Herm Edwards just doesn’t see the big deal.
So, he took nine years off from coaching football. He doesn’t think it’s anything newsworthy.
“I took a sabbatical,” an enthusiastic Edwards said Monday afternoon at Sun Devil Stadium.
“You know some of those professors that work here? I’ve heard in my lifetime, they take these sabbaticals, right? And they leave for a little while to refresh themselves. And then they come back. They don’t forget how to teach. And now everyone says (to me), ‘You can’t do that!’ Why? Professors do it all the time. They teach at universities, they teach students. That’s all I am; I’m a teacher.”
Yes, in Edwards’ case, he is making a return to the classroom. His classroom will be 100-yards long and 50-yards wide after he signed a five-year contract in December to become the next head football coach at ASU.
The 64-year-old Edwards has always exuded this telegenic way about him. Maybe it’s from his last gig at ESPN, where he served as an analyst on NFL Live since 2009. Or maybe it rolls over from his eight-year career as a head coach in the National Football League. After all, he did infamously play to win the game, you know, when he coached the New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs to a combined record of 54-74.
But now, the spotlight has followed him to Tempe, where he’s manning a team that is projected to finish last in the South Division of the Pacific-12 Conference.
Asked if those projections can be found somewhere on a bulletin board in the ASU locker room for extra motivation, Edwards shook his head.
“If you need someone else to motivate you, you’re in trouble. You never let the perception of others become your reality. I don’t live my life that way and I know these players don’t. You just take it for what it’s worth, just kind of go, ‘OK. We’re just going to play.’”
To which caliber the Sun Devils play, just one year after finishing 7-6, remains up in the air.
Part of that falls on the shoulders of senior quarterback Manny Wilkins, who will play for his fourth offensive coordinator in four seasons.
Last year’s receivers coach Rob Likens was promoted to offensive coordinator after his predecessor Billy Napier left to be the head coach at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
Under Likens, Edwards has ensured Wilkins that nothing will change.
“First thing I talked to him about when I hired Coach Likens was that the offense was not going to change. We’re going to put a little wrinkle in it here or there, but it’s your offense. I think that gave him a relief. It’s not going to change.
“That being said,” Edwards continues, “He’s done a remarkable job at really becoming a leader that maybe four years ago, people didn’t anticipate. And good for him. You feel very comfortable when he’s your quarterback.”
Wilkins, who’s practically used to coaching changes and the shuffling of a staff these days, expressed his praise for his new head coach after a spring practice in April.
“He shoots it straight. He keeps it real. He doesn’t sugarcoat things. When he needs to critique you, he’s going to critique you and when you’re going to get praise you’re going to get praise,” he told Craig Morgan of Arizona Sports.
Though players have responded well to Edwards’ sense of urgency, there have been several comments that have really shown where the direction of the ASU football program seems to be heading.
In April, Edwards said he would cut players from the team due to lackluster effort and poor play. Last week, he took exception to a group of players who fought during practice.
“I’m just trying to make the point that we can’t function like that,” he said to Jeff Metcalfe of The Arizona Republic.
Edwards will hold his players to the standard to which his coaches held him when he was a defensive back in the NFL for nine seasons. He spent the majority of his career with the Philadelphia Eagles, most known for his game-winning Miracle at the Meadowlands play in 1978.
And if you’re Ray Anderson, the school’s athletic director and Edwards’ former agent, you couldn’t have hired anyone better to reshape the culture of the Sun Devils’ football program.
Though it’s been nine years since he last held a coaching position, Edwards has admitted in the past that there were offers on the table. But he only wanted to coach again if the fit was right.
He didn’t balk at the idea when Anderson called.
“When you meet with those two guys (Anderson and ASU President Dr. Michael Crow), you understand the type of men they are and the vision they have. It matched in line with who I am and it’s about building student-athletes so when they leave the university, they are equipped to get on with their lives. We say we have a pro-model. We’re trying to develop pro football players, but they’re student-athletes first.”
In their short time under Edwards, the Sun Devils have ignited a buzz around the college football world that has previously eluded them. Dating back to the last six seasons when Todd Graham coached them to a 46-32 record, ASU hadn’t garnered too much national attention.
But courtesy of Edwards’ ability to talk the talk, he’s put the Sun Devils in unfamiliar territory. Whether he and the Sun Devils can walk the walk will only be decided with time.
Edwards speaks like he could convince his players to run through a brick wall. He talks about football and his return to coaching as if he himself will suit up in full pads for his inaugural game as ASU’s head coach on September 1 against the University of Texas at San Antonio.
You can only talk about it so much, though. At this juncture, Edwards is eager to go and get it.
“I’m going to enjoy it. I really am. I’m going to enjoy the competition, watching these guys play, watching my coaches coach and trying to win a football game. That’s what it’s all about. Your instincts are your instincts, and then you go, ‘OK, let’s go.’”