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Todd Graham fired as Arizona State’s head coach, hours after beating Arizona to reach 7-5

The former Pitt and Tulsa head coach is back on the market.

UCLA v Arizona State Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Arizona State football will have a new head coach, announcing Sunday that Todd Graham has been let go, following his sixth season with the Sun Devils.

In a statement, ASU said it “expects to compete on the field for Pac-12 titles, be competitively consistent and qualify to participate in major bowl games on a regular basis. In evaluating Todd's body of work over a four-year period, it became clear that a change is necessary.”

He’d been in hot-seat territory all year, but many people figured a 7-5 season with a win over a top-20 Washington and a fresh win over arch rival Arizona would’ve been enough to keep his job.

Better have a good plan after firing a coach with a final 46-31 record at a middle-tier Pac-12 school.

Still, that’s a little bit of a tradition.

Why’s he out? The last few seasons for Arizona State have been mediocre, with a 6-7 finish in 2015, capped off with a one-point loss to West Virginia in the Cactus Bowl.

That season was followed up with a 5-7 year, one in which the Sun Devils lost the last six games of their schedule, starting in mid October. Not to mention ASU was 2-7 in conference. Things didn’t look promising after ASU did not extend Graham’s contract, despite getting a seemingly automatic one-year contract extension after or during each of his first four seasons as Arizona State’s head coach.

Is this the right move? Hard to say. It’s very risky. The ASU fan reaction is mixed, to say the least.

The expectations at Arizona State aren’t as high as some of the other programs inside the Pac-12, but the last few years for Graham didn’t do him any favors. This is especially true when looking at Graham’s first three seasons in Tempe, during which his teams went a combined 28-12, with back-to-back 10-win seasons in 2013 and 2014.

Where was he before Arizona? Graham earned a reputation as a job-hopper. Between 2005 and 2007, Graham was an assistant coach at Tulsa, Rice’s head coach, and then finally Tulsa’s head coach until 2011 when he left for Pitt. He spent one year there before going to ASU. He’d enjoyed a decent tenure by his standards with the Sun Devils.

It wasn’t all bad, right? Nope! He had two 10-win seasons at ASU, and at the very least, Graham has established himself with a very successful coaching tree, featuring six current head coaches. And beyond that, there was early success for Graham in Tempe. But that might be the problem in the end.

Graham had a spectacular run when he took over for the Sun Devils, but perhaps he flew too close to the sun, providing fans unrealistic expectations he would eventually fall short of in the years to come.

He’s now succumbing to the same fate many ASU head coaches before him have created the blueprint for, and the same force that eternally rotates the coaching carousel for middling power five programs: mediocrity.

When you exceed the program’s ceiling once, you create expectations that might be unfair moving forward, whether you like it or not.