College sports have been giving us a ringer of newsworthy stories here on Dank News. This time around, reports indicate the possibility that fired head coach of Arizona State, Herm Edwards, was potentially sabotaged by those within the Arizona State program he built.
Yes, I know what you’re thinking, there’s no way. How in any possible world would a school’s athletic program let members of its staff conspire against a coach that was 26-20 with three bowl game appearances? By some accounts, Edwards wasn’t even paid that high by comparison to his peers, leading to the monetary angle lacking in this investigation. This tracks with some of the other interesting behavior that the Sun Devils program has exhibited during Edwards’ run.
The firing is also remarkable considering that Edwards had posted six Top 25 wins and never lost to in-state rival Arizona during his tenure.
Edwards was seemingly ignorant of NCAA compliance
The Athletic’s article paints the picture of a purposely ignorant or incompetent Edwards in regards to the NCAA violations that the program is now subject to. Here are further details regarding that part of the story:
Over the past year, The Athletic has talked with numerous people who have worked for or around Edwards, as well as outside executives and coaches. Those familiar with Edwards describe a coach who never bothered to completely learn NCAA bylaws, who was slow to realize that student athletes differed from pro athletes and who yielded too much authority to Pierce, the program’s former chief recruiter, defensive coordinator and associate head coach.
Part of this may have been an issue of job description. Not long after Edwards’ introduction, Anderson appeared on Phoenix radio and said his longtime friend would act as “CEO of football operations.” Edwards’ main tasks were to coach players, mold coaches and recruit, but he wouldn’t have to worry about evaluating every prospect. He could leave the details to his staff.
Asked if Edwards bothered to learn NCAA rules, a former athletic department staff member said, “I don’t think it was a top priority for him.” Another said that during Edwards’ first year, staffers would have to “babysit” Edwards at events where contact with certain prospects was prohibited. “He’s such a nice guy that he would just … ‘Hey, can we take a picture?’ ‘Oh, yeah, no problem,’” the former staff member said. “He didn’t know that was against the rules.’”
What a remarkable description of a man you hired to turn your program around. Personally, I had always respected Edwards during his time as coach of the New York Jets & Kansas City Chiefs. He brought an enthusiasm and learned marks as a former defensive back when analyzing NFL games on ESPN. The hire to ASU seemed extremely perplexing to me and many others at the time, a risky move for a tv personality that hadn’t coached in some time. What The Athletic shares definitely leads me to believe those assumptions may have been more accurate than Edwards’ on-the-field accomplishments would show.
Edwards in Tempe was a disaster waiting to happen
But wait, you may ask, what does the NCAA violations have to do with sabotage? Well, I’m getting there and I promise this story gets even spicier.
On March 13, 2019, Tim Cassidy, the program’s former senior associate athletic director for football operations, suggested the problem went beyond Edwards. In an email The Athletic obtained through a public-records request, Cassidy told deputy athletic director Jean Boyd that “people advising (Edwards) should know the rules and be looking out for him since he is a first year college coach.” Cassidy then listed the names of several people in Arizona State’s player personnel and development departments who had not taken an NCAA certification recruiting test.
“In my opinion (outside my lane) everyone involved with recruiting should take and pass the recruiting exam,” Cassidy, a respected 40-year industry veteran who has since left Arizona State, wrote to Boyd.
Not only do we have a coach hired straight from the booth to be a CEO of a Power Five football program, but the situation around said coach was an NCAA violation hellscape where either ignorance or incompetence sunk the program before it even got going. People within the program were screaming fire and it only got worse from there.
In the spring of 2021, an anonymous former staffer sent a package to Arizona State’s compliance office, accusing the football staff of hosting recruits and paying for their travel during the pandemic dead period. According to a Yahoo! report, the package contained receipts and screenshots of emails that might prove these allegations. Per Yahoo!, tight ends coach Adam Breneman, defensive backs coach Chris Hawkins and receivers coach Prentice Gill, as well as Regina Jackson, the mother of Daniels, had helped book or finance flights for high school recruits.
Self-sabotage and leaks to the press
We have our first signs of the well being poisoned in Tempe, former staffers leaking recruiting malpractice to the press. This was but one of the signals that Herm Edwards was in a sinking ship of his own making trying to drag him under. But before Edwards, attrition would set in for the Sun Devils.
The investigation forced staff changes. Gill, Hawkins and Breneman departed before the 2021 season. Pierce and Hill left before this season. In addition, a wave of talented players entered the transfer portal. Some left for better football situations. Others left to cash in on name, image and likeness opportunities.
I’ll leave this wild story with one final excerpt from the brilliant piece from The Athletic’s Doug Haller.
…but his time in the desert mostly will be remembered as a failed experiment, one that fractured the fan base’s confidence and caused issues within the athletic department. 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.
Self-sabotage both in recruiting and on the field, truly a tale of a program gone awry while on the surface looking stable. Michigan State fans will remember all too well the feeling when Edwards’ Sun Devils beat MSU in a program-defining win that marked the first of many for Herm Edwards’ tenure. Reading through this story reminds me of that night and how shocked I was that this crazy experiment could work. After being upset by nine points to Eastern Michigan this past weekend, that tale came crashing down, potentially on the field, not even in the confines of the AD’s office. The video below may be the last time we ever see Herm Edwards on a football field again, marvel in it.