It didn't take long for Arizona State's Todd Graham to rise through the coaching ranks, but compared to his new offensive coordinator, Graham was moving at a snail's pace.
When he was 29 years old, Graham served as the defensive coordinator at East Central University, an NAIA school in Ada, Oklahoma, a town with a population of fewer than 18,000.
In comparison, by the time new Sun Devils' offensive coordinator Billy Napier was 29, he was the youngest coordinator in the FBS, calling plays for Dabo Swinney's Clemson Tigers.
Though Graham did help East Central University, his alma mater, to an NAIA National Championship that ultimately catapulted him into his first high school head coaching job, it took Graham a lot longer to coach in major college football than it took Napier.
Since a two-year stint as the Tigers' coordinator, Napier has worked with some of college football's brightest minds, first at Alabama under head coach Nick Saban, then at Colorado State under current Florida coach Jim McElwain, and then again with the Crimson Tide under some of the game's top play-callers.
"Then look who he's (Napier) coached with, Dabo Swinney, he was Dabo's first offensive coordinator," Graham said. "Jimbo Fisher, Nick Saban, I mean, Jim McElwain at Colorado State, so it was really just sitting there and saying, man, this guy and I have a lot of similar beliefs in how we do things."
The decision to hire Napier at ASU came this offseason after Chip Lindsey departed the Sun Devils to accept the coordinator position at Auburn under head coach Gus Malzahn, a former offensive coordinator under Graham at Tulsa.
Graham said that while Napier's background played a significant role in his hiring, it's the type of person he is and the philosophical viewpoints he holds about offensive football that eventually made him the choice for the job.
"When I went about that process, one I wanted to hire a great person," Graham said. "And I wanted to have someone, one I'm not convinced, I'm not one of these guys who is going to hire some scheme guy and he can run whatever he wants to, nope. I've been through Major Applewhite, Gus Malzahn, Chad Morris, Mike Norvell, I've been through all of them and we've run the same system, because it's the system that I believe in. You have to run the football. You have to be a run, play-action pass team and we're a tempo team. It's all about snaps and we have a philosophy for that."
Since being hired as the head coach at Rice in 2006, Graham has watched as four of his offensive coordinators have become FBS head coaches. Additionally, former assistants like David Beaty and Jay Norvell have also risen through the ranks and earned head coaching jobs, and it's a point of pride for Graham considering he's worked at the FBS level for just over a decade.
"If there's anything that I'm proud of, I think I've done a pretty good job of hiring people," Graham said. "You look at the amount of guys, I think we have seven guys who are former assistants that have been major division I head coaches and I've only been a head coach, going on my 12th year. We've hired a lot of other guys that are coordinators at Notre Dame, all over, in the SEC and everywhere else."
Graham's resume of helping assistants earn higher-profile jobs speaks for itself, but when ASU's offensive coordinator job opened this offseason, the Sun Devils' head coach said he considered a list of candidates who already had experience in higher level positions.
Graham said even before he met with Napier, the list of coaches he conversed with about ASU's coordinator job was impressive, but that a four-hour meeting in Dallas helped sway him into selecting the former Crimson Tide wide receivers' coach.
"I remember meeting him at the hotel right there, the Radisson, the marble building in Dallas and when I really went into meeting with him, there were really guys that were higher up, so-called on the list," Graham said. "That doesn't matter to me, I ain't trying to win the press conference, I'm trying to get the best fit, for us. So it was his character, it was his background, the fact that he played quarterback, was very successful at Furman doing that. The fact that he had studied under McElwain that I think is one of the best developers of quarterbacks."
Though Napier's background has been influenced by a wide variety of some of college football's most successful coaches, Graham said he didn't hire Napier to run someone else's system. In fact, just like all of the offensive coordinators that have worked with Graham before him, Napier will be tasked with developing a scheme and approach that fits within the parameters of the style of offense Graham wants his football program to operate.
While Napier comes from a program that identifies historically with pro-style offensive concepts, Graham said ASU will continue to run its 11-personnel, no-huddle, up-tempo attack and build on all of the principles that have shaped Graham's offenses since he first became a college head coach.
"We've done the no-huddle a little while, we've been doing it since '06 and we're a blend of a lot of people," Graham said. "But the main thing is we adapt to our guys. We watch, one of the things I believe is to be the best, you should watch the best."