Toscano-Takeways from a Wild Week of ASU Football

Written by Justin Toscano 

Arizona State on Sunday shared out a pretty wordy and confusing press release announcing the Herm Edwards hire and the start of the New Leadership Model. On Monday, Vice President for University Athletics Ray Anderson introduced Edwards while President Michael Crow joined in live from Washington D.C. Still, many people are wondering what these changes actually mean.

Here’s what you should know about what’s going on with the football program:

  • There were still a lot of buzzwords at yesterday’s press conference. You may think Edwards “won,” or that the day did nothing to alleviate your concerns. It seemed clear that Anderson, Crow and Edwards were very aware of the criticism. They didn’t feign obliviousness. Anderson said the point of the day was to answer that “what” and “why.” So, what is this new model and why was Edwards hired? We received a bit more clarity on Monday, though if you’re expecting every one of your questions to be answered, you’ll probably be disappointed.
  • ASU is pivoting to a new model for its football program. The New Leadership Model is structured like that of an NFL team, per Anderson. What this means primarily: The head coach won’t do everything, but will receive support from everyone around him. The assistants, the administration and Anderson himself. Anderson and Crow repeatedly mentioned that they didn’t feel the traditional model wasn’t working. Not only at ASU, they said, but around the country. And just as a college football fan, I can only think of one place that could have a somewhat similar model to what ASU will have, though I don’t believe they specify. I would think Alabama’s Nick Saban is a CEO coach, but that’s because he’s won five titles. He retains assistants. Football is Alabama’s biggest sport by far.
  • So, why Herm Edwards? His NFL experience is obvious, but many fans were outraged because Anderson once represented Edwards when Edwards coached in the NFL. Edwards went 54-74 in his eight seasons, another reason the hire seemed strange. Anderson actually didn’t talk a ton about Edwards, but instead called up another one of Edwards’ agents to speak. Many fans didn’t seem to love the testimonials about Edwards from former players and colleagues in the press release, and I’m not sure Phil de Picciotto reading a prepared statement would make them budge. De Picciotto did say that Edwards would “put a lot of points on the scoreboard of life,” which is going to fly around Twitter until the app crashes and burns.
  • Speaking of Twitter, you may have seen jokes about the “ASU football train.” So, Anderson compared the football program to a train. He said it’s leaving the station now and if fans don’t want to jump on, that’s fine. They understand (subtle sense of the criticism). But if they want to jump aboard as “it continues its path uphill,” they can do so. Edwards said he’s going to “ride this train until it stops.” In this analogy, if the train is ASU football, then Edwards is the conductor and the fuel is the New Leadership Model? The press conference was weird at points, and this was one of the reasons why.
  • Throughout the near 40 minutes he spoke, Edwards addressed some of the criticism surrounding the hiring. The strange part was that he was often unprompted. So, let’s try this. He’s 63. Edwards: “Who put a number on when you could coach football? Don’t tell that to Nick Saban. He’s 66.” Saban has five rings, but you get it. Or maybe you don’t. If you don’t, that’s fine too. A question about the innovation in college football was asked, and Edwards responded by telling people about how his ESPN NFL analyst job also required him to watch college football. He said he visited college campuses and sometimes spoke to teams. He also coached the Under Armour All-American Game for eight years. Many fans were concerned he wouldn’t be able to recruit because he hasn’t coached in college since 1989. Edwards said he would ask families what they expect out of their son and tell them what he could offer. He will promise to exhaust their talent and if they’re able to go to the NFL, make sure they’re mentally and physically prepared. If they stop at college, he said he’ll try his best to ensure they leave with a degree. Regardless, he wants to develop good people.
  • Anderson took time at the beginning of the press conference to explain his idea of competitive consistency. The four parts are recruiting at a high level, developing those players, developing and retaining assistants, and game preparation and gameday performance. Just by the way Anderson has spoken about ASU under Todd Graham, it seems the fourth category was lacking. He called the program “average” over the past four years. But, depending on how you look at it, it probably lacked in all areas. Anderson wants to consistently recruit 4-or-5-star players. The program hasn’t done that. Graham sent players to the NFL, but only having a kicker go last season wasn’t a great sign. Also, his assistants often bolted for other jobs. There are two sides to that, though. What if they’re better jobs? Anyways, Anderson believes Edwards can achieve this model of competitive consistency.
  • About those assistant coaches. Anderson wanted someone who would consider keeping the current staff in place. ASU on Tuesday announced Billy Napier would and the entire offensive staff would be returning. Napier will still be the offensive coordinator, but was promoted to the associate head coach position too. That’s big news for a program that hasn’t had much continuity on that side of the ball in recent years. Had Napier left, quarterback Manny Wilkins would’ve played for a fourth offensive coordinator in four years. There are obvious effects to a lack of continuity.
  • You may think Anderson is crazy. Or you may be in the minority that thinks he’s right in trying to shake things up. Wherever you fall, he brought up men’s basketball with Bobby Hurley. Then swimming with Bob Bowman. And after that, laid a powerful blow by bringing up women’s golf winning a national championship under Missy Farr-Kaye, a coach he promoted. All three are his hires. (notable omission: baseball, which just finished the worst season in program history). But Anderson’s point remained. “It is happening here now and there is no way that anybody can tell me with anything that will make me listen that we can’t do it in football,” Anderson said. “In fact, we’re going to do it in football.”
  • The importance of what was announced Sunday needs to be mentioned. Anderson’s job could be on the line with the outcome of this hire and the new model he’s trying to implement. He has turned around other athletic programs, but football is a different animal. When folks look at these decisions in the future, Anderson could either be laughed at or praised. Called a genius or a fool.