Nov. 21, 2012
By Jeremy Hawkes, Sun Devil Media Relations
During the new era of football at Arizona State, one of the ultimate goals placed by head coach Todd Graham has been making it to the Rose Bowl. And one way to help preach that goal is to have an assistant coach on the staff has "been there and done that."
Enter DelVaughn Alexander. The Arizona State University wide receivers coach has been to the "Granddaddy of Them All" several times during his coaching tenure and knows just what it takes to earn a bid at the prestigious bowl.
"DelVaughn is a guy that brings a great deal to our staff, having coaching in the NFL and been to Rose Bowl," Graham said of the hiring of Alexander. "He is a guy that has tremendous potential and we want to be a football team on offense that is very physical and that is why he was hired."
Alexander began his coaching career in 1995, working as a graduate assistant at his alma mater, USC. Alexander lettered in football and track at USC and - like many young student-athletes - had his sights set on all manners of potential career decisions but he will tell you that his path to coaching began with one man.
"As time passed at USC, Mike Riley came to me and said that I would be a pretty good coach," Alexander said of his former assistant coach, who now coaches at Oregon State. "I had some things lined up that I had wanted to do, but I really respected Coach Riley and respected his word and for him to say he saw something in me and gave me an opportunity to follow, you know, I just went for it.
Alexander would come on as a graduate assistant at USC and would inevitably follow Riley to Oregon State in 2003-04 after stops on the coaching circuit at UNLV and with the San Diego Chargers.
Alexander credits Riley as being one of the biggest influences in his life as well as former USC head coach John Robinson, but also is quick to credit Coach Graham for keeping the coaching staff on their toes but also allowing them the space to be creative and to grow within themselves.
Prior to his arrival to Tempe this season, Alexander spent the past five seasons with the Wisconsin Badgers, coaching wide receivers. While with the Badgers, Alexander was a part of two Big 10 championships and made five bowl appearances, including the last two Rose Bowls.
While at Wisconsin, Alexander saw the Badgers offense turn in some of the most prolific passing seasons in program history. During the 2011 season, Wisconsin passed for 3,280 yards, the highest total in school history. All-Big 10 receiver Nick Toon led the team with 64 catches for 926 yards and 10 scores. His 926 yards is the fifth-highest total in school history.
Toon left Madison with the third-most receiving yards in school history and the fifth-most touchdown receptions and rode that to a fourth-round draft pick by the New Orleans Saints this past spring.
Having such success in Madison, some may have questioned why Alexander would leave that to come to a program that, at the time, was kind of shrouded in mystery as far as the future was concerned.
"It was a tough decision and we enjoyed a lot of success there at Wisconsin," Alexander said. "But I think at the end of things, the Pac-12 was kind of my stomping ground and I knew a lot about the university and I thought it would be a new challenge that I was looking forward too."
No stranger to success, Alexander knows that continuing to challenge yourself is the key to growing as a human being and one look at Alexander's career will show a man that has continually strived to climb up the ladder one rung at a time.
Despite growing up in South Central Los Angeles, Alexander believes he was lucky to avoid some of the obstacles that could come with roaming the streets.
"It was just my mom, myself and my older brother," Alexander said "I would bus to the west side of L.A., which was fortunate for me in that I didn't" have to walk back-and-forth to school and was able to avoid the obstacles that can take place there."
Alexander believes that some of the toughest times he has seen in his own life have come from seeing what others have had to go through.
"It's more about seeing things than actually being a part of things," Alexander said when asked about the biggest hardships he has experienced. "I've been fortunate enough and I've been blessed to know how to deal with some of the hardships that many people close to me had to deal with and I took each one of those experiences from them and learned and grew from those things."
"I can kind of say that I haven't had to face true obstacles but, boy, was I hand-in-hand with some others that did."
And while it seems so many who come from a single-parent home struggle with things as life goes on, it was that aspect that helped Alexander to truly appreciate just how important his mom was to his upbringing.
"For me, the thing about it was watching my mom be two different people at the same time," he said. "I had uncles and other people around me but my mom was strong and she taught me all the different values I needed to learn."
As far as utilizing that experience to working with the young men on the team now, Alexander believes it is just a matter of "not cutting any corners".
"With the guys, you tell them exactly how it is every time," Alexander said. "But at the same time, you do that with trust. They've got to be able to trust you and you've got to be able to speak in a manner that they can respect you."
Alexander strives to earn the football team's respect but does so with a no-nonsense approach to goal-setting and long life lessons that they learn through college and football. And, on that note, Alexander will be the first to tell you that at the end of the day, graduating these young men is the most important thing to him.
"Graduation is the biggest thing because it's the first goal you set when you come to college," Alexander said. "As a coach, your philosophy changes and your way of thinking changes a little bit as we grow, but seeing guys graduate year-in and year-out is one of the most priceless things I experience as a coach."
And as part of that experience, Alexander knows that his impact on the lives of the young men that come through the program will be priceless as well. That in itself is the thing that he takes the most out of as he continues to grow himself as a coach.
"You try and teach these guys that this is the last door to the real world and right it's under an umbrella it's protected right now," he said. "But within four or five years, when that door is going to open and you (as a coach) are a big part of who they are going to be as they walk out into that next phase of their lives."