For ASU, patience is a virtue for building a winner

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Todd Graham is trying to lead his program to the level of David Shaw's Cardinal (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) By Christian Petersen Todd Graham is trying to lead his program to the level of David Shaw's Cardinal (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) By Christian Petersen

It runs counter to every societal impulse we have today, but Sun Devil football fans would be wise to remember the age old adage:

Be patient. Rome (or in this story, Palo Alto) was not built in a day. 

Beyond that, see the bigger picture, folks.

Perhaps it was a whimsical sense of destiny or entitlement that Arizona State’s seven-game winning streak created. Perhaps it was the return of the “here we go again” frustration after two bad losses. Maybe it’s just the shock of getting embarrassed on national TV in a bowl game they should have won.

Whatever the cause(s), many Arizona State’s football faithful unleashed a torrent of angst following Monday’s Holiday Bowl loss to Texas Tech that went far beyond what should have been seen after an admittedly awful loss.

Across social media channels and fan gatherings following the loss, ASU fans expressed their dismay at the disappointing end to the 2013 year. The reactions ranged from the "shucks, we'll get 'em next time" variety to far too many unleashing far more vitriolic options aimed at players and the coaching staff. 

In what has become all-too-frequent an occurrence, many of the same fans who hopped on the bandwagon in the good times picked up their old torches and pitchforks when adversity hit. In wading through dozens of messages sent to me from fans, and hundreds more around the web, one sentiment rose above the others—anger that ASU is not yet a championship team.

What's taking so long?! Why aren't we in the Rose Bowl by now, competing for titles?!

While losing at any time stings, this reaction just shows a shortsightedness that defines the 21st century sports fans.

The road to building a championship is long and arduous, one that will have many Texas Tech-sized potholes along the way. It's a process that doesn't happen overnight, and guarantees nothing. In order to have a chance, patience is required.

For perfect examples of this building process—both the what-to-do and what-not-to-do varieties—ASU need only look northward to their 2013 Pac-12 title game opponents.

In 2001, Stanford head coach Tyrone Willingham parlayed a 9-3 record and a Seattle Bowl appearance with the Cardinal into the Notre Dame job. That capped a moderately successful seven-year run in Palo Alto for Willingham, who compiled a 44-36-1 record, four bowl appearances, and one Pac-10 title over that span. 

Stanford was then a crossroad.

Under new head coach Buddy Teevens, the Cardinal fell to 2-9 in 2002. Things got little better the next two seasons with a pair of 4-7 records. On the recruiting trail, their failures bottomed out with a 2004 class that Rivals ranked 149th in the nation.

It would get worse.

Teevens was then fired and Pittsburgh’s Walt Harris brought in, but a 4-2 start soon ended with a 5-6 record in his first year in 2005. The next year, the Cardinal managed just a single win, ironically enough over Willingham’s Washington Huskies.

A once proud program was a conference doormat. Things were in total disarray.

Enter a brash, straight-shooting coach whose philosophy is built on discipline, accountability, and execution. He was a coach that had not yet won at college football’s highest level, but held the supreme confidence that doing so was just a matter of time (sound familiar?).

Inheriting such a mess, it took Jim Harbaugh a while to clean things up. He went 4-8 and 5-7 in his first two years. But progress was being made.

Then came the breakthrough. A top 20 recruiting class in 2009 came in the same year as an 8-5 record and the team’s first bowl appearance since 2001. Stanford advanced to the precipice.

In 2010, the jump to elite was finally made, thanks to a 12-1 year that was capped off by an Orange Bowl win. That level of success became the new standard, even when Harbaugh left for the NFL. David Shaw has arguably been even better: 34-6 with two Pac-12 championships in his three years.

Every year, Stanford is in the conference championship mix, and as a fan, that's really all you can want.

That’s what ASU has always aspired to be. However, it's always been one step forward, two steps (or 15 yards under Dennis Erickson) back. The process of a true championship program never got underway.

After the 2011 season, ASU was much like the 2006 Cardinal program—a program in shambles. In many respects, it may have been the lowest point in Sun Devil football, and there seemed to be little to no light at the end of the tunnel.

It was then that #SpeakingVictory changed everything.

ASU brought in a head coach in Todd Graham who shares many of the same qualities, standards, and demands of Harbaugh. Not surprisingly, things quickly got better, and at a much faster rate than anyone would have expected.

Since Graham’s arrival, ASU has begun to show all the makings of a winning program. With 18 wins over Graham’s first two years, the general feeling has changed from “Ugh, what next?” to “I can’t wait to see what’s next.” The Sun Devils have seen their fortunes in recruiting improve greatly since he has taken over. They're 2-0 against Arizona. They've won big games, and won on the road. The foundation for present and future success is being laid.

Again, this is happening much sooner than anyone thought nor had any right to expect back in December of 2011. If back then, you were told that in just two seasons, ASU would be the reigning South champions, owners of the Territorial Cup, and currently held a top 20 recruiting class, would you not be enthused?

Yet to some, it's not enough. That's too bad.

The Sun Devils now find themselves in the same cleats as Stanford circa-2009. They are poised to take that ever elusive leap to the next level.

It may come in 2014, it may not. However, should the current trends and progress hold, it figures to happen at some point. 

And it will be well worth the wait.