SAN DIEGO– The Holiday Bowl will match a former Texas high school coach with the son of a Texas high school coach. Arizona State coach Todd Graham, the former head coach at Allen, said he always pictured working his way up to the level he’s reached now.
“I made a goal when I was 23 years old,” Graham said Saturday. “I wrote on my mirror I wanted to be a Division I head football coach by the time I was 40, and 28 days after I turned 41 I became a head football coach. So it’s always been a goal of mine and I’m very competitive. You can’t be successful doing this if you’re not an intense competitor.”
Graham, 49, just missed another goal when Arizona State lost to Stanford in the Pac-12 championship game.
“We were within one game of playing in the granddaddy of them all,” Graham said, referring to the Rose Bowl. “I used to watch that on a 13-inch black-and-white television growing up, so that’s always been a goal of mine.”
Graham was head coach at Rice, Tulsa and Pittsburgh before getting the Arizona State job two years ago. Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury faced Graham when Kingsbury was at Houston and Graham at Tulsa.
“I was always impressed with his schemes offensively and defensively, and he’s done a great job,” Kingsbury said. “Everywhere he’s been, he’s won and I can’t say enough about that.”
Graham grew up in the Metroplex, was an all-state defensive back at North Mesquite and started his career as a junior-high coach in his hometown. His springboard to the college ranks was taking Allen to five playoff appearances from 1995 to 2000. He went from there to co-defensive coordinator at West Virginia.
But the dream started long before then.
“When I was in seventh grade, there was a guy named Buddy Copeland that coached me at McDonald Middle School in Mesquite, Texas,” Graham said. “I didn’t have a dad. And he could chew you out and hug your neck all in the same sentence. He was a pretty hard-core guy. The way I felt about him, I knew I was going to be a football coach one day.”