Todd Graham, ASU head football coach

David Wallace, file photo

Trace Todd Graham's career back, through his four college head coaching jobs and high school gigs and assistant stints, and you'll find his ideological starting point right here - on Dec. 11, 1993, on a dusty, green-painted field in Ada, Okla.

Graham was the defensive coordinator for No. 7 East Central University, which was hosting the NAIA Division I national championship game at Norris Field.

Its opponent, on the sunny, 60-degree day: Glenville (W.Va.) State College and its futuristic offense run by head coach Rich Rodriguez.

Graham's Tigers won the game 49-35, led by fullback Tyler Jack, who set the school record by gaining 318 rushing yards.

But Graham was captivated by Rodriguez's spread offense. He soon taught himself a version of it.

"The origin of me doing it goes back to that game," said Graham, whose Sun Devils travel to Arizona Stadium for Friday's rivalry game against Rodriguez's Wildcats. "I was intrigued by it. Everywhere I've been a head coach, we've been a no-huddle, fast-tempo team."

The Star talked to participants from the 1993 title game, as well as Rodriguez and Graham - both this week and earlier this year - about the impact it had on their futures:

Jed Drenning (GSC quarterback, now West Virginia football sideline reporter): "The previous week in the semifinal, we beat Central State (of Ohio). I think they had 10 or 11 guys go pro. (Future three-time Pro Bowler) Hugh Douglas was one of their defensive ends.

"They were the prohibitive favorite in that tournament; they really were."

Paul Volero (GSC defensive lineman, now Washington State outside linebackers coach): "It's not every day - it doesn't matter what level - you get to play in a championship game."

Rodriguez: "They painted the grass green, because the grass was brown. On the walk-through the day before the game, we couldn't get on the field."

Drenning: "I made a conscious effort to avoid Rich's pregame speech. I had to have my head on straight."

Tony Gibson (GSC cornerback, now UA assistant head coach in charge of safeties): "I got a scar to remember that one for the rest of my life. I broke my (right) arm the third or fourth play of the game …

"Finished the game out. Taped a washcloth to it and took a couple aspirin, and I was good to go."

Graham: "We had the No. 1 defense, and we played the No. 1 offense. … I was just fascinated by how difficult that pace was."

Drenning: "Back then it was incredibly against the grain to do any number of things we were doing. Four-wide sets: most people looked at it as heresy unless it was third-and-long."

Volero: "It was about space, angles and grass - but we were throwing the ball more."

Rod Smith (GSC backup quarterback, now UA co-offensive coordinator): "It was the voodoo offense. No one wanted to touch it."

Volero: "Rich always made the argument that if you watched NFL games, an offense couldn't do anything until there were two minutes in the half.

"It was more a common sense thing, and then the conditioning factor with the defense took over."

Drenning: "Instead of doing what (ECU) had done all year, what they did was run 'belly' with their fullback instead of using those Frisbee-chasing dogs outside.

"A kid named Tyler Jack."

Gibson: "Tyler Jack - I'll never forget that name."

Rodriguez: "I knew we had a hard time stopping them. They were pretty talented."

Drenning: "I prided myself on being a grizzled veteran, a senior quarterback. There were a couple times Todd disguised (a blitz or coverage) on me.

"He really caught me with my pants down."

Gibson: "That was a once-in-a-lifetime thing for us. We had a great run and got beat by the better team that day."

Graham: "A good buddy of mine was a high school coach in Springdale, Ark., named Gus Malzahn (now the Arkansas State head coach). He'd come to Allen (High School in Texas, where Graham coached from 1995 to 2000). I'd go to Springdale.

"Chad Morris, who's now (the offensive coordinator) at Clemson. Those three guys had an effect on me.

"I was kinda a defensive guy, obviously with Gus being an offensive guy.

"We helped build this system based on what our philosophies are."

Rodriguez: "Coaches, by nature, whether you win or lose … if something strikes them as something unique or different … and it's had success, I think coaches have a tendency to study those things."

Graham: "To me it really doesn't really matter what kind of offense you're running. I would be fast-paced, no-huddle no matter what, and then adapt the schemes to my skills and talents to my players."

Rodriguez: "I think there's probably quite a bit of similarities certainly in formations and some of the schemes. We like to think we do some things unique. I'm sure they feel the same way."

Graham: "It will take us three years to get in shape to where we want to run.

"It doesn't do ya any good to hurry up to mess up.

Smith: "It's good for storylines, but this isn't Rich against Todd. … We're coaching to give our kids the best opportunity to beat a conference rival.

"It's very unique (the way the game participants turned into coaches in Friday's rivalry). It shows you what a small world this is."