Arizona State Coaching Hire Adds New Dimension to Duel

PITTSBURGH PA - JANUARY 11: The new University of Pittsburgh head football coach Todd Graham speaks to the media during a press conference at the University of Pittsburgh Panthers South Side training facility on January 11 2011 in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Luke Skywalker's enemy, Darth Vader, was his father. Brother Fredo broke Michael Corleone's heart. Paul Orndorff turned his back on Hulk Hogan to align with Roddy Piper.

Now, Arizona's new head football coach Rich Rodriguez will call one of his own his greatest rival.

Arizona State is expected to announce Pitt's Todd Graham as its 23rd head football coach on Wednesday, via SBNation Arizona. Before he was the head man at Pitt, Tulsa and Rice, Graham was a linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator at West Virginia University from 2001 through 2002.

Graham's run as a Rodriguez assistant was brief, as many stops in his career have been. His tenure at Pitt was the second one-season stop of Graham's brief head coaching career, the other a 2006 stop-off at Rice. Yet like other quickies, Graham was successful while working under Rodriguez. The Mountaineer defense ranked Nos. 27 and 40 in yards and points surrendered in 2002 in what was then a much different Big East Conference, home to defending national champion Miami.

His tour through Rice yielded the program's first bowl game in four decades, and earned Graham a return invite to Tulsa after a three-year stint as the Golden Hurricane's defensive coordinator.

There will almost assuredly be Wildcat conspiracy theorists suggesting A-State made the hire because of Graham's connection to Rodriguez. Graham's winning ways dismiss any such notion. His three, double digit-win seasons at Tulsa match the number of such campaigns ASU has had since becoming a Pacific Conference member over three decades ago. His niche is defense, but at both Rice and Tulsa his staff produced offenses dubbed "high octane."

A defensive-minded hire is an interesting deviation from the trend UA and Washington State established, bringing in Rodriguez and Mike Leach. It's also a departure from the rumored names associated with the Sun Devil search, including Kevin Sumlin, June Jones and Larry Fedora.

Indeed, the ASU athletic department's move for Graham is independent of the coach's ties to the new UA program. But those ties cannot be ignored.

Graham worked with the 3-3-5 stack formation now synonymous with Rich Rod-coached teams. The system may have thrived under Jeff Casteel, but has its roots with Graham, who was on one of the first staffs to implement it. The defensive coordinator position at UA remains vacant, but should the 3-3-5 make its way to Tucson, the Sun Devils have a sideline general familiar with its intricacies. And purposefully or not, that makes for an intriguing chess move out of Tempe, and new wrinkle to a rivalry that seemingly already had it all.

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