TEMPE — Arizona State not only introduced Herm Edwards as its 24th head football coach but also a new organizational structure that more resembles the NFL than college football.
All eyes are on what the Sun Devils tabbed their New Leadership Model.
On Monday, 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 a humor that viewers are familiar with who have watched him on ESPN. He is humbled to have this job, he said, and believes this was the right one to leave ESPN.
“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 said.
For many, ASU threw s curve-ball 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 has been out of coaching for nearly a decade he wasn’t out of football. He has served as an NFL analyst since 2009 for ESPN, where he will remain until Friday before hitting the recruiting trail. He has also coached in the last eight Under-Armour All American Bowls, which features the top high school players in the country.
Anderson said that after a “long and hectic week” he is proud with the decision and believes Edwards is the coach that can list ASU to that next level.
“Competitive consistency in the performance and outcome of games frankly have not met our expectations,” Anderson said, “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, said 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.”
He will reach out to players in state, he said, but also elite prospects from outside Arizona, too.
“Athletes from all over the country, whether it’s here locally, should be coming back here,” Edwards said. “Guys in California and Los Angeles should be coming here. Why is this not the destination? Why can’t it be? That’s my job.
“That’s my job to go into those homes, and tell those parents this is the place you want to send your son because when he leaves here he will be like one of those (football alumni) standing here. He will be fully ready to deal with anything that comes across his way. He will become a student-athlete and you will have a great base here of players. You have a great community of people that support this university.”
ASU’s “New Leadership Model” was inspired by Anderson and Crow being tired of the traditional model producing “very frankly, unsatisfying and for the most part mediocre results,” Anderson said.
Edwards, Anderson said, 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. Crow believes that Edwards is the guy that “can advance our new model” that will “coach and manage our team.”
“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 said. “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 the this change was clarified when Anderson announced his decision to fire coach Todd Graham. He said that “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 said in an email that 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 called “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 said. “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 that staff than we would be necessarily with coach Edwards, just from a familiarity standpoint.
“It takes time to get used to working with people,” Murphy said.
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 said. “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 on board, then jump on board cause we got a seat for you.”
“I want to be a part of it,” Edwards said. “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, just like Ray said.
“We got a seat. It might not be comfortable, but we have a seat.”