In addition to the honors for Graham and Sutton, six ASU players garnered first-team All-Pac-12 recognition, with another seven named to the second team.
ASU’s first-team selections were Sutton, tight end Chris Coyle, left tackle Evan Finkenberg safety Alden Darby, cornerback Robert Nelson and kicker Zane Gonzalez. On the second team were quarterback Taylor Kelly, running back Marion Grice, receiver Jaelen Strong, left guard Jamil Douglas, linebackers Carl Bradford and Chris Young and cornerback Osahon Irabor.
Graham, in his second season at ASU, led the Sun Devils to a 10-2 regular season, the best conference record (8-1) and the right to host Saturday’s Pac-12 title game against Stanford. The 10 wins are ASU’s most since the 2007 season, when Dennis Erickson won coach of the year in his first season. The Sun Devils are No. 11 in the BCS standings heading into Saturday’s championship game.
“I’m obviously extremely honored to receive that, but I can tell you that’s a deal that’s very reflective of our staff,” Graham said Monday. “To me that’s a coaching staff recognition. … We’ve got the best group that I could possibly ever ask for.”
Graham said the first thing he did after learning of his recognition was congratulate offensive coordinator Mike Norvell, who was a nominee for the Frank Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant coach. Graham also mentioned strength coach Shawn Griswold by name.
The award, voted on by fellow Pac-12 head coaches, was won by an ASU coach three times previously: Erickson in 2007, Bruce Snyder in 1996 and John Cooper in 1986.
While Graham inherited talented players from Erickson, he also implemented a complete culture change at ASU, starting with discipline and accountability. ASU went from the most penalized team in the nation to eighth-least penalized in Graham’s first year.
Graham turned around a program that had gone four seasons without a winning record following Erickson’s 2007 debut. In addition to reaching 10 wins and winning the Pac-12 South title this season, ASU went undefeated in November with wins over Utah, Oregon State, UCLA and Arizona. Two seasons ago, ASU needed one more victory to earn a berth in the inaugural Pac-12 Championship game and went winless in the month.
“Any time you get an award like that … obviously it’s very humbling for me,” Graham said. “But on the same hand it’s a great reflection on our staff. I’m very thankful and excited for our staff to win that award.”
Sutton is just the second back-to-back defensive player of the year in conference history. Washington defensive tackle Steve Emtman won the award in 1990 and 1991.
Sutton faced near-constant double teams and his statistics dropped this year from last season, when he finished with 63 tackles, including 23.5 for loss and 13 sacks. With two games left this year, Sutton has 42 tackles, including 10.5 for loss and three sacks.
Sutton admitted he was surprised to win the award again.
“Coach Graham called me last night, and I thought I was in trouble,” Sutton said. “When he told me I sounded like a kid on Christmas — my voice got all high-pitched, I was excited. I didn’t think I would get the defensive player of the year again.”
Said Graham: “We’re very thrilled to keep the Pat Tillman defensive player of the year right here at Arizona State. That’s one of our main goals every year. That’s one that bears the name of a great Sun Devil, and we want that to be a trophy won by one of our players each year. … You know the emphasis we put on defense. That’s the foundation of our program.”
Early this season, with his numbers down, Sutton faced criticism from national voices over the weight he added in the offseason. Though the actual weight gained was often misconstrued, critics said Sutton had lost some of his explosiveness. Sutton argues that those critics ignored the attention he was receiving from opposing offenses.
“I never thought I put on bad weight,” Sutton said. “If you watch the film, you would see that teams are doing everything in their power to slow me down.”
In addition to the 13 players earning First and Second team honors, four received All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention: defensive lineman Davon Coleman, defensive end Gannon Conway, running back D.J. Foster and tight end De’Marieya Nelson. Foster and Nelson were honored for special teams.