Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Arizona State must finally capitalize on its massive potential after Herm Edwards experiment backfires

Calling Arizona State a sleeping giant did a disservice to snoozing Shreks everywhere. For decades, ASU has been among the most underachieving programs considering … the climate, the campus (45,000 undergraduates), the demographics (Phoenix is the fifth-largest U.S. city), the conference (a major one in the Pac-12) … heck, even the hiking.

But the Arizona State job that suddenly came open Sunday also got a lot more attractive. That’s usually not the case when a coach departs, particularly one whose arrival was questioned in the first place.

When Herm Edwards agreed to “relinquish his role” at ASU, the arrow immediately began pointing up. Just not for the reasons you might think.

No matter who coaches Arizona State, it is going to be a lot easier to win the Pac-12. USC and UCLA are gone. San Diego State and Fresno State might be replacing them. Even if they don’t, the Pac-12 is a diminished league that, at least, will be all but guaranteed a spot in the expanded College Football Playoff.

That is assuming the Pac-12 stays together. Arizona State seems like a chess piece in a tug-of-war between the Pac-12 and Big 12 in realignment. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. With the right guy, Arizona State will have a good shot at a playoff spot.

Edwards’ departure did nothing but enhance the chances of the Sun Devils avoiding major penalties in their current NCAA investigation. According to the NCAA, Edwards oversaw a program — and perhaps had direct involvement – in welcoming prospects during the COVID-19 recruiting dead period.

The assistant coaches deemed responsible are already gone. Now, so is the coach. Meanwhile, the NCAA is in the process of redefining its enforcement process. The association is on record saying it doesn’t want to punish innocent players. The NCAA has options short of a postseason ban. And really, that’s all anyone cares about in a major case. It now seems to be only a matter of timing whether Arizona State will escape a postseason ban.

As Arizona State begins pursuing coaches, being able to avoid that postseason ban would exponentially expand the scope of the search.

“There are a lot of folks coaches who think this a very coveted job,” said Ray Anderson, ASU’s vice president of athletics.

That’s how candidates should look upon the Sun Devils, except ASU historically has struggled keeping itself from tripping before crossing the finish line. Recently, it has been that not-quite program that either took chances on the next hot young guy (Dirk Koetter) or veterans perhaps past their prime (Dennis Erickson, Todd Graham).

When Edwards arrived, he hadn’t coached in the NFL in nine years. It had been 28 years since he had been a college assistant.

That’s why there are a lot of folks who question whether Anderson should be leading the search at all. He whiffed mightily on the Edwards experiment. Basketball coach Bobby Hurley has made two NCAA Tournaments in six seasons (not counting the COVID-19 year).

It’s hard to determine what’s next given the process that brought in Edwards and eventually spat him out. Anderson oversaw all of it.

Prior to coming to Arizona State in 2017, Edwards had been perfectly happy as veteran voice-of-reason NFL analyst. His enthusiasm was surpassed only by his knowledge. At some point, Anderson got the idea that his old client — Anderson was previously Edwards’ agent — would be the figurehead of an Arizona State transformation. Not a coach but a “CEO.”

Edwards’ hiring came as part of a “New Leadership Model” based on a “collaborative approach.” We should have known troubled times were ahead. given the densely worded corporate-speak press release.

Anderson then called the Tennessee athletic department “a cluster” in its process to hire Jeremy Pruitt. In some cosmic piece of karma, both Pruitt and Edwards have now left their programs, both accused by the NCAA of bringing in recruits during the COVID-19 dead period.

Anderson got rid of the assistants he deemed to blame for the scandal. Arizona State president Michael Crow doubled down in February seemingly exonerating Edwards. Forget the apparent hypocrisy in axing Edwards eight months later. Just short of five years since that big-thinking rollout of the NFL model, Edwards was undone by a loss to a MAC school (Eastern Michigan).

Oops-silanti?

Perhaps interim coach Shaun Aguano will stabilize things. Aguano has been an effective coach and recruiter in his four seasons. It might be a good idea for Edwards’ replacement to keep the previously successful coach at Chandler High School.

It wouldn’t be the worst thing to bring in veteran coach and Phoenix resident Rick Neuheisel in some sort of advisor/analyst/recruiter role.

More from Dennis Dodd: Arizona State coaching candidates

Arizona and the Valley have become a quarterback hotbed. But high-rated area signal callers are not staying home. Brock Purdy is in the NFL; he played at Iowa State. Spencer Rattler is on his second school since leaving Oklahoma. Desert Mountain High School product Kedon Slovis went from USC to Pittsburgh.

Edwards emphasized California recruiting and succeeded to some degree. Arizona State went 26-20 under Edwards without a losing season.

Take away the Pete Carroll era — 10 straight losses from 2000-10 — and ASU has played USC even since entering the league in 1978. Sure, it’s a stretch to take away those 10 games, but again, this is about unrealized potential.

ASU needs a naming rights partner for Sun Devil Stadium. State Farm headquarters is across the street but chose to go with the Arizona Cardinals (State Farm Stadium). Sun Devil Stadium has been wisely downsized to create a more intimate experience. It was wild last year when I visited for the USC game.

So is the future — in a good way. The right coach could energize the Valley, the region, the state and the nation … if the pieces align.

No matter what, the Arizona State job just got better. 

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