Originally posted on Fox Sports Arizona  |  Last updated 4/2/13
TEMPE, Ariz. -- There are two sides to every story, but Arizona State defensive graduate assistant Dan Lanning doesn't exactly deny coach Todd Graham's version of how the two originally connected. "He was stalking me," Graham says, chuckling before shouting to Lanning, who is standing nearby and chatting with his parents after a spring practice: "Dan! He asked how did you get hooked up with Coach Graham, and I said 'He was stalking me!'" Lanning smiles and shrugs, responding, "Yep, just banging on his door, waiting on his doorstep!" They joke, but it was Lanning's big gamble that made him one of Graham's up-and-coming assistants, a rising star on a staff hell-bent on defensive dominance. When Graham was announced as head coach at University of Pittsburgh in January 2011, Lanning was a 24-year-old high school football coach at Park Hills South in Kansas City. He also coached elementary P.E. His youth and lack of experience proved no impediment to chasing his dream. Lanning got in touch with then-Pitt defensive coordinator Keith Patterson, who said there might be an opportunity for him with the Panthers -- he'd call back after signing day. Patterson never called, but Lanning persisted. On a hope and a prayer, Lanning hopped in his car after school one day and drove through the night. Leaving Kansas City around 4 p.m., Lanning got to Pittsburgh just after 5 a.m. and planted himself strategically outside the Pitt football offices. "Coach Graham was at Tulsa, and their staff always had a really open-arm policy," Lanning explained. "So he clinicked at lot at Tulsa, and those guys always made me feel like they knew who I was, even if the truth was they didn't. So as soon as they went to Pitt, I knew I wanted to get connected with them." The only problem? Nobody was there. Graham's staff was out of town at a coaching clinic at Penn State. Lanning remained undeterred. He found a hotel for the night and ultimately got what he was looking for. Lanning sold himself to Graham as coming from a similar background -- a high school coach with a like-minded perspective on football. That was apparently the right pitch. Graham offered Lanning a spot on his staff, and Lanning quit his high school job as soon as he returned to Kansas City. "The truth was I didn't ask for anything," Lanning said. "I just said 'All I want is an opportunity.' So when I went there, I was quality control, I wasn't a G.A. I just wanted an opportunity to show what I can do, and if it doesn't work, send me packing. That's what they gave me -- an opportunity. Nothing was handed to me, and I got to work from there." Added Graham, joking again: "He just got in his car and drove to Pittsburgh, and I guess he wanted me to feel sorry for him and give him a job, but I didn't. I told him he could volunteer. "There's so many people that want the chance, and very few people want to do the investment. We tell people if you want to be an intern or a GA, it's a minimum two-year commitment." Lanning spent the season with Pitt but perhaps benefited most when Graham controversially left to take the ASU job after just one season. With Graham gone and some of his assistants gone, Lanning ended up spending more time on the road recruiting and coached Pitt's defensive backs before the team's appearance in the BBVA Compass Bowl. "It turned out to be a great benefit for me," Lanning said. "I had the secondary all by myself. I got to coach those guys for the bowl game. So I saw a different perspective of it." But Graham wasn't done with Lanning, though he admits to essentially leaving Lanning behind when he made the move to Tempe. "As a matter of fact I got here and said 'Where's Dan?'" Graham recalled, laughing again. "We left him there. That's true. We did. We had to go get him, send for him." Graham once again shouts to Lanning: "He said 'So you decided to bring him with you here?' and I said 'Well, we got here and realized we left him there.'" Lanning again laughs and plays along, poking fun at himself: "I was waiting, just sitting on my couch waiting for you to call!" Jokes aside, Lanning has become an integral part of molding the defense that dominated the Pac-12 last season, finishing first in tackles for loss and second in quarterback sacks. Lanning coaches ASU's spur linebacker position, where last season junior college transfer Chris Young recorded 82 tackles and 14 for loss, including two sacks. Lanning, unheralded as he may be, has become part of Graham's grand plan to elevate the Sun Devils to Rose Bowl contenders through defensive superiority. "Dan is one of the best young coaches that I have ever been around," Graham said. "He's very conscientious, a great recruiter, great worker -- a tremendous asset to our staff and a guy that will move up in our system in a hurry. He's definitely a rising star in what we're doing. "He's a good one. He will be a big-time coach one day." Lanning received consideration for the linebackers coaching job vacated in February, but ultimately lost out when former Oklahoma defensive line coach Jackie Shipp hit the market. ASU added Shipp and shifted linebacker duties to co-defensive coordinator Paul Randolph. But make no mistake, Lanning's opportunity will come. Be it in Tempe or elsewhere, Lanning will get the chance to be more than a GA at the Division-I level. His experience with Graham, Randolph and Shipp will only help his cause. "I couldnt ask to be around better coaches," Lanning said. "This is a great place to learn for a young coach. I always feel like I'm in a good position as a younger guy on defense where maybe I can bring something that maybe these other guys don't see." Lanning's youth is perhaps most beneficial in recruiting, where as one of the Sun Devils' youngest recruiters he's able to connect quickly with high school athletes. Lanning says he tries to put out a "daily commercial," sharing a point of ASU pride via social media every day so potential recruits see it. "In this day and age you've got to be on the up and up," Lanning said. "Recruiting's a lot further beyond letter writing anymore." Lanning, whose third son was born in early March -- two boys away from a basketball team, he jokes -- says he couldn't have made it where he is without his wife, who shares his dream of becoming a D-I head coach. That dream isn't much different than the one his current boss once held. He'd be more than thrilled to follow the same path. "If you listen to coach Graham's story, he's the same guy," Lanning said. "Give him an opportunity and let him take it and run with it. That's kind of what he's done with every chance in his life. He was a high school coach, and somebody took a shot on him, so that's what I was looking for."
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