Herm Edwards: Motivator, commentator … and now ASU football coach

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ASU not only introduced Herm Edwards as its 24th head football coach but also a new organizational structure that’s more like the NFL than college football.

All eyes are on what the Sun Devils tabbed their “New Leadership Model.”

In early December, Edwards was joined at his introductory media conference by university president Michael Crow and vice president of athletics Ray Anderson as well as former and current ASU football players. The high-energy Edwards answered questions with passion and a bit of humor, a demeanor that those who have watched him on ESPN are familiar with. He is humbled to have this job, he says, and believes this was the right one to leave ESPN for.

“I’m proud to be the head coach here, and I promise you, whatever I have — and I have a whole lot — I’ll work tirelessly and I’ll be committed to the vision of Dr. Crow and Ray Anderson,” Edwards says.

Many believe ASU threw a curveball with the hire. The last time Edwards was a head coach was 2008 when he led the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs to a 2-14 record. And the last time he was a college coach was 1989 when he was a defensive assistant.

Though he’s been out of coaching for nearly a decade, he wasn’t out of football. Since 2009, he’s served as an NFL analyst for ESPN. He has also coached in the last eight Under Armour All American Bowls, which features the top high school players in the country.

Anderson says that after a “long and hectic week,” he is proud with the decision and believes Edwards is the coach that can lift ASU to that next level.

“Competitive consistency in the performance and outcome of games frankly have not met our expectations,” Anderson says. “And after me evaluating for four years the body of work, I have to … make the hard decision that I truly believe is the best interest of this university and this football program going forward.

“But I want you to know that ASU football is nobody’s rebuild. This is not a startup. This is not a start over. We need to take the next step in competitive consistency and I believe Herman Edwards can take us there.”

Although some have criticized his age, Edwards, 63, says that won’t hold him back and believes he can turn young athletes into men that “are equipped to deal with what’s out there in the real world.”

ASU’s New Leadership Model was inspired by Anderson’s and Crow’s fatigue of the traditional model producing “very frankly, unsatisfying and for the most part mediocre results,” Anderson says.

According to Anderson, Edwards will serve as a CEO “with a collaborative staff around him that will elevate the performance of players and coaches on the field, in the classroom and in our community,” with support from many different sides.

This support will not only come from coaches but from the administrative side of Anderson, executive senior associate athletics director Jean Boyd and senior associate athletics director Scottie Graham.

On the athletics side, senior associate athletic director Tim Cassidy will be “helping to manage day-to-day operations, along with a variety of staffers responsible for player development, player personnel, and recruiting, among other areas,” according to a press release issued by ASU.

“It is going to be an ‘all hands on deck’ effort to upgrade football the way we have upgraded some of our other sports,” Anderson says. “So, it will be a collaboration. We will not have a structure where the head coach will need to or be expected to control it all and do it all. We want to recruit, we want to coach, we want to develop, and then we want to elevate. That’s what we’re going to get with Herman Edwards.”

The reason for this change was clarified when Anderson announced his decision to fire coach Todd Graham. To him, 7-5 and second in the Pac-12 South isn’t good enough. He wants the program to be a Top 3 team in the Pac-12 and a Top 15 team nationally every year.

Is that enough?

Jon Wilner, longtime Pac-12 reporter for the San Jose Mercury News, says ASU is a “second-level program, with largely untapped potential. The Sun Devils have had enough success (under Frank Kush and Bruce Snyder) to make people think they could be more successful more often. That view, of course, overlooks some of the inherent challenges.”

Since Kush, the program has been chasing similar success but no coach has been able to maintain what Anderson calls “competitive consistency.” The last two coaches to be closest —  Bruce Snyder (1992-2000) and Graham (2011-2016) — both eventually found themselves unemployed.

“I think having lofty expectations is great because that’s what you’re reaching for, right?” former ASU offensive lineman Kyle Murphy says. “That’s how you get to be an athlete at that level. That’s how you get to be a coach at that level, by having lofty expectations.

“And then you have to go and get them and go attack and maybe if you come up short, you’re pretty darn close, but I think you have to be consistently ranked before you can start talking about Top 15, in my opinion.”

He did say he believes the Sun Devils can get there, but that they were closer with Graham running the staff because they were familiar with him.

“It takes time to get used to working with people,” Murphy says.

Edwards and Anderson believe strongly in the New Leadership Model.

“There is no way anybody can tell me … we can’t do it in football,” Anderson says. “In fact, we’re going to do it in football. So what I would say to you is this train in football is leaving the station and for any doubters that for whatever reason can’t commit to get on right now, that’s OK. We understand. We’re not going to take it personally. But as that train continues its path uphill, if for whatever reason at any time you decide you now want to get onboard, then jump on board, ‘cause we got a seat for you.”   

“I want to be a part of it,” Edwards says. “I’m on the train, by the way. I’m on the train, and I’m going to ride it. I’m going to ride the train until it stops and it’s not going to stop. We’re going, we’re going with you. If you want to board on a little bit later, we got a seat.

It might not be comfortable, but we have a seat.”

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