Todd Graham fooled us all.
Nearly one year ago, Graham walked onto center court at the Petersen Events Center during halftime of a Pitt basketball game. In front of a raucous home crowd, Graham had these words:
“One of the things I can guarantee you is we will be blue-collar, hard-nosed and physical," Graham told the spirited crowd."We are going to restore the Beast from the East!”
"We will work to bring Big East championships, BCS bowl championships and the 10th national championship to Pitt!" Graham exclaimed.
Less than a year later, I say with all the sincerity and honesty I can find, Mr. Graham: you didn’t deserve to be on that court, and you sure as hell don’t deserve to be strolling the sidelines of Heinz Field.
Yesterday, news of Todd Graham’s resignation from the University of Pittsburgh left Panther fans speechless. Even my tongue was caught. Words couldn’t explain the confusion, frustration, an absolute shock that this man – a man I had spoken with, listened to, believed, who I thought I understood – was just, leaving?
Fortunately, the players he left behind weren’t as lost for words.
"I feel like dirt and I was just abused. For a year,” Pitt wide receiver Devin Street tweeted.
"I'm literally sick. That man pulled me in his office one on one and lied to me"
"He's an actor he did it to rice then us now he's gonna do it to ASU... That energy is fake he has them fooled"
Defensive end Brandon Lindsey didn’t hold back either:
"For someone who said they read the bible everyday, he must've missed the pg that said 'thou shall not lie'"
Trey Anderson, Pitt’s backup quarterback, nearly missed the news.
"I take a nap for 2 hours, wake up to find out my head coach is gone," he tweeted.
Normally, I enjoy crucifying players for using social media to express their opinions. Normally, I call them immature or dumb for publishing something like that for the world to see. But you know what? Today, to Brandon Lindsey, Trey Anderson and Devin Street, I say “Amen.”
Good for you, because if you didn’t say it, maybe nobody else would have.
At this point, calling Graham a lying, deceitful, disloyal and manipulative human being seems fair. How can we not? He asked permission to speak to Arizona State, and – when denied – simply resigned.
Then, he addressed his players via text message.
“I have resigned my position at Pitt in the best interest of my family to pursue the head coaching position at Arizona State," the message sent to players said. "Coaching there has always been a dream of ours and we have family there. The timing of the circumstances have prohibited me from telling you this directly. I now am on my way to Tempe to continue those discussions. God Bless. Coach Graham."
Gone. Out the door and on the plane before he could even send a word. Didn’t have the time to pull aside Tino Sunseri – the quarterback whose career he threw into a flux by trying to install an entirely new offense on a short training camp.
He couldn’t make a phone call to Ray Graham, the freakishly talented running back who – before tearing his ACL late this season – was surely bound for the NFL.
He couldn’t sit down and look the group of players in the eyes who he had preached commitment, relationships and hard work to, and then try to give a rational explanation for why he was leaving.
Whether his decision to stoop as low as a text message was out of self-centeredness, cowardice, laziness, or pure stupidity, I don’t care.
Maybe it was our fault, maybe we should have known. After all, it wasn’t the first time Graham bolted a program. In fact, he had his first one-and-done gig at Rice, leaving the program after taking them to their first bowl game in 45 years.
Maybe it was Graham’s southern twang that made him sound so sincere when he said things like “I’ve spent my whole life working to get this job. This is the best job I’ve ever had.”
But maybe the worst part about the situation is that the University and the city both put their traditional values on the back burner for this man. Graham was everything the program at Pitt wasn’t.
He was flashy. He represented talent over hard work. Speed over power. He was self-absorbed and – in the end – concerned only with his own advancement. He was a backup plan (remember Michael Haywood, anyone?). He was everything Pitt wasn’t. He made us all yearn for Dave Wannstedt.
Not long ago, I sat down with Paul Randolph – the Panthers new assistant coach who came with Graham – a man who had spent much of his career with Graham. In his office, I spoke with him about Graham’s success. Today, I dug up the old recording.
“More than anything, it’s about building relationships,” Randolph told me. “He’s extremely dedicated to building and developing relationships and lifelong relationships with his coaching staff and his players.”
Today, when introduced at his new position with the Sun Devils and asked what the first step was, Graham said “One word: Relationships. Start building relationships. That's a key component.”
They could have at least changed the script.