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College Football

Herm Edwards Fired Over Embarrassing Loss Before He Could Be Fired Over NCAA Investigation

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - OCTOBER 16: Head coach Herm Edwards of the Arizona State Sun Devils reacts after the loss to the Utah Utes at Rice-Eccles Stadium on October 16, 2021 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)
Chris Gardner/Getty Images

Moments after the Arizona State Sun Devils were humbled 30-21 on their home field by Eastern Michigan (not even the second-best directional Michigan football school), ASU coach Herm Edwards shuffled over to his end zone for a little meeting with his soon-to-be former bosses. Edwards was greeted by ASU president Michael Crow—disappointed to the point of sedation, staring at the turf—and ASU athletic director Ray Anderson— sternly double-teapotting—for a brief, solemn chat. Fifteen hours later, news broke that Edwards had been canned, a development that sure seems to have been communicated to Edwards in the end zone.

Despite all the legitimate reasons to be skeptical of Edwards’s former agent hiring him to his first college gig in three decades, including several confounding things Edwards said when he was first brought on, the start of the Herm Edwards era at ASU began with a string of relative successes: wins over the 15th- and 16th-ranked teams in the nation, a sweep of the L.A. schools, and, most importantly, the first of his four-straight wins over Arizona. Though he made a bowl game in each of his three full seasons, the Sun Devils only won one, and the team never won more than eight games despite putting together some well-regarded recruiting classes. Those recruiting classes never converted on their potential, perhaps in part because of poor coaching—despite racking up eight wins last season, ASU ranked 128th out of 130 FBS teams in penalty yards.

The growing sense of sloppiness was concerning, though Edwards’s time at ASU truly seemed doomed once news broke that the NCAA was conducting a big-time investigation into illegal recruiting practices. The specifics of the allegations against ASU and Edwards—players visiting during the wrong windows, the program and also for some reason the team’s quarterback’s mother paying for things they aren’t allowed to pay for—are only notable for their pandemic-specific flair. What is eyebrow-raising, however, is the number of former ASU staffers willing to speak out to the NCAA about the alleged violations. A big palace intrigue story from The Athletic paints a picture of a program run more by recently departed ASU defensive coordinator Antonio Pierce than Edwards, to a problematic degree:

An opposing coach recently told The Athletic that it wasn’t hard to get intel on this season’s team because some within Arizona State athletics wanted a coaching change.

The Athletic

And from ESPN:

Edwards’ poor staff management led in part to the investigation, as it came after he empowered former defensive coordinator Antonio Pierce within the program. Pierce alienated staff members, as they alleged in a dossier of documents sent to the NCAA in May 2021 that he helped create a culture where rule breaking was rewarded.

ESPN

What followed should not be a surprise to anyone who’s paid attention to college football: Five assistants, including both coordinators, resigned, several star players transferred, and the bottom fell out on the program. The smart money would have been on Edwards losing his job over the investigation rather than a sharp on-field decline, especially since the man in charge of his job status is his former agent, though I suppose one is a manifestation of the other.