Former Pitt football coach Todd Graham’s move to Arizona State took Pitt by surprise

By Gretchen Andersen

Both Pitt Athletic Director Steve Pederson and interim head coach Keith Patterson said they were… Both Pitt Athletic Director Steve Pederson and interim head coach Keith Patterson said they were surprised to learn that former football coach Todd Graham resigned before the end of his first season.

Graham accepted the head coach position at Arizona State on Wednesday.

“I never imagined we would be where we are today at this particular time, talking about what we are talking about,” Pederson said in a press conference on Wednesday. “We entered in what we thought was going to be a long-term situation here, with our head football coach, and certainly made a big commitment for that to happen.”

Patterson, who served as Pitt’s defensive coordinator this season, was named interim head coach and will coach the BBVA Compass Bowl on Jan. 7.

Last season, the Panthers played Kentucky in the Compass Bowl without head coach Dave Wannstedt, who resigned under pressure. Interim head coach Phil Bennett coached that game.

Pederson said that Pitt doesn’t have a specific time frame for finding a coach, but wants to find a candidate as quickly as possible. Pederson said there is a list of coaches Pitt is interested in for the head coaching position.

This will mark Pitt’s third head coaching search in a year. After former Pitt head coach Dave Wannstedt resigned, the Panthers hired Michael Haywood and fired him shortly after he was a arrested for a felony domestic abuse charge in South Bend, Ind.

At a court hearing on Feb. 11, Haywood entered a court diversion program in Indiana, which requires 60 hours of community service and a psychological evaluation. If he completes the deal, the charges will be dismissed in one year.

In a statement, Jerome Cochran, Pitt executive vice chancellor and general counsel, said Graham “has failed to comply with the terms of his contract.”

Pederson said he couldn’t talk specifically about the buyout provision in Graham’s contract, but that there is one and “we will have to work through those details.”

Pederson said he was in Greensboro, N.C. last night meeting with leaders of the Atlantic Coast Conference when he received a call from Graham late in the day.

“He told me he and his family were discussing all day an opportunity at Arizona State, where they had reached out to him for a head coaching job,” Pederson said.

Pederson said he was “at a loss at why into a year, we would be talking about another job.”

Graham asked for permission to talk to Arizona State University, but Pederson denied the permission.

“Less than a year in, I think we are well within our bounds to deny somebody permission,” Pederson said.

Former Pitt tight ends coach Tony Dews, secondary coach Tony Gibson and co-offensive coordinator Calvin Magee accepted jobs on Rich Rodriguez’s staff at University of Arizona about a week ago.

Pederson said he called the athletic director at Arizona State, but that he “hasn’t gotten any response to date.”

“When I talked to Coach Graham the last time it was 6:45 p.m., and about an hour and a half later, I got an email indicating that he was going to resign his position here,” Pederson said.

Pederson said he then made numerous phone calls Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, getting an early flight out of Charlotte so he could meet with Graham to talk and “see if we can resolve any issues.”

“I’ve never been able to have that conversation, and I still haven’t had that conversation,” Pederson said.

Graham sent an email out to the players, Pederson said.

Pederson acknowledged the difficult timing of Graham leaving with football players studying for finals and preparing for the Compass Bowl game.

“They handled it like champions,” Pederson said of the football players receiving the news.

Graham has jumped from program to program before. In 2006, Graham left Rice University for University of Tulsa after one year. Pederson said they talked about Graham’s move “pretty intently” when they hired him.

“He said at the time Tulsa was a unique situation because he had been there before,” Pederson said.

Pederson said he thought there were “other ways to handle” telling the football players he was resigning than sending an email. Graham never told the football players face-to-face about his resignation, Pederson said.

“There has been a lot of people who have invested their life in this. All those people are impacted,” Pederson said.

Patterson spoke of how he wants to honor his father’s recent death by coaching this team. He spoke to the football players Wednesday afternoon.

“I told them, we are going to finish what we started,” Patterson said.

Patterson came to Pitt this year from Tulsa with Graham. Patterson, close friends with Graham, said he heard from Graham Tuesday that Graham was contacted by Arizona State University, and learned Wednesday that Graham resigned.

Patterson said he is not disappointed about Graham’s move.

“I’m not going to sit here and ever say I am disappointed in someone that gave me an opportunity in this profession to be here.”