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Todd Graham bails on Pitt via text message, and Pitt players do not take it well

Matt Hinton
Dr. Saturday

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Todd Graham just completed his first season as head coach at Pittsburgh, easily the most attractive and lucrative of his five career stops over the last decade. What's he going to do next?

He's going to… uh, he's going to Arizona State? From ASUDevils.com:

Todd Graham is expected to leave Pitt to become Arizona State's next head coach according to sources close to both programs.

An ASU spokesperson said the school had nothing to announce publicly as of late Wednesday morning, but a school athletic department source, speaking on the condition of anonymity, confirmed that Graham would be named the coach. [...]

Graham alerted Pitt players of his intentions via text message earlier in the day.

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That's right: After a single season at Pitt — a job Graham pushed hard for last year, swooping in after a domestic assault charge ended predecessor Mike Haywood's tenure after just 17 days — Graham is on his way to take over a roughly equivalent program at Arizona State. The move is his fourth in six years since accepting the head coaching job at Rice in 2006, and leaves the Panthers in search of their fourth head coach in a little over one year since ditching Dave Wannstedt to hire Haywood last December.

Oh, and about that text message to players? It was a very official text message — more of a press release, really. From the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

Pitt's players were informed in a statement from Graham that was sent via text by assistant athletic director/football operations Blair Philbrick.

"I have resigned my position at Pitt in the best interest of my family to pursue the head coaching position at Arizona State," Graham said. "Coaching there has always been a dream of ours and we have family there. The timing of the circumstances have prohibited from telling you this directly. I now am on my way to Tempe to continue those discussions. God Bless. Coach Graham."

Arizona State may seem like a strange dream for a guy who grew up around Dallas, spent the first half of his career coaching at East Texas high schools and has never coached a game in the state of Arizona. But he did spend a (very) brief stint as a free agent with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1987, their last year in St. Louis before moving to Arizona. So… that's pretty close. Clearly his heart belongs to miles upon miles of generic suburban sprawl rising anachronistically from the center of an otherwise inhospitable desert moonscape.

As for the players, they're now headed back to the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala., without a head coach for the second year in a row. Surprise: They're not happy about it. A small sampling of their reaction to Graham's departure on Twitter (all quotes sic):

Linebacker Adam Lazenga
"All I can say is wow.. Talk about committed hahah"
"Loling at the things Ive been told for the last year" ['Loling' means 'Laughing out loud' — ed.]
"Liar and a fraud… Lol"
Defensive end Brandon Lindsey
"At least we got to run at 630 this morning lol"
"Ok so this is the 'The Pitt Way'"
Safety Andrew Taglianetti
"So birmingham will be the EXACT same as last year. This is crazy"
"Its really unfortunate for this years seniors. Really is. 3 coaches in one calendar year."
Linebacker Mark Giubilato
"I am so confused right now on so many levels smh like wth happened"
"Craziest and most pathetic day if my life"
"Where to go from here.... exam at 630, how am I supposed to focus?? Smh"
"I wish I could tweet what I think smh but I could write a 200 page paper"

Wide receiver Devin Street tweeted a photo of Graham and his wife on a plane (date unknown) with the caption: "The Liar got his Colors on already."

To recap: In a little over a year, Pitt has lost head coaches via a) A straightforward termination for on-field mediocrity, b) A felony arrest and c) A departure that makes no sense and has infuriated players. In a little more than two weeks, Arizona State has a) Blown its shot at its first choice to replace Dennis Erickson, b) Awkwardly pulled the plug on another candidate at the last second and c) Settled for an opportunistic journeyman who just turned a mediocre 7-5 team into a mediocre 6-6 team in his only season at his most high-profile job to date.

I hope everyone else is taking notes.

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Matt Hinton is on Facebook and Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.

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