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Pac-12 football coaches teleconference: ASU coach Todd Graham talks stealing signals

Nov 3, 2015
Gene Sweeney Jr. /Getty

A signal-stealing controversy took priority during this week's Pac-12 football teleconference call. Arizona State's Todd Graham didn't shy away from the discussion and many coaches gave their takes about whether there is a line that shouldn't be crossed. The majority said rules haven't been broken, but it did lead into a discussion about the ethics involved and potential solutions.

Arizona State

Arizona State's Todd Graham

Here's an honest and true explanation from Graham regarding the signal-stealing uproar that led to Oregon hiding their play calls with white sheets during their victory this past Saturday. "One, there's nothing illegal about stealing signals. Every place I've ever been, every team (does it)," Graham said. "We do everything by the rules."

Graham said he would "100 percent be in favor" of quarterbacks getting their helmets mic'd up to curb the need to rely on signals from the sidelines. "Then you wont' have to worry about all that stuff," he said.

Arizona State's 4-4 start is the worst since Graham joined the Sun Devils for the 2012 season. After falling to Oregon in triple-overtime, ASU faces another tough opponent in Washington State this week. "The close games we won last year. This year, we've lost them," Graham said. "There's a very fine line of winning and losing."

[Right click and "Save Link As" to download audio of Todd Graham's full session]


Oregon's Mark Helfrich

The Ducks employed sideline staffers to hold white sheets during offensive play calls in attempts to distract or cover up Arizona State's ability to read their signals. So did it work? "I have no idea," Helfrich said.

Helfrich did not want to get into the ethical discussion about stealing play calls. "We're just trying to protect our stuff," he said.

Oregon gave up 742 yards to ASU but won 61-55 in triple-overtime. "There are various reasons for that," Helfrich said. "Our entire secondary is new from last season, but at this point in the season that's more of an excuse than a reason."

To force overtime, Ducks quarterback Vernon Adams avoided a sack, scrambled, and lofted a pass into the back of the end zone, where the ball was caught. Helfrich said he wants Adams to continue trusting in play calls, but he won't hold the quarterback back once he correctly identifies the time and place to freelance. "It's like breaking a stallion, and I don't know if that's ever been done or a great analogy," Helfrich said. "You don't want to squelch that. When things break down, that's when he becomes so meaningful."

[Right click and "Save Link As" to download audio of Mark Helfrich's full session]

Washington State

Washington State's Mike Leach

Leach, who earlier this week said ASU should be investigated for stealing signals, explained where the line should be drawn. “It’s one thing to just pick up a cue, it’s another thing to break it down as a science and film various things, and carry it over from one year to the next and do some special analysis of it,” Leach said.

On teaching better tackling and how it's helped the Cougars to a 5-3 start: "We obsess over it and I think, as a result, are better at it than we have been."

[Right click and "Save Link As" to download audio of Mike Leach's full session]


UCLA's Jim Mora

Mora credited ASU for forcing Oregon to use white sheets to protect their offensive calls, but he also tipped his cap toward Helfrich's staff for making a creative attempt at stopping the Sun Devils. "I thought it was ingenious. I thought it was awesome," Mora said of the white sheets. "Arizona State is very good at -- I don't want to say stealing signals because I think that's inaccurate -- I think they're very good at taking advantage of teams that don't hide their intentions."

The Bruins visit Oregon State this week coming off a 35-31 win against Colorado. Mora called the game that saw the Buffs run more than 100 plays "exhausting. We were able to come up with a 4th-and-4 stop, another 4th-and-4 stop, and an interception to win the game. It was brutal for them, but they made the plays they needed to make to win."

Mora called Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan a great game manager, but the connotation wasn't a negative one. "When I say game manager, I mean things like knowing how to control the clock in their offense ... knowing how to get out of a bad play," the UCLA coach said. "I mean that more than a quarterback where the coach keeps thing simple so he doesn't screw up. As I say it, I mean it as a real compliment to him."

[Right click and "Save Link As" to download audio of Jim Mora's full session]


Utah's Kyle Whittingham

Weeks ago, Whittingham first indicated that Arizona State was savvy in attempting to learn the other team's play-calls. In September, the Utes began calling their plays via huddle during the fourth quarter in a win against the Sun Devils. "The onus falls on the guys doing the signaling," Whittingham said. "If they are, you've got to have a Plan B and our Plan B was going to a huddle."

On the wear-and-tear for the very productive Devontae Booker, who has 966 rushing yards and 282 receiving yards this year: "He seems to get stronger as the game goes on. He kind of (has) the ability to carry a heavy load. We knew that going into the season. That was the plan."

USC linebacker Su'a Cravens has become a fine example of the new-age college football linebacker. Being able to blitz, play the run, or drop into coverage is something Cravens excels at, and no longer are teams running out 250-pound run-stopping bruisers. "They're almost extinct," Whittingham said. "(Cravens is) very equipped to do exactly what they ask him to do in their schemes."

[Right click and "Save Link As" to download audio of Kyle Whittingham's full session]


Washington's Chris Petersen

Sharing a city with the Seattle Seahawks, the Huskies have taken rugby-tackling techniques from the NFL team's coach, Pete Carroll. "We definitely think it's safer but on top of that, and this is the bonus, we think it's more efficient and effective. We have miles of film to back that up," Petersen said.

Petersen thought Oregon's defensive white sheets were creative but didn't think anything ASU was doing regarding stealing signals was wrong. "We had some stuff going last year where we were trying to block their signals as well," Petersen said. "I think it's something that probably needs to be talked about in the offseason for sure."

Petersen's decision to leave Boise State two years ago was "just a feeling," he said. "I always felt energized. I always felt like I should be there. My last year, it was just kind of different. I just felt in my heart."

[Right click and "Save Link As" to download audio of Chris Petersen's full session]


California's Sonny Dykes

Dykes has first-hand experience of moving from a small school, Louisiana Tech, into a Power 5 conference. With so much movement in the coaching ranks this season, he suggested that small-school coaches had best do their homework to learn about a future job. "You've got to find out what the goals of the athletic department are, the expectations," he said. "Make sure the investment meets the expectations, I think that's the most important thing."

Poor tackling in college football comes with the offenses spreaing the field. Many times, a defensive player must make a solo tackle in space. "The game has changed so much. It's a space game now," Dykes said.

On the signal-stealing controversy and seeing Oregon's white sheets in action: "I didn't know what in the world was going on. I had no idea what was happening. I think the thing about signals is, if you don't want anybody to look at your signals, call it in. It's not necessarily anybody's favorite part of the game, but it's part of the game."

Following a tough loss to USC, the Golden Bears will hit the road and face Oregon this week. Dykes said the Ducks' secondary is "starting to play with a little more confidence."

[Right click and "Save Link As" to download audio of Sonny Dykes' full session]


Colorado's Mike MacIntyre

Colorado, which hung with UCLA in a slim loss last week, has been battling injury issues on the offensive line and at the linebacker position. It's limited the versatility of the latter. "You kind of play to their strengths in terms of alignments ... and guys you would blitz or would not blitz, that type of thing," he said.

MacIntyre felt that turnovers and dropped touchdown passes ultimately did in a very strong performance from his team. "We feel like we controlled the game and did not win the game. Bottom line is winning it," he said. "That did make it a little more frustrating, I'd say."

[Right click and "Save Link As" to download audio of Mike MacIntyre's full session]

Oregon State

Oregon State's Gary Andersen

Oregon State fell to 2-6 with a 27-12 loss to Utah over the weekend. Run defense and rushing offense have been the two biggest issues for the Beavers, and it starts along the lines. "Those two things are big, big areas we need to continue to work through," Andersen said.

Defending Utah running back Devontae Booker is no easy task. He went for 121 yards on 25 carries against Oregon State, and Andersen was impressed with his ability to read and adjust to disguised blitzes. "He had to see some abnormal reads, abnormal situations. He read those well...He didn't get frustrated," Andersen said. "He stayed in the moment and kept on battling and kept on fighting."

What would Andersen tell a small-school coach thinking about taking a job at a bigger school? "My biggest advice is don't take a Power 5 job just because it's a Power 5 job," Andersen said.

[Right click and "Save Link As" to download audio of Gary Andersen's full session]


Stanford's David Shaw

Is there a difference in maintaining a program that's become a national championship contender versus building one from scratch? "I think that's the biggest thing I learned," he said, "there is no difference. You can't ever stay the same, you can't ever assume you're going to stay the same. You're always in a building mode, you're always in a pushing mentality."

Stanford plays a Colorado team that's struggled to win -- but the Buffs have stayed in games this year. Shaw said the Cardinal are pointing to their loss at Northwestern that began the season as motivation to take CU seriously. "Our guys have hopefully learned from that," the Stanford coach said.

Shaw discussed running back Christian McCaffrey at length. His explanation of McCaffrey's 30-yard, tight-rope run during a 30-28 win against Wazzu last week went like so: "That's just natural ability. To be going that fast toward the sideline and to turn up vertically and then get hit by someone and be able to stay in bounds, it doesn't really make sense."

[Right click and "Save Link As" to download audio of David Shaw's full session]


Arizona's Rich Rodriguez

Arizona visits USC a week after a disappointing loss to Washington. Rodriguez and Trojans interim coach Clay Helton met when Rodriguez was coaching Tulane and Helton was on the Houston staff as a running backs coach. They also shared ideas. "We were both young guys trading a lot of ideas when we got together," Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez got to know USC quarterback Cody Kessler when RichRod's son, who is a high school quarterback, went to the Manning Passing Camp this summer. The Arizona coach credits Kessler's leadership for helping USC through a coaching change this season. "When you have adversity like that, sometimes the players will rally together and say, hey, we're going to right this ship and play our tails off. I think that's what they're doing now," he said.

On disguising signals and whether it's an issue in college football: "I think that's always been there, always will be. If you're a no-huddle signal team from the sidelines you've got to be aware of it. Way back when ... in the Big East, we thought people were filming us and hiring lip-readers. We've over the years tried to come up with a system (to combat it)."

[Right click and "Save Link As" to download audio of Rich Rodriguez's full session]


USC's Clay Helton

USC receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster required surgery Monday to repair a broken hand suffered in last week's 27-21 victory against Cal. "He's been one of the most unbelievable warriors I've been around," Helton said. "He was really hurting during the game and we said 'that's it. Let's make sure we get this thing evaluated. He's just a class act and a really, really tough kid that helped us win a big ballgame."

[Right click and "Save Link As" to download audio of Clay Helton's full session]