Herm Edwards’ tenure as Arizona state football coach began with bravado, was optimistic, and finally ended on Sunday amid a spiral of off-field trouble and bad football.
Under the dark cloud of a major NCAA investigation and in the wake of both a staff and squad exodus, Edwards’ time as a coach ended like so many others in college football—with a humiliating loss.
The state of Arizona announced Sunday that the school was making “a change in leadership” through “mutual agreement,” said athletic director Ray Anderson. In reality, an embarrassing 30-21 home loss to Eastern Michigan on Saturday at the hands of the Eagles backup quarterback made Edwards’ inevitable departure a reality.
Edwards finishes his tenure at Arizona State (1-2) at 26-20 with one bowl win in five years. His time there will be remembered much more for the antics and troubles off the field as the NCAA investigation resulted in five full-time coaches leaving the staff, including both coordinators. The roster quickly dwindled, as the program’s top quarterback, running back, defensive lineman and linebacker and the program’s top two wide receivers were transferred over the past year.
The losses that followed from all those flights to the state of Arizona were needed to oust Edwards, 68, a former client of Anderson’s who had worked as an agent earlier in his career. When Anderson hired him in 2017, Edwards hadn’t worked in college football since 1989.
The financial terms for Edwards’ departure have not been disclosed; a school spokesperson said they are yet to be determined.
Edwards’ hiring came with a bold press release claiming he would bring an NFL model — New Leadership Model — which Anderson said would allow the Sun Devils to “work more innovatively and efficiently than we have in the past.” .
Instead, Edwards finished with a worse win rate (56.5) than Todd Graham (59.0), who fired Anderson to hire Edwards, and never won more than eight games.
The status of the Arizona state NCAA investigation will be the subject of much industry scrutiny as coaches try to dissect potential penalties as they evaluate the job. The Sun Devils have not yet received any notice of allegations from the NCAA, as the investigation began in June 2021 and does not appear to be nearly over.
Edwards’ poor personnel management led to the investigation in part, as it came after he authorized former defensive coordinator Antonio Pierce within the program. Pierce alienated employees because they claimed in a file of documents sent to the NCAA in May 2021 that he helped create a culture that rewarded rule-breaking.
The dossier came together because violating the hiring rules — specifically, ignoring NCAA-mandated dead periods during the COVID-19 pandemic — was so blatant that some Arizona state staffers kept a group text documenting them. The file came with photos and timestamps documenting violations, and it named 10 staff members and 13 different recruits. Sources have told ESPN that the investigation is considered significant by the NCAA.
The file came with a note that read, “I am writing this letter to inform you of recruitment violations taking place at Arizona State University in their football department. My goal is … to provide sufficient information to assure you whether Arizona State football has been investigated, violations will be found.”
Edwards was generally dismissive of the NCAA investigation, calling it a “review” early on. Arizona State President Michael Crow and Anderson stood by Edwards even as the program’s talent level plummeted, recruitment ground to a halt in the Pac-12 and fan interest waned.
When the results on the field matched the quality of the squad and staff, something changed. Eastern Michigan battered the state of Arizona as a senior file named Samson Evans, who had never rushed more than 89 yards, ran 258 yards while the Eagles of the Mid-American Conference dominated the Sun Devils in the trenches.
In less than 24 hours, Edwards was out as Arizona state coach. Anderson stated that the goal of the change was “to do what’s best for our current team, staff and university. I understand the frustrations out there. We need to do better and that starts with our decision today.”