Herm Edwards’ tenure as head coach at Arizona State started with grit, dressed up in optimism and ultimately ended Sunday amid a whirlwind of off-field issues and bad football.
Under the dark cloud of an important NCAA investigation and in the wake of both roster departures, Edwards’ time as a coach ended like so many others in college football — with a humiliating loss.
Arizona State announced Sunday that the school is making a “leadership change” through “mutual agreement,” according to athletic director Ray Anderson. Indeed, an embarrassing 30-21 loss to Eastern Michigan on Saturday – at the hands of the EMU quarterback – made Edwards’ inevitable departure a reality.
Edwards finished his Arizona stint (1-2) at 26-20 with one win in five years. His time there will be remembered so much because of the antics and off-court issues that the NCAA investigation led to five full-time coaches leaving the staff, including the coordinators. The roster quickly atrophied, with the program’s best quarterback, running back, defensive line, linebacker, and two best wide receivers transferred last year.
It took the inevitable loss that followed all that escape to Arizona to get Edwards, 68, a former client of athletic director Anderson, a current athletic director who served as an agent earlier in his career. When Anderson hired him in 2017, Edwards had not worked in college football since 1989.
The financial terms of Edwards’ departure were not disclosed. A spokesperson for the school said the terms had not yet been set.
Edwards’ hiring came with a bold press release Which he claimed would bring the NFL model — a new leadership model — Anderson said would allow ASU to “operate more innovatively and efficiently than we have in the past.”
Instead, Edwards finished with a worse winning percentage (56.5) than Todd Graham (59.0), who was fired by Anderson to hire Edwards, never winning more than eight games.
This NCAA investigation status in Arizona will be the subject of much industry scrutiny, and coaches try to analyze potential penalties as they evaluate the job. The Sun Devils have yet to receive notice of the allegations from the NCAA, as the NCAA investigation began in June of 2021 and does not appear to be close to aging.
Edwards’ poor staff management led in part to the investigation, which came after he empowered former defense coordinator Antonio Pierce within the program. Pierce alienated the employees, claiming in a dossier of documents sent to the NCAA in May of 2021 that he helped create a culture where breaking the rules is rewarded.
The file of documents was compiled because the breach of hiring rules — specifically the NCAA’s disregard for dead periods during the COVID-19 pandemic — was so flagrant that a group of Arizona State University employees kept a mass transcript documenting them. The file came with photos and timestamps that documented the abuse and named 10 employees and 13 different recruits. Sources told ESPN that the investigation is considered important by the NCAA.
The file came with a note that read: “I am writing this letter to inform you of the recruiting violations occurring at Arizona State University in the football department. My goal is to … provide enough information to assure you whether football in Arizona violations will be found.”
Edwards generally acted dismissive of the NCAA investigation, referring to it early on as a “review.” Arizona President Michael Crowe and Anderson stood by Edwards, even as the show’s talent level waned, recruiting at the bottom of the Pac-12 stalled and fan interest waned.
When results in the field began to match the quality of the roster and staff, things changed. Eastern Michigan dealt bodily with Arizona, as Tails named Samson Evans, who never rushed for more than 89 yards, ran for 258 as MAC’s Eastern Michigan dominated ASU in the trenches.
In less than 24 hours, Edwards and Arizona State University parted ways. Anderson stated that the goal of the change is to “do what’s best for our current team, our staff, and our university. I understand the frustrations out there. We have to do better and that starts with our decision today.”