Erase most of those images and words from your memory. No, not that last one. It’ll serve as a painful reminder of Todd Graham’s short, um, legacy at Pitt.
Today, Graham notified his team – via text message – that he was leaving Pitt and heading to Arizona State to become its next head football coach. Yes, he’s leaving on a jet plane …
And Pitt sent out the release on Graham’s departure this afternoon, stating that “his decision was based solely on personal family reasons” – and that his resignation came after Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson denied Graham permission Tuesday night “to speak to another institution.”
“This is the first job I’ve ever taken that’s benefited my wife,” Graham said during the Arizona State press conference.
Arizona State officials would not comment on the timeline or the process of their coaching search, citing privacy issues. Later in the press conference, broadcast via the web, Graham said this:
“You never want to leave a program, and I never thought I’d have to leave a program, under these circumstances. … It did not allow me to speak to the team, and I really regret that.”
Each time I watched a Pitt football game, I tried to figure out who was more of a fraud:
- Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri, who struggled all season to quickly adapt to the “high octane offense”;
- or his coach, Graham, the purveyor of said offense and Pitt’s second choice as this year’s head coach. (What did Chris Rock say in “Never Scared”? “‘Cause you ain’t her first choice!”)
This afternoon brought about the answer:
Yes, Blair Philbrick, Pitt’s assistant athletic director/football operations, forwarded Graham’s text-messaged/emailed statement to his players regarding Graham’s departure, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
“I reached out he only way I knew how,” Graham said during tonight’s press conference. “The only other alternative I had was to not communicate at all.”
Yet today proved that Pitt’s quarterback, to a certain degree, was simply a pawn. That Graham ultimately was in search of his fourth greener pasture in less than six years. While you can’t hold someone down from chasing their dreams, you have the right to question how they did it if it appears at all scurrilous.
Still, Graham’s departure – less than a month before the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala., Pitt’s second appearance in the bowl in as many years (and second without a permanent head football coach) – reiterates a certain truth about college athletics: That while there are some exceptions, college coaches tend to be about as virtuous as a case of cheap beer. They won’t trust you, but you will put all your faith in them … until they leave you with nothing but an empty, painful feeling after you drank it all in.
Remember Roy Williams’ infamous declaration after the 2003 NCAA basketball championship game that, “I don’t give a @&*^ about Carolina right now …” ? Or Alabama Coach Nick Saban, then at Louisiana State, declaring that “Anyone who doesn’t win their conference has no business playing in the national championship game.” (He’s not saying much about that now, is he?)
Insert sarcasm font here: There was so much virtue in those statements, wasn’t there?
No wonder some of us, as sports fans, struggle with some truths.
But Pitt fans, did you trust Todd Graham? Did you have any faith that the system – an offensive line that has allowed a Big East-high 56 sacks, an offense that is seventh (of eight teams) on third- and fourth-down conversions, and a team that leads the Big East in penalties – would pay dividends? Did you believe that with Graham, there would be better days ahead at Pitt?
There still might be. Just without Graham. As for Sunseri? He said this: