Q&A with ASU defensive coordinator Randolph
First-year Arizona state coach Todd Graham has crossed paths with many prominent college football men in his career. He worked for current Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez and employed Arkansas State coach Gus Malzahn as well as Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris.
One man, though, has followed Graham on his past almost the entire way: Paul Randolph. The current defensive coordinator and senior associate head coach has now been with Graham for a decade after the two first teamed up at West Virginia. Randolph has since served in defensive roles for Graham at Rice, Tulsa and Pittsburgh.
Before joining Graham at West Virginia, Randolph coached at Toledo, Illinois State, Valdosta State and his alma mater, Tennessee-Martin. After a season at West Virginia, Randolph coached defensive ends at Alabama before re-joining Graham at Rice. Before all that, he started for two years at linebacker for Tennessee-Martin and spent 10 seasons in the Canadian Football League.
Randolph sat down with FOX Sports Arizona recently to discuss his long history with Graham, leaving Pittsburgh, ASU's new defense and more.
FSAZ: You and Todd Graham go way back to West Virginia. How did that relationship begin?
Randolph: Well, I came in to interview with him at West Virginia in 2002 -- that was a long time ago -- and he knew what he was looking for. He had a specific need he wanted to add to the defensive staff. Now, I didn't know about his passion when I was interviewing, but now that we've worked together so long, I know why he hired me at West Virginia. Passion, energy and philosophy-wise, we think the same. I think that was the start of it, and at this point we've grown so much because we do have the same philosophy and we think the same way. And we see defense being played the same way.
FSAZ: Did that long-standing relationship make it easy to come with Coach Graham to ASU from Pittsburgh?
Randolph: Oh, no doubt. To me it was never even a consideration (not to come with him), just knowing how things work. I know that he's going to strain everyone to get better. He strained me. I've gotten a lot better since the first time he hired me due to that. So I know the method, and to me it was a no-brainer to come with him.
FSAZ: Coach Graham took a lot of criticism for leaving Pitt after one season. With as close as you are to him, was it hard to see that?
Randolph: When you know a man's heart, there's no question it's hard to sit back watching ESPN and all those things and what they're saying about him or how people are depicting him. There's no doubt that tweaks you, too, when you work with him and truly know his heart and know what he's about. His and my stories are exactly the same. We're both from single-parent homes, raised 2,000 miles apart -- I was in Georgia and he was in Dallas -- but both brought up the same way. He had to work his tail off to be a great student in college; I had to work my tail off. Nothing was easy. So all those things, that history, it's no surprise our ideas are the same, and when you know a man and what he stands for, it's like they were talking about me. When they talk about him, I'm a part of him, so I feel like they're talking about me also.
FSAZ: And what about leaving behind the players you were only with for a year?
Randolph: That's the absolute hardest thing you ever do. One thing I believe, he believes, the entire staff believes in, is giving your whole heart and soul, giving everything to the young men we coach. We pour everything into it, and truthfully, they become our children. So when you develop that kind of relationship with a group of guys, it's hard to leave them. In my first job, I was 0-11 and I didn't want to leave, and that was at my alma mater. I did not want to leave because of the relationships and the bonds you develop.
FSAZ: As well as you know Coach Graham, you must see him exhausted at some point from all the handshaking he's been doing.
Randolph (laughing): It's always Energizer Bunny. And I ask him, "Where's it come from?" Well, truthfully, he looks at me and says, "You're the same way!" And Coach (Mike) Norvell is the same way. But there are times when (Graham) is speaking at every function he can. And one thing I've learned from him is when he said he'd shake every hand to fill that stadium, he meant it. That energy and passion is always there.
FSAZ: Do you have aspirations to be a head coach as well some day?
Randolph: Oh, no doubt. The greatest thing about that is when Coach Graham hired me to come to Rice he said, "I hope you have those aspirations." I hope everybody on our staff has those aspirations, because those guys are self-motivated. They know what they're working toward, but they're not putting that ahead of their specific job at this time. So I do have that desire, but is that what I'm looking for? Nope. I'm looking to have the absolute best defense in the nation. And, before that, have the best defensive line unit in the nation.
FSAZ: You spent last season coaching in the Big East, a conference with a reputation for being pretty tough or gritty. What do you take from coaching in that kind of conference?
Randolph: Having been at West Virginia in the Big East in 2002 and then back last year, there's no question about it. It's blue collar, Northeast, coal mines. That region we were in, our mindset was we wanted to be gritty, grungy, hard, tough -- all those things. And if you hear us talk defensively, we talk about smart and disciplined, then tough. Then aggressive. No matter where we've been -- Rice in Houston, Texas, we were the same way -- we want our guys to be tough, mean, nasty, aggressive, smart and relentless in their approach to everything. So our mindset kind of fit the Big East mentality because that's what we already believed in.
FSAZ: It may be hard to judge with some of the moving pieces and guys you haven't seen yet, but how different do you expect this defense to be from what ASU fans might be used to?
Randolph: Well, I can't comment on the last few seasons, but I can tell you what we expect from our guys. It starts with those few things I mentioned: smart, disciplined, tough, relentless.
FSAZ: Do you think this defense will be more about discipline and just getting the job done, or will it also be playmaking, forcing the tempo?
Randolph: That's the fine line. It's got to be efficient, it's got to do its job, but we want playmakers too. So our guys will know, "Hey, I'm going to be a playmaker through my responsibility." Absolutely we want them all to make the play, but they have to be disciplined in their fundamentals and their technique at the start.
FSAZ: We've heard a lot about Coach Graham's "high-octane" offense. Can the defense be the same way?
Randolph: It's the exact same. We call it "high-octane defense," we call it "hybrid" and "nitro," because it's got a little bit of explosiveness to it. There's no question that "high-octane" is our program. It’s the way we do everything -- with passion and great energy, but right.