John Graham enters his eighth season on EWU’s coaching staff, including his seventh as the school’s associate head coach. This will be his first season as tight ends coach after previously serving as defensive coordinator in his first seven years in EWU’s program following a 13-year stint at Central Washington University. He also coordinates EWU’s annual Coaches Golf Tournament, as well as travel and EWU’s summer camps program.
His 2014 defense ranked 11th in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision in turnovers gained with a total of 28 for the season, including 19 interceptions to rank fifth. The squad featured linebacker Ronnie Hamlin, who earned All-America honors for the third-straight season. Safety Tevin McDonald was also an All-American, as a total of 10 defensive players earned All-Big Sky honors. Hamlin played in a school record 53 games (50 as a starter) and had 473 career tackles to break the Big Sky Conference record and rank seventh all-time in FCS.
Eastern’s defense in 2013 featured a pair of All-Americans (cornerback T.J. Lee III and Hamlin), plus one Freshman All-American (defensive end Samson Ebukam). Lee finished his career as a three-time first team All-Big Sky Conference selection. The Eagles held its first three league opponents to just 43 points (14.3 per game) in helping EWU to its first-ever perfect 8-0 finish in the Big Sky.
Graham’s defense in 2012 limited Idaho to three points in a season-opening 20-3 victory, then held three more opponents to 19 points or less. The squad featured a trio of All-Americans – Lee, Hamlin and defensive end Jerry Ceja.
Injures plagued the defense in 2011, but Eastern did hold perennial playoff participant Montana to 17 points and ended the season by holding Idaho State to 14 points. The Eagles featured first team All-Big Sky selections Matt Johnson (safety) and Lee, with Johnson eventually getting drafted in the fourth round by the Dallas Cowboys of the National Football League. Johnson, who finished his Eastern career with 341 tackles to rank fifth in school history and eighth all-time in the Big Sky, missed Eastern’s last four games of his senior season with a biceps injury. He was one of seven starters on the defensive side who lost time because of injuries, including two lost for the season.
Eastern’s defense in 2010 ranked first in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision in interceptions (total of 26) and turnovers gained (47), and finished 17th nationally in turnover margin (.80 less turnovers per game than its opponents) after ranking sixth in 2009 (1.25 less). The Eagles were also 26th in passing efficiency defense (134.8) and finished sixth nationally in red zone defense, as they allowed just 38 scores in 58 opponent trips inside the EWU 20-yard line. Eight of those scores were field goals, including two in the first half of the national championship game.
He coached linebackers in 2010, and one of his linebackers was J.C. Sherritt, who won the Buck Buchanan Award presented by The Sports Network to the top defensive player in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. Sherritt was also selected to six different All-America teams as a first team selection, and was the College Sporting News Defensive Player of the Year and the Big Sky Defensive MVP. He broke his own league and school records by finishing his senior season with 176 tackles, which ranks sixth in FCS history. He closed his career with a school-record 432 tackles in his 47-game career (35 as a starter) to rank second in Big Sky history and 10th all-time in the FCS.
In 2009, Eastern’s defense helped the Eagles finish sixth in the FCS in turnover margin, averaging 1.25 less turnovers per game than its opponents. Along the way, Eastern had a 16-0 shutout against Northern Colorado, which was EWU’s first shutout at Roos Field since 1983. Individually, Sherritt was named to all six All-America teams and was second in the voting for the Buck Buchanan Award.
In Graham’s first season at the helm of the defense in 2008, Eastern overcame a rocky start to hold five-straight opponents from Oct. 11 to Nov. 15 to 19 points or fewer. That was something EWU has never done since becoming a member of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision in 1984. The Eagles closed the year by limiting Weber State’s high-powered offense to 26 points in a 33-26 Eagle victory over the league champions. Defensive end Greg Peach, who would go on to win the Buchanan Award given to the top defensive player in the FCS, led the nation in sacks (1.64 per game) and tackles for loss (2.1) in 2008.
A graduate of nearby Reardan (Wash.) High School, Graham spent his final 12 seasons at Central as the defensive coordinator while coaching defensive backs and linebackers. He served as secondary coach in 1995, and in 1997 served as interim head coach for a three-month period. He also served as recruiting coordinator, travel coordinator and camp coordinator at different times during his tenure, as well as serving as an assistant to the athletic director in charge of fundraising and the department’s alumni golf tournament.
As a defensive coordinator, Graham helped coach Central to an 89-51 overall record with five conference championships and the NAIA title in 1995. As a defensive backs coach, two Wildcats earned All-America honors, three were conference defensive players of the year and 18 earned first team all-conference accolades. The 1995 Central team was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in 2005, and the 2002 squad followed in 2013.
Graham spent two previous seasons (1993-94) as head coach at DeSales High School in Walla Walla, Wash., where his teams compiled a 13-6 record overall and 8-2 mark in league play. In 1993, his team was undefeated in the league and advanced to the semifinals of the State B Playoffs as he earned Southeast District 9 coach of the year honors. He also served as athletic director and as an assistant basketball and track and field coach at DeSales. In addition, he spent one year (1992) as an assistant coach at Kent-Meridian High School in Kent, Wash.
Graham is a 1992 graduate of CWU, earning a bachelor of science degree in business education. He played as defensive back for the Wildcats in 1990 and 1991, earning honorable mention all-conference honors as a senior. In 1991, Graham had 30 tackles and three interceptions. Prior to enrolling at CWU, he played two seasons at Walla Walla CC where he earned first team all-conference honors as a defensive back and received his associate of arts degree in 1989.
Graham graduated from Reardan High School in 1987. He earned four letters each in football, basketball and track. He was a three-time all-league linebacker and two-time all-league quarterback, as well as serving as team captain and earning most inspirational honors. He was student body president at Reardan.
Graham was born on Feb. 7, 1969, in Ellensburg. His wife’s name is Becky and they have two football-playing sons, Andrew, 19, and Ty, 17, and a daughter named Sara. Andrew, who redshirted at Montana Tech in the fall of 2014 and is now at Central Washington, was a second team All-Great Northern League quarterback for Cheney High School as a junior in 2012. He received honorable mention as a senior in 2013, while Ty earned second team All-GNL honors that same season as a sophomore defensive back. As a junior in 2014, Ty earned first team honors as defensive back and second team as a running back. Ty also saw action in the secondary as a freshman in 2012 at Cheney, where his head coach was former Eastern player Jason Williams (1993-94).
John’s father, Dan Graham, was inducted into the Washington State Football Coaches Hall of Fame in January 2008. The long-time head coach at Reardan High School directed his team to State B-11 titles in 2002 and 2003.