Preview: Herm Edwards breathing life into ASU program
TEMPE — Arizona State’s hiring of Herm Edwards was met with more than one raised eyebrow.
Edwards had not coached since being fired by the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs in 2008, spent the past nine years in a TV studio for ESPN and his previous experience as a college coach came nearly three decades ago as an assistant.
More eyebrows went up and a bit of ridicule was directed toward Tempe when the Sun Devils said the program would operate with an NFL-like approach.
Since Edwards’ surprising hiring, the 64-year-old coach has shut out the outside noise and kept his focus on football and family as he tries to raise Arizona State to among the Pac-12 elite.
“I don’t concern myself with the outside elements because the outside elements don’t coach the team,” he said. “I’ve got to coach coaches and players, and that’s my obligation. I’ve got to stay focused on that.”
Edwards’ task is to rebuild an Arizona State program that started well under previous coach Todd Graham before fading the past three seasons.
Graham led the Sun Devils to bowl games and a pair of 10-win seasons his first three years in the desert, but was fired after a third consecutive mediocre season in 2017.
Edwards has been a good fit at Arizona State so far, relying on his loquaciousness to sell his plan to his players and the program’s directions to Sun Devils fan.
Now he will try to take it to the field.
“Sometimes when you step away from it people think, well, he’s out of football,” Edwards said. “Out of football maybe on the sidelines, but mentally you’re never out of football. You’re still learning football, watching football.”
A few more things to look for from Arizona State in its first season under Edwards:
Arizona State will have one of the Pac-12’s most experienced quarterbacks with the return of redshirt senior Manny Wilkins. A two-year starter, he has a command of Arizona State’s offense and huddle, while proving to be an adept two-way threat. Wilkins is already 10th on Arizona State’s all-time passing yards list with 5,599 and is fourth among QBs with 12 rushing TDs. Wilkins threw for 3,270 yards and 20 TDs last season, adding 282 yards and seven more scores on the ground.
The Sun Devils got a huge boost when receiver N’Keal Harry opted to return for his junior season. Big and athletic at 6-foot-4, 213 pounds, Harry likely has an NFL future ahead of him, yet decided to come back to the Sun Devils. His return gives Arizona State one of the nation’s best players against single coverage, someone Wilkins can throw the ball up to and watch him come down with it almost every time. Harry was second in the Pac-12 with 82 catches for 1,142 yards and scored eight TDs last season.
With athletic players Wilkins, Harry, WR Kyle Williams and RB Eno Benjamin, the Sun Devils should have no trouble scoring points. Preventing points will likely be the difference between a successful season and another mediocre one.
The Sun Devils are switching to a 3-3-5 defense under new coordinator Danny Gonzales to hopefully slow some of the spread offenses of the Pac-12 — something the team has struggled with in recent seasons.
The Sun Devils’ new scheme took a hit during preseason workouts when senior Tyler Whiley, a projected starter at ASU’s hybrid Tillman position, was lost for the season with a broken ankle.
Arizona State had one of college football’s best kickers of all time when Zane Gonzalez was sending balls through the uprights. The Sun Devils have another good one in junior Brandon Ruiz, who made 19 of 27 field goals and set the ASU record with a 52-yarder as a freshman last season.
Arizona State opens the season at home against UTSA on Sept. 1. The Sun Devils have nonconference games against Michigan State and San Diego State before playing a tough Pac-12 opener at Washington. Arizona State also has road games against USC and Oregon, so it won’t be easy. A 6-6 finish and a bowl game would be a solid accomplishment in Edwards’ first year.