Herm Edwards’ tenure as Arizona State’s football coach began with bravado, featured some optimism and finally ended Sunday amid a spiral of off-field problems and bad football.
Under the dark cloud of a significant NCAA investigation and following the exit of personnel and roster, Edwards’ time as coach ended like so many others in college football — with a humiliating loss.
Arizona State announced Sunday that the school is making a “change in leadership” through an “agreement,” according to athletic director Ray Anderson. In reality, an embarrassing 30-21 home loss to Eastern Michigan on Saturday — via the Eagles’ backup quarterback — made Edwards’ inevitable departure a reality.
Edwards ends his tenure at Arizona State (1-2) at 26-20 with one bowl win in five years. His time there will be remembered much more for the antics and issues off the field, as the NCAA investigation led to five full-time coaches leaving the staff, including both coordinators. The roster soon atrophied, as the program’s best quarterback, running back, defensive lineman and linebacker and its top two wide receivers transferred out last year.
It took the loss that followed all of that breakout for Arizona State to push out Edwards, 68, a former client of Anderson’s who worked as an agent earlier in his career. When Anderson hired him in 2017, Edwards hadn’t worked in college football since 1989.
The financial conditions for the departure of Edwards were not revealed; a school spokeswoman said they are still to be determined.
Edwards’ hiring came with a bold press release that affirmed that he would bring an NFL model – New Leadership Model – which Anderson said would allow the Sun Devils to “operate more innovatively and efficiently than we have in the past.”
Instead, Edwards finished with a worse hitting percentage (.565) than that of Todd Graham (.590), who Anderson fired to hire Edwards, and never won more than eight games.
The status of Arizona State’s NCAA investigation will be the subject of much industry scrutiny as coaches try to analyze potential sanctions as they evaluate the job. The Sun Devils have yet to receive notice of charges from the NCAA, as the investigation began in June 2021 and does not appear to be imminent.
Edwards’ poor staff management led in part to the investigation, as it came after he empowered former defensive coordinator Antonio Pierce within the program. Pierce alienated staff members, who they alleged in a filing of documents sent to the NCAA in May 2021, that he helped create a culture where rule-breaking was rewarded.
The file came together because the violation of recruiting rules — specifically ignoring NCAA-mandated dead periods during the COVID-19 pandemic — was so blatant that some Arizona State employees kept a group text documenting them. The file came with pictures and time stamps that documented violations, and it named 10 staff members and 13 different recruits. Sources told ESPN that the investigation is considered significant by the NCAA.
The file came with a note that read: “I am writing this letter to inform you of recruiting violations that are occurring at Arizona State University in their Football department. My goal is … to provide sufficient information to assure you whether Arizona State football is. looked into, there will be violations found.”
Edwards acted generally dismissive of the NCAA investigation, referring to it early as a “review.” Arizona State president Michael Crow and Anderson supported Edwards, even as the talent level in the program tanked, recruiting stalled at the bottom of the Pac-12 and fan interest waned.
When the results on the field began to match the quality of the roster and staff, things changed. Eastern Michigan manhandled Arizona State, as a senior running back called Samson Evanswho never rushed for more than 89 yards, ran for 258 yards when the Eagles of the Sub-American Conference dominated the Sun Devils in the trenches.
In less than 24 hours, Edwards was out as Arizona State’s coach. Anderson stated that the purpose of the change was “to do what is best for our current team, staff and university. I understand the frustrations out there. We have to do better and that starts with our decision today.”