Todd Graham has to like what he sees.
Quite honestly, how can’t he?
The second-year Arizona State head coach has the Sun Devils (8-2, 6-1) in position for a Pac-12 championship game appearance and (gasp) shot at the Rose Bowl. Sure, they still have two significant hurdles ahead starting with a primetime, nationally televised showdown with UCLA (8-2, 5-2) this weekend but there is a certain moxie to this team. A swagger with confidence but not cockiness.
It all streamlines down from the fast-talking, big dreaming Graham who overhauled everything about the program after his unceremonious exit from Pittsburgh.
He was asked earlier this week if the 2013 Sun Devils have taken on the persona of their head coach.
“I think they do,” he explained. “The good and the bad. They’re pretty passionate…we talk about it every single day. The key to our success is one vision. One identity. One heartbeat in how we do everything we do. It’s really not mine it’s ours that we’ve selected.”
He says ASU’s style of play is appealing both to the Sun Devil Nation and the players themselves, including the Dennis Erickson holdovers who were treated much differently by the previous regime.
“I think our brand of football is exciting to watch because our guys are very aggressive,” he said. “They attack on both offense and defense…I really like this team. I really enjoy coaching this team and they’re a challenge. This is one of the most challenging teams that I’ve ever coached. I think the better your players are, the more challenge [it is]. Every day we’re going at it. I expect the best players to be better everyday…I think these guys know that we love ’em.”
Graham said he doesn’t have the time to get to know each one of the over 100 players on the roster but has developed a strong bond with the leaders on both sides of the ball (Osahon Irabor, Will Sutton, Alden Darby, Taylor Kelly and Chris Coyle among others) and relies on each position coach to strengthen the relationships within their specialty groups.
The staff has “family nights” on Sunday’s and on occasion, like the Devils most recent bye week, have players over for meals.
So far he’s cooked up the perfect recipe.