Pitt students react to football coach Todd Graham’s departure for Arizona State

By Lauren Kirschman

When Pitt students heard the news that former football head coach Todd Graham accepted the same… When Pitt students heard the news that former football head coach Todd Graham accepted the same position at Arizona State, most reacted with shock.

Anger followed shortly after.

“It’s literally dumbfounding,” Pitt senior JD Schroeder wrote in a Facebook message. “For a guy that came in and wanted to change the program off the field as well as on, and preached the Pitt way and talked about commitment and all that, truly a snake. No matter their performance on the field, the players absolutely do not deserve this.”

Arizona State Vice President of Athletics Lisa Love and Chief Operating Officer Steve Patterson announced that Graham accepted the position Wednesday afternoon. Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson officially announced that Graham resigned his position and that Pitt has already started the search for its next head coach.

Pederson will speak to the media at 5:30 p.m..

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Graham asked Pitt’s assistant athletic director to forward the news of his decision to leave for Arizona State in a message to the players that read:

“Please text this to players please: I have resigned my position at Pitt in the best interest of my family to pursue the head coaching position at Arizona State. Coaching there has always been a dream of ours & 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.”

Pitt senior Mike Tam wrote in a Facebook message that he believes Graham should’ve met with the players before he left.

“The fact that he didn’t call…just shows what a spineless coward he is,” Tam wrote. “Granted, there’s no positive way to tell your team that you’re bolting for ASU, but you have to do that in person.”

Keith Patterson, who served as Pitt’s defensive coordinator this season, will coach the Panthers in 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.

Graham spent one season at Pitt, finishing the the year 6-6. This isn’t the first time Graham left a school after one season. He coached Rice for one season in 2006 before leaving for Tulsa.

Sophomore Jonathan Coltogirone said that the Pitt football program needs to find stability.

“Initially, I was stunned just like everyone else,” Coltogirone said. “It really came out of nowhere. Right now the program needs to find a coach as soon as possible, preferably someone with some ties to the university.”

This will mark Pitt’s third coaching search in a year. After 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.

Pitt hired Graham as Haywood’s replacement.

Sophomore Neal Donnelly said it’s disappointing that the team will have to go through the process of finding a new coach — who will bring a different system — again.

“This season was rough on the program because we had a new coach implementing a new system, which gave us a disadvantage simply from the learning curve,” he said. “Now we have to go through the process all over again.”

Freshman Kevin Wolf didn’t hear the news until asked for his reaction.

“In high school, we had a football coach that did that,” Wolf said. “He actually went to a school in Arizona. He didn’t tell any of his payers. He just left. Yeah, that’s a skeezy thing to do.”

Several students said the move was most surprising because Graham decided to leave Pitt after a mediocre season.

“I sort of felt Graham would leave if he got Pitt to a BCS bowl and had a few 10 win seasons, and I would understand that,” Schroeder wrote in a Facebook message. “The idea he would leave after one season at 6-6 astounds me.”

Sophomore Robert Zanella agreed.

“I actually expected him to leave for a better job, but not this soon,” Zannella said. “I kind of had the feeling that Pitt would just be a stepping-stone for him.”

Other students, like senior Dan Andrusky, said that Graham made a “poor career decision.”

“But I’m sure we can live without his low-octane game plan,” Andrusky added.

Tam added that it “makes no sense” for Graham to finish the year at .500 and then leave for a job that doesn’t seem like a step up.

“Why have you been recruiting these kids so hard, preaching the Pitt way, installing character, dignity…and then you’re the one that bolts and can’t even tell the players in person,” Tam wrote in a Facebook message.

When Pitt hired Graham, he often talked about the importance of integrity and building relationships with his players.

“What we bring is relationship,” Graham said in September. “Kids know if you’re genuine, they know if you care about them.”

The difference between Graham’s rhetoric and his current actions has left some students more disappointed than angry.

“He’s been preaching about doing things the ‘Pitt way’ all season and talked about having character,” sophomore Darren Williams said. “I’m just disappointed in Todd Graham as a person.”

RJ Sepich and Greg Trietley contributed to this report.