Colorado State sports have been superbly successful as of late, and there's someone the entire athletics department should be thanking; Jack Graham.
After two and a half “bold” years, Graham was gone in August 2014, for one reason or a multitude of them piling up so high, like a city landfill, they could be ignored no longer. But, not only did CSU athletics improve dramatically and quickly under Graham's leadership, the ripples stemming from his guidance will be felt for generations.
Graham took over as Colorado State's AD in December 2011, pitching the “Bold New Era” to President Tony Frank. That “Bold New Era” was a step up, a giant leap in the right direction for the Rams, who were nothing more than stuck in the second tier of conferences while playing in third-rate stadiums.
Graham wanted teams in the major sports – football, men's and women's basketball as well as volleyball – in the Top 25 year in, year out. When he pitched it, making those rankings seemed far fetched, yet men's hoops hit the Top 25 two of the last three seasons, football was ranked in both Top 25 polls last season (for the first time since 2003) and women's volleyball continues to excel as one of the most respected programs in the nation as they're consistently ranked. Even women's basketball has taken positive steps, winning the Mountain West in 2014 and earning a share of the title last season.
When he hired Jim McElwain – with that giant buy-out clause – Larry Eustachy and Ryun Williams, Graham hired some of the best in their respective businesses, men who changed the cultures of their teams and demanded winning.
McElwain led the football team to two bowl games while he and his coaching staff developed talents like Weston Richburg, Crockett Gillmore, Ty Sambrailo and Garrett Grayson, all of whom are now in the NFL. While his departure devastated and deflated his players and former CSU coaching staff – resulting in that blowout Las Vegas Bowl loss to Utah – McElwain put Colorado State football on the map. Or, at least, back on the map for the first time since Sonny Lubick's heyday in the 90s.
At his introductory press conference, Eustachy said he wanted to finish his career at CSU, though he proved to be able to do much with little resources (see: Southern Miss). Would he use Colorado State as a stepping stone, too? Two years into coaching at Colorado State, Eustachy was re-signed through 2019 by Graham as one of the final things the AD did, and locking up Larry was another chance to secure future winning for Rams men's basketball. Graham included a big buyout in Eustachy's contract, too, as it proved great insurance when McElwain left for Florida.
Nearly one year after Graham's surprise firing, teams are still realizing success. Of course, the part of his legacy which will continue for decades surrounds his staunch efforts to get the on-campus stadium constructed.
A few weeks ago, ground was broken on Colorado State's campus and the new multi-use stadium is set to open in 2017. It was no secret Graham got the job of AD by selling Tony Frank on the stadium, something so unlikely it sounded too good to be true to even the most die-hard Rams fans. Yet, it's really happening.
The on-campus stadium was the most divisive topic in Fort Collins for at least the last dozen years, and Frank's pushing it forward sets up football and likely other sports with a top-notch facility for years to come. Graham also saw to the renovations of Moby Arena, enhancing the game-day experience for fans greatly.
Don't forget his addition of women's soccer in favor over water polo, his better branding utilizing Under Armour over Russell Athletic and Graham also led the efforts in keeping Boise State in the Mountain West when they threatened to leave in 2012.
He clearly rubbed some people the wrong way and there are multiple reports about what led to Graham's firing. But one thing Ram fans should be able to agree upon is their former quarterback turned Athletic Director turned sports at Colorado State around. This on-campus stadium will take CSU to the next level in terms of facilities, it may some day do the same in a move up to a Power 5 conference.