Mark Faller and Greg Moore, discuss Todd Graham contract and does chemistry really exist within the Diamondbacks team?
While Ray Anderson realizes his honeymoon is over as Arizona State athletic director, he remains no less committed to putting in the work to ensure a long and ultimately happy marriage.
With his third year as ASU vice president for athletics behind him, Anderson, 63, is faced with guiding the department back from one of the two worst years for major sports cumulatively since 1959.
Football, men’s basketball and baseball all had losing records for the first time since 1984-85, performances that contributed toa new athletic director as well as new football and men’s basketball coaches the following year.
Anderson will be back in 2017-18 as will coaches Todd Graham (football for his sixth season), Bobby Hurley (men’s basketball, third) and Tracy Smith (baseball, fourth). It’s a patience play somewhat unusual in today’s major college landscape, one that Anderson feels is justified and will pay off as soon as the coming school year.
“Overall what I try to do is take an assessment of are we at a point where I believe we have either stalled or peaked,” Anderson said. “If that’s the case and it’s not in our best long-term interest, I’m going to take action. If I believe we’ve got a chance to push through and be successful then I’m going to be patient because I also don’t want to be making changes in staffs every three or four years. I don’t think that’s fair or productive or efficient for anybody.”
Can facilities help turn-around football?
Football is moving this summer into its new home at the north end of Sun Devil Stadium, a 118,669-square-foot facility that is being counted on to boost recruiting as part of an overall $268-million stadium renovation that will be completed before the 2018 season.
“Facilities will not be an excuse any more,” Anderson said. “It won’t be a competitive disadvantage. Our facilities are not going to be the Taj Mahal, but they’re going to be very nice where we don’t have to be second class to anybody. We’ll get our share of top students who are also very good players then it’s a matter of us putting it all together and consistently delivering.”
Graham is under contract through four more seasons — he did not receive a 1-year contract extension for the first time this year — and under pressure to reverse a string of two losing seasons. Anderson, who came to ASU from the NFL in early 2014, did not hire Graham but has been publicly supportive of him even given the decision to allow his contract length to fall under 5 years for the first time.
ASU football has five new assistant coaches including offensive and defensive coordinators for this year and also added former NFL quarterback Danny White — also a former Sun Devil — and former Wyoming head coach Dave Christensen as consultants.
“Sometimes you have to look in the mirror and change how you do things and incorporate the advice and counsel of others,” Anderson said. “I have great confidence those things are going to translate into a very successful season in football, and I believe the same in baseball and basketball. We’ve got culture happening in each one where we will come through what some folks rightfully think have been rough times recently.”
Basketball, baseball moving in opposite directions
Of the major men’s sports, basketball is most clearly trending up with an influx of post players joining three returning senior guards. Growing basketball revenue remains a priority for athletics, which is close to $100 million in annual revenue ($94.6 million for fiscal year 2016) and funding a department that has added four sports under Anderson for 26 total.
ASU men’s basketball revenue for 2016 was $7.3 million, down $2 million from the previous fiscal year. In contrast, University of Arizona men’s basketball revenue was $22.7 million in 2016.
Baseball, with school lows for wins (23) and winning percentage (.418), is the ASU men’s program most considered bullet proof because of its five national championships and sustained success. Anderson, who played football and baseball at Stanford, appreciates the program’s history but puts it in perspective when analyzing the rebuilding he’s asking Smith to do.
“I’m trying to help put together a program that will get back to actually advancing to the College World Series on a much more regular basis and win championships that won’t be 36 years since the last one,” Anderson said. “I’m not all that tied up about 54 years of 30 wins (per season) then you go and fall out the first or second round of the postseason. That to me isn’t some great history that should keep us from having the ability to build a program that will in fact win national championships.
“I don’t want to be critical, but the facts are we haven’t won anything since 1981,” he said.
Yet from 2003-11, ASU baseball went to the CWS four times and was a combined 418-148, including 44 wins later vacated due to NCAA sanctions. That golden period is recent enough for fans to be restless about the direction under Smith and uneasy with Anderson’s support for him.
Anderson is still working under his original contract, which expires in February 2019. He seems in good stead with ASU President Michael Crow, who is likely in no hurry to make another change at that position. Crow hired Lisa Love in 2005, when Gene Smith left for Ohio State, then Steve Patterson in 2012 and finally Anderson after Patterson left for Texas.
“I really don’t give a lot of thought to that stuff,” Anderson said. “I’m of the mind that I hope to be here long term and at the appropriate time that will be addressed.”
As challenging as times are right now at ASU, Anderson views the job as less draining than being NFL executive vice president of football operations for eight seasons.
“That was more of an adversarial position,” Anderson said, whose position involved resolving player and officials union issues, dealing with discipline cases and suspensions and confronting whatever “gate” controversy (Spy, Bounty) arose. “This is an opportunity to innovate and create, do some good and have a purpose.
“I’ve gotten younger here,” he said. “There’s no question I’m going to have a longer life because I stepped away from the NFL and immersed myself in this energy environment.”
ASU forgettable years
- Football: 5-6 (6th Pac-10)
- Men’s basketball: 12-16 (7th Pac-10)
- Baseball: 31-35 (4th Pac-10 South)
- Football 5-7 (tie 4th Pac-12 South)
- Men’s basketball: 15-18 (8th Pac-12)
- Baseball: 23-32 (tie 10th Pac-12)