Arizona State has appeared to fire a warning shot in the direction of head football coach Todd Graham. Jeff Metcalfe of The Arizona Republic reported on Tuesday that the school did not extend his contract by one year, as they have done each of the last four years.
Graham arrived in December 2011 after one season in the same position at Pittsburgh. After going 28-12, winning a division title and two bowl games between 2012-14, the Sun Devils have finished under .500 in consecutive seasons and won six total Pac-12 games (19 in the preceding three years).
“If grounds do not exist for termination for cause, ASU will ask the board to extend coach’s contract for one additional year following completion of the 2016 football season,” says his contract, which still runs through June 30, 2021.
“That’s not an automatic provision in the contract,” said Ray Anderson, vice president for athletics. “It wasn’t rolled over because it didn’t need to be rolled over.”
As noted by Metcalfe, if Arizona State replaces Graham prior to June 30, 2021, he is owed 100 percent of the remainder of his annual salary. If he is fired, who might replace him? Here is a way-too-early, purely speculative list of rising head coaches and coordinators that might be candidates.
Current Position: Head Coach, Memphis
Just 12 years ago, Norvell was an unknown receiver at Central Arkansas. Now he’s among the most-wanted coaches in America and Power Five offers will start rolling in for 35-year-old, one of which could be from his former employer.
Norvell was Graham’s offensive coordinator for four years (2012-15) before taking the Memphis job last year. The Sun Devils ranked in the nation’s top 30 in three of his four seasons, including 2013 when they averaged nearly 40 points per game.
Current Position: Head Coach, Syracuse
Dino Babers has 14 different programs on his mile-long résumé, including a one year as a grad assistant at Arizona State in 1985.
Though he did just win four games in his first season as Syracuse head coach in 2016, he went 18-9 in two years at Bowling Green and 19-7 in two years at Eastern Illinois. Babers, 55, was an assistant under Art Briles at Baylor (2008-11) and runs a powerful, fast-paced offense.
Current Position: Head Coach, North Texas
Like Mike Norvell, Seth Littrell has rocketed up the coaching ranks in the last decade. The former Oklahoma running back was offensive coordinator at Arizona and Indiana, and associate head coach at North Carolina before taking the North Texas job last year.
The Mean Green went just 5-8 last year and still may be couple years away from challenging for a Conference USA championship. However, it wouldn’t be the least bit surprising to see the 38-year-old field Power Five calls after a strong 2017 season.
Current Position: Head Coach, Tulsa
Philip Montgomery finally left the state of Texas in December 2014 to take the Tulsa job. He was born in Texas, played at Tarleton State and spent the first 21 years of his coaching career there.
A longtime Art Briles assistant at Stephenville High School, Houston and Baylor, the offensive guru delivered a 10-win season in 2016 and will continue to see his Power Five stock rise. Would he wait for a potential opening in Texas or go elsewhere?
Current Position: Defensive Coordinator, LSU
Despite the promotions of coordinators Lincoln Riley, Geoff Collins, Scott Frost and others to head coaches in the last couple years, the coordinator pool is talented and deep. And Dave Aranda sits in the top tier.
Aranda went from Utah State to Wisconsin with Gary Andersen in 2013. That’s when his career really took off. He worked wonders with a Badgers’ defense laced with walk-ons and low-rated recruits and moved to LSU last year. The 40-year-old is making $1.3 million in Baton Rouge and has no head coaching experience