Herm Edwards was fired Sunday just three games into his fifth season at Arizona State. The missteps that got Edwards to that point remain almost too laughable to note.
When he was hired, Edwards was perceived an experienced honorable alternative to inexperienced cheaters. But he hadn’t coached in college in 29 years. No problem, said athletic director Ray Anderson, Edwards’ former agent. This would be an NFL model where Herm could serve as the CEO-coach. Someone else would take of the details like, you know, recruiting.
Critics were told not to worry about Edwards as a recruiter. Even though he hadn’t coached in college in 29 years, Edwards would be at ASU as a figurehead. That’s fine if you’re Bobby Bowden and you’ve built a program from scratch. It’s another thing to inherit a middle-of-the road Pac-12 that really didn’t have a plan until this.
Edwards wasn’t bad (26-20). He probably has a standing offer to return to ESPN as the thoughtful, grandfatherly analyst type. But he wasn’t right for a program in an embattled conference that eventually found itself in a massive recruiting scandal of its own making.
Now, as an Arizona State fan, you have to trust Anderson to lead the coaching search. He’s already 0-1. You also have to trust president Michael Crow, who flipped on Edwards quicker than an up-tempo offense.
I’ve always said it’s hard to screw up Arizona State. The weather. The West Coast. The city of Tempe. You should be able to find 85 skilled guys who would kill to play there. Yeah, well, ASU’s last Rose Bowl was 1997.
Here are the best candidates to lead Arizona State out of the, well, desert:
1. Matt Rhule, Carolina Panthers coach: The leader in the clubhouse if he’s interested. Anderson loves NFL guys (obviously). If Rhule leaves the Panthers and isn’t snatched up by Nebraska, it shouldn’t be a tough decision for Arizona State. Dave Aranda at Baylor is still using players Rhule left behind who helped him win the Big 12 last season. The consummate program builder would be at home in the desert.
2. Byron Leftwich, Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator: The former Marshall star quarterback is in his fourth year as the Bucs’ offensive boss. Tom Brady loves him. Leftwich already has a Super Bowl ring. Bruce Arians said he wouldn’t have come back to the Bucs if it wasn’t for Leftwich. An underrated talent who you better believe Anderson has on his radar. NFL teams may be interested, too.
3. Dan Mullen, ESPN analyst: Mullen needs to rebound after the Florida experience. He’s on the typical TV analyst rehab tour for a year to keep his name out there. Not that he needed it. Arizona State needs an identity. Mullen, with his offensive chops, would be that identity. Yes, he’s quirky. Maybe more than that. But as currently structured, Mullen could win the Pac-12. Soon.
4. Todd Monken, Georgia offensive coordinator: Monken needs a head coaching job — now. If for no other reason than he’s taken quarterback Stetson Bennett and made him one of the best offensive players in the country. He has a national championship ring. Monken has tons of NFL experience — recently, unlike Herm, who hadn’t coached at all since 2008 before taking ASU. Head coaching experience as well in a brief, unsuccessful run at Southern Miss.
5. Hugh Freeze, Liberty coach: We keep inserting Freeze’s name in this spot. Sooner or later, a Power Five program is going to take a shot. It wouldn’t be much of a risk. Time heals all NCAA investigation wounds. Freeze is a brilliant offense mind with tons of head-coaching experience whose mistakes in the past can be vetted but ultimately overcome by Crow.
6. Bryan Harsin, Auburn coach: Harsin could be the next coach out the door, perhaps as soon as this week. We won’t bore you with the failings at Auburn by Auburn. Harsin was a bad fit for The Plains, and not a lot of it is his fault. He was from the start. Harsin is a West Coast guy whose style and personality fit in the Southwest. I fully expect him to go back to Boise State at some point if Arizona State doesn’t scoop him up.
7. Deion Sanders, Jackson State coach: Anderson went off script with the Edwards hiring. Why not throw another knuckleball? I’m not sure if Sanders’ coaching chops at the highest-level match his mouth, but I’d buy a front row to seat to watch. Arizona State is not a top program in the Pac-12, but it sure as hell needs a shot of adrenaline. Considering Florida State likely isn’t going to be open, Sanders would be a bold choice.
8. Tom Herman, CBS Sports Network analyst: Herman has been away too long. OK, it’s been less than two years since leaving Texas, but he still has a lot to give to the college game as a play-calling head coach. Remember when Herman was the hottest thing going at Ohio State and Houston? There’s still a lot of that energy left.
9. Mike Norvell, Florida State coach: A month ago, Norvell was the No. 1 runaway candidate to replace Edwards. Then the season started, Arizona State headed south and Norvell is 3-0 in the middle of what looks like a turnaround at Florida State. ASU was going to be his fallback as a former Sun Devils offensive coordinator. Now, he seems way out of reach.
10. Justin Wilcox, California coach: Wilcox is a brilliant defensive mind who needs room — and the budget — to grow. It’s a constant struggle at Cal, which doesn’t commit to football as much as other programs even in the conference. Not so at Arizona State, which will pay for the right guy.
11. Rick Neuheisel, CBS Sports Network analyst: The 61-year-old Neuheisel lives in the Phoenix area and a brilliant football mind with deep West Coast ties. He doesn’t necessarily fit Anderson’s profile of a young hire. We’ve got a solution. Arizona State is going to need something unique as it is likely to go on NCAA probation. It also needs to stand aside. Crow is an overbearing presence who flipped on Edwards in a heartbeat. Split the baby in two and make Neuheisel associate head coach/offensive coordinator for the new guy.