TEMPE — Herm Edwards talked about trains and conductors, Catholics and Devils, told stories and cracked jokes, his timbre rising and falling for emphasis during a nearly hour-long introductory news conference.
No doubt, the man can win over a room.
Arizona State is hoping he can win a few games, too.
Edwards was introduced as the Sun Devils coach Monday, ushering in a new, unexpected era for the program with an impassioned news conference inside Sun Devil Stadium.
“I’m on the train. I’m on the train and I’m going to ride this train until it stops — it’s not going to stop,” Edwards said. “We’re going. We’re going with you. And if you want to board a little bit later, we’ve got a seat for you. Might not be comfortable, but you’ll have a seat.”
Arizona State wanted to move quickly following the firing of Todd Graham after six seasons.
When word came out this week that it would be Edwards, the former NFL coach and ESPN analyst, the reactions were quick and wide-ranging.
Those in support of Edwards’ hiring praised his passion, his ability to connect with recruits and their families, many repeating the key line from his famous rant as coach of the New York Jets: “You play to win the game!”
Those against Arizona State’s decision pointed to the long gap in Edwards’ coaching resume and his limited experience coaching at the college level.
There also were calls of cronyism for Arizona State athletic director Ray Anderson, a former agent, hiring one of his former clients. Social media filled with GIFs and memes of trash bin fires and planes crashing.
The criticism continued Sunday night when Arizona State, while announcing Edwards’ hiring, also said it is restructuring its football program to be run more like an NFL team.
None of it, the positive nor the negative, registered with the Sun Devils. They had their man, their plan and the only focus is turning Arizona State into a national power.
“ASU football is nobody’s rebuild,” Anderson said. “We need to take the next step and I believe Herman Edwards can take us there.”
Edwards is certainly an interesting choice to lead the Sun Devils into the future, one Anderson and ASU President Michael Crow see as being better than being a middle of the pack Pac-12 team going to lower-tier bowls.
An NFL defensive back for 10 seasons, Edwards spent two years coaching at San Jose State, his last season in 1989. He coached eight seasons with the NFL’s Jets and Kansas City Chiefs, going 54-74, and was fired in 2008 after the Chiefs went 2-14.
Edwards has spent the past nine years working as an NFL analyst for ESPN, where loquaciousness served him well.
Edwards was not looking for a return to coaching, but his longtime friend Anderson persuaded the 63-year-old to hang up his microphone — his last day at ESPN is Friday — and follow Arizona State’s vision of a brighter future.
“You don’t forget how to coach,” Edwards said. “I can’t play, but I will tell you, I got one hit left. But I’m not here to play. I’m here to build a program. I understand the importance of this game. I will work tirelessly.”
Edwards will do it under a new structure the Sun Devils are calling the “New Leadership Model,” which will be set up similarly to the NFL’s general manager model. It will include sport and administrative divisions to manage the football program, with Anderson, Edwards and a group of staffers sharing resources and strategic planning to build toward the future.
“We’re not happy with the way the model has worked over several coaching changes here at ASU,” Crow said. “In advancing this model, we needed to find a unique individual. I’m excited about where we are. We’re committed to driving toward higher and higher levels of excellence.”
There will be a learning curve, with recruiting possibly being the sharpest.
Edwards has spent the past eight years coaching at the Under Armour All-American game, where he has worked with some of the nation’s top high school recruits, and he has visited numerous top-tier college programs through the years. But as someone who has not had to operate under NCAA recruiting rules for 28 years, Edwards may have to lean heavily on Arizona State’s support staff to make sure he doesn’t cross any lines.
“I will do nothing to embarrass this university when it comes to rules,” Edwards said. “Sometimes you don’t agree, but they are there for a reason. I’m not going to embarrass my father’s last name or this university. There’s always rules in life. They’re there for structure and that’s important.”