Outgoing ASU head coach Todd Graham made a surprising appearance at the Hyundai Sun Bowl's coordinator's press conference Tuesday.

Reports had indicated that offensive coordinator Billy Napier, who is headed to Louisiana-Lafayette as its new head coach next season, would coach the Sun Devils in the 84th edition of the Sun Bowl game.

But Tuesday it was Graham and ASU defensive coordinator Phil Bennett who represented the Sun Devils' play-callers. Graham confirmed to azcentral.com that he and consultant Dave Christensen will call plays against No. 24 NC State Friday afternoon.

Both Bennett and Napier had been invited to keep their positions by incoming head coach Herm Edwards; but Bennett declined citing health and personal issues and Napier, who had first accepted Edwards' offer, got a better one.

Christensen, a former head coach at Wyoming, was named Edwards' offensive line coach for 2018.

Napier's departure adds another layer of intrigue to the peculiar finish of ASU's 2017 season.

But Graham says he is determined to show his team something deeper than wins and losses.

"You reap what you sow," said Graham, a native Texan and former Texas high school coach.

"One of the reasons I’m so proud to grow up in this state is because I’m a coach’s kid. Now, my biological dad was not a coach, he left my mom and so my mom raised five kids by herself and my coaches were my dad. My coaches gave me the values of character, emphasized the academics and being smart, discipline and toughness.

"How you do anything is how you do everything, and I think you have to model," said Graham. "You don’t just fall apart when things get bad. That’s what I learned growing up, so we’re not a program in disarray.

 

For his part, Bennett says the Sun Devils' twists and turns in 2017 surprised even a veteran like himself.

"I’ve done this 40 years and I thought I had seen everything but yeah, I just added another chapter to my book this year.

"The demands of this job, as we all know, it’s tough," said Bennett, "but Todd has made it a seamless transition, we’ve stayed on schedule, our practices in Tempe were very much upbeat. I’ve been floored at how things have been kept together.

"We had a very good staff in place so we feel like it won’t be one of those distractions that could hurt us, you know, you always look at these games that are in transition and as a coach you say “god, I don’t want that to be us”. I’m not going to mention any games but some of them you go “wow, that interim coach maybe shouldn’t have coached that game.”

The Hyundai Sun Bowl kicks off Friday at 1 p.m. MST.