TEMPE, Ariz. —
Todd Graham has revamped the mindset within Arizona State's program, instilling a level of discipline and accountability that had sometimes been missing.
He's strengthened the bridge to the past, reaching out to former players and alumni, adding photos of previous teams on the walls during an overhaul of the football offices.
He's stumped like a politician for the Sun Devils, shaking hands with tens of thousands of people across the state, drumming up support for the program while reassuring them he's in the desert for the long haul.
Nine months into the job, Graham has given Arizona State a huge boost.
"People are excited,'' sophomore quarterback Mike Bercovici said. "Fans have been waiting for something like this to happen with this program and it's coming full force.''
The key, of course, is to keep it going.
That means winning.
One reason the Sun Devils have been unable to gain any traction - even, at times on their own campus - is inconsistency on the field.
Arizona State has always been a program of fluctuations, following good stretches with bad ones pretty much since its inception. The Sun Devils have been on a downward trend lately, failing to finish with a winning record for four straight seasons.
In a sports market that's filled with transplants and tends to follow only winners - the NFL's Cardinals being the lone exception - it was hard for Arizona State to gain much traction.
The inconsistency and apathy cost coach Dennis Erickson his job last season and led to the hiring of Graham in December.
The fast-talking Texan had been successful in previous stops, but his hiring wasn't unanimously applauded by the Sun Devil faithful, in part because he had bounced around, including a one-year run at Pittsburgh, his previous employer.
Graham quieted concerns about bolting by telling fans, boosters, recruits - just about anyone who would listen - that this was a destination job for him, not another notch on the resume.
His big push within the team was to provide a level of discipline that hasn't always been there.
Under Graham, foul language isn't allowed, nor are bandanas. Hats, earrings and headphones can't be worn in the football offices. Pants must be pulled up, shirts tucked in, hair a certain length. Players must be on time, attend their classes.
After a brief adjustment period, the players took to the new rules, believing discipline off the field will lead to more of it between the lines.
"Everything is more strict, but it's for a reason,'' defensive lineman Mike Pennel said. "A lot of people like the change and the structure; it's just going to make us better as a football team.''
It's going to be a fast-moving team, too.
A characteristic of Graham's teams in the past has been a quick-hitting attack, what he likes to call a high-octane offense.
From the moment he arrived in Tempe, Graham has preached pace to the Sun Devils, prodding them to go-go-go in practice. No one walks or even jogs to and from the huddle or the line of scrimmage. Go fast or go out is Graham's philosophy, though it has taken the Sun Devils a little while to get the hang of it.
Even players who were in shape became gassed during the first spring workouts and Graham said his team was working at only about 10 percent of the speed he would like to see at the beginning of fall camp.
Still, Graham and his players believe the new up-tempo style will play to their advantage when the whistle blows for real during the season.
"Everyone wants to talk about Oregon's tempo, but we're going to be right there,'' Bercovici said. "By no means am I saying we're Oregon because we're our own style, but we're going to be right there with them.''
Graham does have some talent to work with; he did a decent job recruiting in a short time and Erickson didn't leave the cupboard bare.
Cameron Marshall is one of the Pac-12's best running backs and Jamal Miles one of its most versatile players. The Sun Devils have some athletic playmakers who should fit in well for Graham's attacking, multi-fronted defense, led by cornerback Osahon Irabor and linebacker Brandon Magee, back from missing last season with a torn Achilles tendon.
Arizona State entered fall camp with a three-way competition at quarterback between sophomores Taylor Kelly, Bercovici and redshirt freshman Michael Eubank, so a lot will depend on how quickly they develop in place of Brock Osweiler, last year's starter who left for the NFL.
Whatever happens with the Sun Devils this season, Graham won't accept any excuses - not from his players, not his coaches, not himself.
"Is it going to be easy? No,'' he said. "Are we going to face a lot of adversity? Yes. Can we win a championship this first year? Yes we can. That's what or mission is going to be.''
Graham seems to have the Sun Devils started on the right track. Now they just have to follow through.