 2012 and the defensive coordinator in 2013.
There are a few other Cactus Bowl connections from Graham’s Pitt days. Arizona State senior cornerback Lloyd Carrington played his freshman season at Pitt. Jarred Holley, a starting safety for Graham at Pitt, is a graduate assistant at Arizona State. West Virginia defensive coordinator Tony Gibson was one of Graham’s assistants.
Graham was an assistant at West Virginia from 2001-02, serving as co-defensive coordinator his final season.
NOTE — Holgorsen announced that four players have been ruled academically ineligible for the Cactus Bowl, including first-team All-Big 12 cornerback Daryl Worley. The others were wide receiver Jovon Durante, defensive end Eric Kinsey and safety Kevin Williams.
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