It really happened. Arizona State really hired a twice-fired former coach, who has been out of the business for 10 years and is buddies with the athletic director, to lead a restructured football program that will operate like no other, ever, anywhere.
The university prides itself on innovation, on thinking outside the box.
This wasnt outside the box.
It was outside our dimension of spacetime a move that can only be fully comprehended by athletic director Ray Anderson, university president Michael Crow and perhaps, were he still alive, Einstein himself.
Okay, lets dispense with the (partial) sarcasm and take a deep dive into the world of ASU football.
If Im not out in 1,500 words, send help.
1. As a journalist writing about the conference, I love it:
Edwards appointment is guaranteed to be entertaining and interesting and raise awareness of ASU football regionally and nationally the way coronations (or train wrecks) generate interest.
And I have to think the conference is thrilled, too.
Theres no such thing as bad publicity (unless it involves Louis Vuitton, FS1 truck races, cupcakes on the sideline, Friday night road games err, never mind).
2. Edwards is the first African American to lead the ASU program to lead either of the major football programs in the state, actually.
For the moment, there are three black coaches in the Pac-12. Thats 25 percent of the conference, tops in the Power Five. Bravo.
3. Credit Arizona State for trying a different tact, not only in hiring a retired former NFL coach he hasnt been on a college sideline in 30 years but in the decision to restructure the program along an NFL model.
Were not happy with the way the model has worked over several coaching changes here at ASU, Crow said at the introductory press conference Monday.
If the goal is to consistently compete for division and conference titles, then more of the same was wrong: ASU consistently competes for titles every eight or 10 years.
The issue, of course, is whether this particular strategy with Edwards in a CEO/GM role is correct.
4. The best bet for the Herm Edwards Experience in Tempe: That it wont end quietly.
This will either prove to be a move of pure genius or comical incompetence. And if the latter, its difficult to see how Anderson could be entrusted to hire Edwards successor.
5. Arizona State fans and donors have every right to wonder about entrusting their time and money in Anderson and whether he is, in fact, working in the best interest of ASU football.
He hired his close friend and former business partner (agent-client) without seriously considering other candidates, and the university president approved it.
Is that how every department on campus operates?
6. Crow takes immense pride in running an innovative campus his push to online education is the ultimate proof, but there are many other examples. (Google ASU, Starbucks and tuition).
After all, Crow hired Anderson, who has worked as an agent and in the NFL front office and had no experience running an athletic department.
They are both smart guys. Ive known Anderson (a teenie-tiny bit) since his days as an agent and have always found him to be bright and candid.
(As an agent, he never lied, which was ridiculously refreshing.)
The issue with the Herm Edwards Experience, though, is whether Crow and Anderson have gotten too cute, whether theyve outsmarted themselves:
Are they far ahead of the curve or so far behind that they mistakenly believe theyre ahead?
7. One matter is abundantly, and fascinatingly, clear:
Arizona State is a member of the same educational system as Arizona but operates by an entirely different set of financial rules.
Theres no chance the Wildcats could spend like ASUs spending.
In fact, Im not sure ASU is on the same plane as anyone else in the conference, at least not the public schools.
Anyone else marvel at Anderson saying that it was on me to figure out (after the fact) how to fund Todd Grahams $12 million buyout like it was a dinner bill from the PF Changs on Mill Ave.
Obviously, Crow is hell bent on trying to get football right to his credit, he understands the campus-wide benefits to a winning program and I can only assume hes using the cash cow that is ASUs online education program to support the massively-subsidized athletic department.
8. I do have serious questions about the model itself, with Edwards as a CEO responsible for vision and leadership and motivation and not for much hands-on coaching.
The Sun Devils have two solid coordinators in Billy Napier and Phil Bennett, but Anderson seems to be devaluing the role of the head coach when it comes to, you know, coaching.
(Maybe thats the ex-NFL executive in him.)
On that topic:
* When was the last time a team won the Pac-12 with a hands-off head coach? Ill give you a few minutes, because youll need it
Think Pete Carroll was hands off with the USC defense? Think Chip Kelly was hands off with the Oregon offense? Think David Shaw is hands off with Stanford?
The only example that comes to mind is Mike Bellotti, in his final years in Eugene.
Except by then, he had Kelly and theres no Kelly on ASUs staff.
Which brings me to
* At top end, the Sun Devils under Edwards will have the third-best personnel in the division (behind USC and UCLA) and the fourth-best in the conference (as long as Chris Petersen remains in Seattle).
If you have the No. 3 roster in the division and set the goal as winning the division, well, you had better maximize your talent.
Im not sure Edwards record as a head coach, or the new structure of ASU football, provide much reason to think talent will be maxed out. Seems like you need a talented head coach whos actually coaching in order to close that circle.
* Of course, to even have the No. 3 roster in the division, the Sun Devils must be extraordinarily efficient in recruiting and that includes the evaluation process.
The pro-Edwards camp believes he will charm the kids and the parents, that hell win the living room and I dont doubt that. He is tremendously engaging.
What I wonder about is this: Is he winning the right living rooms?
Recruiting, especially at the Pac-12 schools that arent USC, is about talent identification and evaluation.
Its about having deep connections with high school coaches, so you know which ones to trust about prospects and which ones are blowing smoke.
Its about watching film and picking a quarterback or deciding how to allocate those last few scholarships.
Edwards hasnt recruited in 30 years. The staff can only make so many decisions.
9. Last point: ASUs 2018 schedule is very difficult.
vs. Michigan Statevs. Stanfordvs. UCLAat San Diego Stateat Oregonat Washingtonat USCat Arizona
That matters. It matters a great deal.
With all the skepticism of, and scrutiny on the Herm Edwards Experience, a positive start is essential.
If the Sun Devils stumble through the 18 season and even an established winner would struggle against that lineup then the negativity will circle ASU football like an August monsoon.
The fan criticism, the media backlash, the negative recruiting from peer schools perhaps even the disenchantment from within would turn mountainous.
If this thing stumbles out of the gate, a recovery would be far less likely than a faceplant.
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