ASU football head coach Herm Edwards talks about his parents and what it was like growing up during the Civil Rights movement.
Arizona Republic

As Herm Edwards walked across the practice field last week, another film crew followed. This one from FOX Sports. The previous week it was ESPN.

Since his surprising hire in December, this is how it’s been for the Arizona State football coach. He has created a national buzz, generating more publicity than most teams in the preseason Top 25. Everyone wants to know how this outside-the-box experiment will work.

Edwards gets it.

“It feels like I’m in Bristol all the time again, right?” he said, referring to the headquarters of ESPN, where he spent the last nine years as an NFL analyst. “But it’s part of it. I understand why. I haven’t coached in quite some time. People want to make a story of it.” 

A hundred miles down the road in Tucson, Kevin Sumlin has produced a similar buzz but for a different reason. Despite getting fired last season at Texas A&M, Sumlin was considered a home-run hire for Arizona football, someone who can lift the program immediately, especially with a star quarterback in place. For that reason, experts peg the Wildcats as a Pac-12 dark horse, a fringe Top 25 team.

So here we go again.

For the second time in seven years, these hated desert rivals – which have spent years chasing national stability – have pressed the reset button. In 2012, both programs had new coaches in place. This season, as college football sets to kick off, they do so again, the circle of football mediocrity.

MORE: Breaking down ASU’s 2018 football schedule

Which story line is more intriguing?

“Wow, I think it’s equal, and I’m not trying to be political,’’ Pac-12 Networks analyst Nick Aliotti said. “Herm being out for nine years, and what I know of him as a person, I’m curious to see how that thing works. And Kevin, with what he did at A&M with his offenses — they’re both intriguing stories.”

It’s amazing how these programs recently have mirrored each other. Over the last six years, previous ASU coach Todd Graham won 46 games, capturing the 2013 Pac-12 South title. Over the same stretch, previous Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez won 43 contests, winning the 2014 division title. The one element both programs lacked: consistency.

MORE: Breaking down the Arizona Wildcats’ 2018 football schedule

A rich NFL background

Edwards, 64, has a rich NFL background. He played 10 seasons as a cornerback, then spent the next 30 coaching, the last eight as head coach for the New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs. During his ESPN years, he coached in an annual national all-star game, but even those close to him thought his true coaching days were behind him.

While Edwards insists he never lost the itch, this might be his biggest challenge. Although the Sun Devils have a veteran quarterback in Manny Wilkins and a preseason All-American in receiver N’Keal Harry, the defense is inexperienced and running a new scheme.

Perhaps worse, the schedule is brutal. ASU plays four teams in the preseason USA TODAY Amway Coaches Poll, a reason conference media picked the Sun Devils to finish last in the South.

And yet, not everyone is skeptical.

“Herm obviously has a great foundation of football,’’ said FOX Sports analyst Dave Wannstedt, a former head coach in both the NFL and college. “He’s a great communicator. And Arizona State is potentially a great job with the resources and the area and the tradition. It’s a nice situation, and I think he’ll do well.”

MORE: Pac-12 football team-by-team previews for 2018 season


Show Thumbnails

Show Captions

High expectations at Texas A&M

Sumlin, 54, coached at Houston before landing at Texas A&M, where he had immediate success. In 2012, the Aggies went 11-2 and thumped Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl. Quarterback Johnny Manziel became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy.

Just like that, Sumlin became one of the country’s hottest coaches, but it didn’t last. Texas A&M went to a bowl game in each of the next five seasons, but the Aggies never won more than nine games. With expectations set in the clouds, this wasn’t good enough for an SEC program based in Texas.

On Nov. 26, Texas A&M fired Sumlin. Nearly two months later, Arizona hired him after parting ways with Rodriguez.

“As a coach, (this) matched the philosophy that I had,” Sumlin said. “I had been out. I’d seen it before. We had shared ideas with (Rodriguez), so visually I kind of understood the place. It was just the right fit at the right time.”

A nice bonus: Sumlin inherited one of the country’s top quarterbacks in Khalil Tate, who’s already earning Heisman attention. Considering what Sumlin did for Manziel, it’s not difficult to understand why so many think the Wildcats could be the team to beat in the South, especially with a favorable schedule.

“A new fresh perspective, fixing what might have been broken, whether it’s staff changes or something else, this kind of gives you a new lease on life,’’ analyst and former Pac-12 coach Rick Neuheisel said. “I asked him about Khalil Tate and he said, ‘Whoa, the guy’s only played (10) games.’ But Kevin’s been kind of the quarterback whisperer in Year 1, so we’ll see.”

Edwards knows the media attention will fade. Then it will just be him and his team. His staff. His program. Contrary to what others might think, he didn’t forget how to coach. Nor did he come here to fail. 

The journey starts Saturday against Texas San Antonio at Sun Devil Stadium.

“I’ll be back home,” Edwards said of his place on the sideline. “I’ll be in my comfort zone. I’ve missed it (but) I’m more excited for the players. I know what it means to play. There’s nothing like it.”



Show Thumbnails

Show Captions