The Times West Virginian

December 15, 2011

HERTZEL COLUMN: ‘Quit.’ It rhymes with Pitt

By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — Let’s see. What rhymes with Pitt?

No, not that.

Oh, I know what rhymes with Pitt.

Quit! Q-U-I-T!

It is, to be honest, a word without honor because it is an action without honor.

In a sport where the locker room walls have been plastered with signs that read “Winners never quit and quitters never win,” Todd Graham is now labeled a quitter.

Graham quit as Pitt football coach Wednesday, serving less than a full season as head coach.

He followed three of his assistants who were well versed in walking out on a team around bowl games out the door, did so without even having the courtesy or the courage to face the team he was walking out on.

Not that they matter to coaches anymore in college football.

They are the players, just pawns on the table of a profession filled with unfeeling millionaires, hired guns breaking real hearts so they can buy gold hearts on a necklace for their wives or girlfriends.

One of his players, wide receiver Mike Shanahan, summed up the situation between player and coach pretty well in the aftermath of the Todd Graham era — no, make that Todd Graham minute — at Pitt in a tweet: “So how can coaches leave after one year but if players do we gotta sit out? After they blatantly use players.”

How can they? What kind of organization is the NCAA that is forever punishing the student-athletes while allowing the coaches to sign million-dollar, multi-year contracts that apparently go only one way, be given cars by the state and who knows what by boosters, yet if they are offered a nickel more they are out the door with nothing more personal than a text message to an administrator to pass along to the team?

That’s how Graham did it, in a hurry to begin at Arizona State, perhaps because he isn’t sure how long he will stay.

Here’s the text for his players, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

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.”

No thank you for their service from him. No special mention of running back Ray Graham or so many others who blew out knees and underwent surgery. No apology for a 6-6 season. Just I’m taking care of MY family and MY dreams. Not even good luck with your dreams.

It’s insanity, really.

This is what Todd Graham had said 10 days earlier: “We’ve got an incredibly bright future at Pitt and I’m extremely ambitious and enthusiastic about what we can achieve.”

Two things about that ... if he really felt that way, why would he leave? Or he was simply lying.

Mike DeCourcy, a former colleague of mine at the Pittsburgh Press and now a national columnist with the Sporting News, asked this of Arizona State’s president.

“Something I don’t get: Why would a college want a coach with so little integrity he’d bolt on a team in one year?”

This one is going to floor you, for the Arizona State president Dr. Michael Crow answered that with a perplexing statement in announcing that Graham was the choice to replace Dennis Erikson after a 6-6 season.

“What we sought in a football coach was someone who would be in it for the long term at Arizona State, who would build and guide a program that would be competitive in the Pac-12 and on a national level year after year after year, who would communicate and connect with the community, and represent our university with honor. In Todd Graham we have that person.”

Fit in for the long term?

History, they say, repeats itself, and when you look at Graham’s resume you find he came to WVU and stayed two seasons as an assistant to Rodriguez before leaving, took the head coaching job at Rice and stayed one year, went to Tulsa for five years and Pitt, again for one.

Here’s hoping the good doctor at Arizona State doesn’t have to eat crow.

According to a release by Pittsburgh late Wednesday afternoon, Graham asked Pitt for permission to negotiate with Arizona State in a phone call Tuesday night and was denied that permission and asked to sit down and talk about the situation.

Graham went ahead and made the deal, catching the Panthers by surprise.

“Obviously this is not the way we would have expected Mr. Graham to handle any possible departure,” Pitt executive vice chancellor and general counsel Jerry Cochran said. “Beyond normal expectations with respect to professional conduct, he has failed to comply with the terms of his contract.”

This is just more embarrassment on the school and the resume of athletic director Steve Pederson, who has blown two football coaching hires within a year, having hired Graham only after Mike Haywood lost the job he’d been hired for within three weeks after a domestic violence incident.

It is as the ultimate Pitt man, Tony Dorsett, tweeted Wednesday afternoon: “What in the world is going on at my university (Pitt)?”

One suspects he’s not the only one asking that question today.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.