On November 5th, the Arizona State football team was 6-2 and cruising their way to a Pac-12 South title. The basketball team had some optimism, with a young core returning and top recruit Jahii Carson hopefully gaining academic eligibility. By all appearances, it a happy time for the Sun Devils' top two sports.
What a difference nine weeks can make.
Let's review, shall we?
- First, the football team completely collapses, losing their final four games in November and in the process go from a shot at the Rose Bowl to the Maaco Bowl. As a result, Dennis Erickson is fired as head coach.
- The resulting coaching search is horribly mangled. After striking out on their only target, Houston's Kevin Sumlin, ASU scrambles cluelessly for weeks, including two flirtations with June Jones. Fans, boosters and former players voice their dismay and outrage as the school's actions result in the loss of key coaches, recruits and potential replacements for Erickson.
- The basketball team, sans an ineligible Carson, stumbles to a 3-5 start. Yet, ASU hands head coach Herb Sendek a two-year contract extension on December 8th.
- The next day, Carson is ruled ineligible for the entire season. Capping an eventful stretch, December 10th saw guard Chris Colvin suspended by Sendek for a game.
- On December 14th, the school hires Pitt's Todd Graham amid a flurry of national indignation towards Graham for his job-hopping tendencies.
- December 19th saw the suspensions of both Junior Onyeali and Jamal Miles by Erickson, keeping them out of the Maaco Bowl. Onyeali reportedly got into a verbal altercation with Erickson during practice and belittled Erickson's coaching ability.
- As expected, the Devils were blown out by Boise State in the bowl 56-24.
- On New Year's Eve, Sendek's Devils drop their fourth straight game, this time to Arizona to fall to 4-9.
- January 2nd saw troubled linebacker Vontaze Burfict declare his intention to leave school a year early and enter the NFL Draft.
- This past Wednesday, Onyeali was suspended by Graham indefinitely.
- Following in Onyeali's footsteps, Sendek suspends Colvin again, along with Keala King and Kyle Cain.
Any program facing a list half as long in double the timeframe would be taken aback, and for the Devils, the happenings since Halloween are a source of true horror.
The events have not only taken a fan and alumni base that is annually on edge and run their hearts through an emotional meat grinder, but it's also begun to paint the Sun Devils in a negative national light. For a school that has long been labeled as a "sleeping giant", such exposure is equivalent to an Ambien.
The athletic department made "It's time" the battle cry coming into this season. And indeed, it's time.
It's time to burn it all down so it can be built back up.
The culture of mediocrity has become the disease in Tempe, resulting in the list of symptoms above, and the leadership has been all too willing to continue the illness by refusing to take decisive action. In sports, business and life in general, success comes to those who act. For far too long, the athletic department has been in a reactionary mode.
The hiring of a disciplinarian coach in Graham was a good first step, but the problems are far more than at the coaching or even player level. To fully rectify these continual and chronic woes, wholesale and radical changes must be made, and it starts at the top.
The coaching search illustrated for many the failure of the power structure to operate effectively. Lisa Love, the Vice President of Athletics, presumably should have led the search, yet the school's Chief Operating Office Steve Patterson and university President Michael Crow seemed to ultimately have greater say in the process. This ineffective Triumvirate drew the ire of fans and boosters and came to personify the disillusionment many were feeling with the school.
For Love, the search became the latest in a long line of incidents that many point to as evidence as change needs to be made. The two revenue generating programs of the school have been stagnant under her watch, which began in 2005. Six years later, they are no closer to national prominence.
This column is not advocating the firing of anyone. It's pushing for a dramatic change up top, because the current model is broken beyond what coaching changes can fix.
New perspectives must be brought in, responsibilities must change hands and risks must be taken. Difficult decisions must be made, feelings must be hurt and an butts must be kicked. But more than anything, the people at the top must be committed to winning and take the steps necessary to become consistent winners. That will be the hardest pill for the administration to swallow.
Yet that's exactly what Dr. Sparky ordered, because if left untreated, ASU's disease will be terminal.
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