Toughness, character should be ASU's staples

‘They didn't beat us, we beat ourselves.' A worn out sports cliché for certain for losing teams, yet during its four-game skid to end the regular season, the 2011 Sun Devils epitomized that adage. Todd Graham's efforts for a culture change in Tempe, are rooted in his desire for ASU to have a better collective mental makeup and detach his squad from exemplifying that saying.

Graham was asked how he would want an opposing coach to describe his ASU team following a game, regardless of the outcome.

"I would want them to say that our team has tremendous character," Graham said, "sportsmanship, toughness…that we are the toughest team that they ever played. When I win I want class – that is such a dying deal these days.

"That doesn't mean I'm going out there hugging the other team's coach, I'll tell you that. We are going out there to beat them. But on the same hand, I do believe in winning with dignity and class and that we should be teaching our guys that."

Arizona State's Head Coach said that he wants his team to be defined by many values, but there are two in particular that in Graham's opinion stand above the rest.

"I want our guys to be smart and disciplined first," Graham commented. "Now you can't be smart and disciplined if you don't have character. I want to have the smartest team in the Pac-12, and I want to have the most disciplined team in the Pac-12. You don't get stupid penalties, you execute the system and you give yourself a chance.

"The second thing is that I want the toughest team. I want a team that understands that it won't be easy, and you don't want it easy. That is why we train these guys harder than anybody. We want to do everything with tremendous passion. So those are the things we are trying to emphasize."

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Graham claimed that usually so much of a staff's time is spent on scheme and the least amount of time is devoted to the characteristics of the team. This is why ASU's Head Coach prefers to exercise the hands-on approach when directing his squad.

"I'm not a walk-around Head Coach," Graham explained. "It's just not my style. I want our team to have one heartbeat, one pulse. I want them to play like I coach them."

Graham mentioned that it's not only the returning players that have quickly bought into his philosophy, but he sees the newcomers to the program already exhibiting an attitude that is conducive to fit in the new team environment.

"They all seem to be humble guys," Graham said. "They all seem to understand the significance of them fitting in with the guys that have established this team.

"I know change is not easy for the players and I have been very impressed with how they have embraced that. There are guys that are very difficult and don't like it, and we slugged it out for about four months. But slowly and surely you have them coming in saying ‘Coach, I understand what you are trying to do. I appreciate it.' I have been surprised about how few guys we lost."

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Graham's coaching background is rooted on the defensive side, particularly the defensive backs, and therefore he knows the challenges a component quarterback can pose for that group.

With more and more signal callers in college football being the proverbial dual-threat QB's rather than the classic drop back quarterback, Graham was asked which type of field general poses more of a concern to a defense?

"The quarterback that scares me the most is the one that operates the system with great discipline and accuracy," Graham replied. "Do I want to play against a running quarterback or one that can really throw the football? I rather play against the guys who can run, but not throw. I like to have one (on his team) that does both.

"I like playing against the quarterbacks that cannot extend plays. The ones that can't move. Andrew Luck would hurt them with his legs, but he slayed them with his arm. That's the thing for us. We have to be careful that we don't put the guy in there that is physically the best quarterback, but not necessarily the best manager.

"There is no substitute for experience. (Defensive Line) Coach Randolph and I were talking the other day about what our record is against freshman quarterbacks – it's off the chart. Love them."

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Graham admitted that he doesn't like the fact that the quarterback competition for ASU has been dragging on as long as it has. Not only does giving equal reps for all three signal callers affect timing with wide receivers but also with the running backs.

"We're going to get that decided in a hurry," Graham proclaimed in regards to the quarterback competition."

ASU's Head Coach said that he could not "imagine not playing" Michael Eubank due to his potential. "He just too talented," he said, "and had the most explosive plays (in the spring) but he turned the ball over more than anybody else."

At the same time he likes the command of the offense that Mike Bercovici shows. "Mike is probably the most vertical accurate passer we have," Graham said. "He was very efficient in explosive plays and execution, but he had the second most turnovers."

Taylor Kelly may be the forgotten man in this race to some, but not to Graham.

"The guy that took care of the ball the best and managed the offense the best in the spring was Taylor," Graham noted, "if you just looked at turnovers. But he has to have more explosive plays."

"All three guys are good," Graham claimed. "It doesn't do us any good saying it's a three-man race when it's not. They trained their tails off in the summer and we'll see what happens."

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ASU's recruiting efforts in the 2013 class have thus far proven the ability to land recruits located two and three time zones away. What is probably the most impressive feat is that three of the Sun Devil pledges hail from Texas, one of the most fertile recruiting grounds in the nation. Nonetheless, Graham doesn't believe that his staff needs to often venture too far from home while pursuing prospects.

"Obviously, we're building our program from the inside out," he said. "We're going to be able to go to Texas and get some guys, but the nucleus of our recruiting should be the Valley, Arizona and California. That's our prime recruiting area. And obviously, when we have ties like that (to Texas) it is something we think is a positive and we have existing relationships.

"We could go all over the country. We have a great national brand. But I do like those guys (that are located) a gas tank away. I really like that. That's how you build the core of your program."


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