(Photo: Adriana Torres/WCSN)
Arizona State head football coach Todd Graham talks a lot about expectations.
At media day on Saturday, it was more of the same.
“Our players understand that being the Pac‑12 champions is the minimum expectation,” Graham said. “That’s exactly the way I want it. We haven’t won it yet. We’ve won the South, we’ve competed every year, but to me how you win it is expecting to win it.”
That Graham anticipates his team is poised to make a run at the conference championship, and even a national title, isn’t surprising. Now in his fourth year at the helm in Tempe, Graham has expressed similar thoughts prior to each of the past two seasons.
It’s clear the head coach views this year’s team differently, though. A second-consecutive 10-win season a year ago seems to have left a bad taste in his mouth. Not many college coaches would look down at 20 wins over two seasons, mostly because not many college coaches ever win that many games in that short a span, but Graham does.
The reason, again, is based on expectations.
“I was miserable to win 10 games last year,” he said. “So was everybody around here. Our expectations were a lot higher than that, but so was our potential.”
For as much as Graham emphasizes the importance of expecting certain results in order to achieve them, he realizes there’s much more to it. When trying get past the 10-win mark and join college football’s elite programs, he says attention to detail is also key.
That means making improvements across the board. Since being named head coach in late 2011, Graham has slowly worked towards remodeling the culture of the program. As a result, his players are much more disciplined now than they were when he arrived.
When referring to his team’s academic progress in particular, he says it has less to do with him as a person and more to do with winning.
“As our team becomes smarter in the classroom and producing in the classroom,” he said, “I find that it’s smarter on the field. I’m using every angle I can to win games.”
Graham likened the team’s recent success, with their 28 wins since 2012 representing the most over a three-year span in program history, to climbing a mountain. Reaching 10 wins each of the past two seasons was, as he put it, like the beginning of a climb, when things may seem somewhat easy and only gradually become harder.
Now the mountain is becoming steep, Graham said, and it’s up to his team to conquer it.
“Right now we’re good,” he said. “We’re trying to be elite, and great is in between. So what do you have to have to win? Discipline. You’re never going to be tough without it, right? You just can’t win without it.
“The discipline, the character, the culture of really wanting and seeking to be a smart team, a team that does the little things right, that’s the key. We’re 90 percent of the way there.”
How do they close the gap on that final 10 percent? By winning the Pac-12.
Because that’s what Todd Graham expects.