Yeah, Herm Edwards is Arizona State’s football coach now. Here’s everything we know about how that happened and what the Sun Devils, specifically, are trying to accomplish.
Edwards, 64, hasn’t coached since he was going 2-14 with the Chiefs in 2008. The ASU hire was all about his relationship with the AD.
No other program in major college football would’ve hired Herm Edwards to be its head coach in this, the year 2018. Arizona State did it because the Sun Devils’ athletic director, Ray Anderson, is close with Edwards. During Edwards’ NFL coaching career, Edwards was his agent. The two of them stayed in touch. After all, this business is about networking.
This is the story of how Edwards-to-ASU started, as told to SB Nation’s Richard Johnson:
Then, last fall, Edwards was back, this time with his wife and kids. Anderson prodded Edwards again, asking him if he remembered that dinner. A month later, after parting ways with Todd Graham, Anderson called once more, this time with a job.
“I said, ‘Herm, you see what we’re doing out here man,’” Anderson says, “‘this is no ordinary situation. It’s special, man. It is a one of a kind. You need to listen to this. You need to understand that there’s a whiteboard opportunity to change the model. To make a difference.’”
No, these men are not reinventing college football, but they are certainly a unique pairing in the game. And there is no walking back their words now: They are betting on themselves and their model. The wager is the legacy of the coach who thinks he’s still got it and the AD who thinks of himself as something much more than an administrator.
“I’ve had opportunities to go back prior to taking this job,” Edwards says. “You know it’s gotta be the right fit for me. Everything’s gotta just be there where I can just look at it and say, ‘Yes.’ This opportunity came up and I looked at my wife and I said, ‘Guess what?’ And she said, ‘You’re gonna do this, aren’t you?’
“I said, ‘Yeah, I’m going back.’”
Arizona State didn’t just hire Edwards. It put him atop a business-jargony “New Leadership Model.” Who knows that that means.
Here, read this press release from the time of the hire, or just this snippet:
The department’s New Leadership Model will be similar to an NFL approach using a general manager structure. It’s a collaborative approach to managing the ASU football program that includes sport and administrative divisions, which will operate as distinct, but collective units focused on elevating all aspects of Sun Devil Football. This structure will allow the department to form a multi-layered method to the talent evaluation and recruiting processes, increase its emphasis on both student-athlete and coach development and retention, and provide a boost in resource allocation and generation.
”Our goal for this football program is to reach unprecedented heights, and therefore we need to find a way to operate more innovatively and efficiently than we have in the past,” Anderson said. “In the spirit of innovation, our vision for this program is to have a head coach who serves as a CEO and is the central leader 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. Equally important, the head coach will be a dynamic and tireless recruiter.”
More or less, Arizona State is now branding itself the same way some parody company on an episode of Silicon Valley would brand itself. Business!
This hire is not likely to work out. Hiring a 64-year-old who’s been out of coaching for a decade and out of the college game since 1989 is not a reliable path to success. But the Sun Devils have an idea, sort of.
Criticism has been widespread. The Sun Devils have heard it, and they haven’t liked it. Their thought is that Edwards will be such a good motivator, such a good leader, that he’ll make this thing work. They’re not as focused as the rest of us on his long layoff from coaching. They think the bad press around the hire is the result of communications missteps.
Read this excerpt from Johnson’s story:
“Number one, some of the shots that were taken at my boss, at Ray, and then number two, some of the things in terms of people’s limited analysis of Herman,” [business general manager Jean] Boyd says. “What people don’t understand is the way that our guys respond to him from a leadership and motivation standpoint, which is really what the head coach role is mostly about.”
When asked if ASU erred in the rollout of the leadership model, Anderson did say there were things he wished he would have been done better and simpler.
“I didn’t anticipate how negative the reaction would be and in some cases how ignorant the reaction would be,” Anderson says. “So I wish I would have done a little more articulating of the model and why sooner. A lot of that was because, very frankly, I also didn’t want to be perceived as trashing Todd.”
Relying on someone’s motivational ability in a sport that requires elite recruiting is not the wildest idea ever put forward. But there are lots of coaches who can motivate, and all of Edwards’ peers have more experience recruiting college players than he does. They’ve also spent more time on the ground scheming up for the college game, though Edwards knows the NFL well, and the two levels aren’t so far apart strategically these days.
Adding to the oddity, ASU fired a pretty successful coach and paid him lots of money to go away so it could hire Edwards.
Todd Graham was 46-32 in his six years in Tempe. Not amazing or anything, but the last Sun Devils coach who had a better winning percentage than Graham’s .590 was hired in 1985.
Graham’s reward for getting canned was a $12 million buyout with no offset, meaning it doesn’t go down if Graham gets a job somewhere else.
If this somehow works, Edwards and Anderson will be geniuses.
If it doesn’t, both of them will lose their jobs.