New ASU football head coach Herm Edwards talked about his return to coaching at ASU.
Sean Logan, The Republic | azcentral.com
Herm Edwards jumps out of the super-sized golf cart and walks to the far field at Arizona State’s practice complex. It’s 9:32 a.m., and the Sun Devils are about to start their 11th preseason practice.
By now, nearly eight months into his job, Edwards has had time to recognize and adjust to the differences of pro and college football. As he had said countless times: Football is football. Coaching is coaching. At the same time, the preseason has offered hurdles.
For one: ASU works on two fields. The offense trains on one, the defense on the other. During Edwards’ NFL days, everyone worked on one. He admits: “It’s just odd for me to stand in the middle of the field and figure out I’m going to watch the offense in this period and the defense in this period.”
Also, no preseason games. During Edwards’ playing days, the Eagles had six. During his head-coaching days, the Jets and Chiefs each had four. That was the only time his teams tackled. In camp practices, tackling was a no-no. That’s not the case in college, which makes player conservation difficult. A coach wants to practice tackling, but he also doesn’t want to risk injury.
At a recent scrimmage in which the Sun Devils tackled, Edwards talked with offensive analyst Kevin Mawae. According to Edwards, Mawae – a 16-year NFL veteran – laughed and said, “We would never do this.”
With practices open to media, I recently noted where Edwards spent his time and energy.
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After practicing at night for the preseason’s first two weeks, ASU shifts to the morning.
“First day of school,” Edwards says. “They’re excited today. Fourth day, they’ll be like, ‘Ahhhh.’ ”
He grabs four balls out of a black bag and places them near the sideline. He mentions that his family is settled. Wife Lia brought the couple’s two daughters to practice days earlier, just to check everything out. Now the girls are in school and participating on a swim team.
Edwards starts with the defensive backs along with cornerbacks coach Tony White. He talks with senior Demonte King about depth. He corrects senior Jalen Harvey, joking that his biggest problem is that he played offense his entire college career.
“Consequences, men,” Edwards says. “Consequences are about to happen. Pay attention.”
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The quarterbacks throw on one field. The Sun Devils work on special teams on the other. Edwards approaches defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales, who twirls a whistle behind his back.
Like previous coach Todd Graham, Edwards is also a defensive-minded coach. But he handles it differently. For most of his six seasons, Graham pretty much ran the defense. That’s not the case with Edwards. For the most part, he defers to Gonzales.
“To be honest with you, when I took the job, and with any job opportunities you have, you always look into who you’re working for,” Gonzales later said. “You can’t mix the scheme with another scheme. That doesn’t work. When he hired me, he said, ‘Coach you do what you do, and anything I can do to help you, I’ll help you.’ ”
It didn’t take long for Gonzales to seek Edwards’ input.
“I thought I was pretty polished, 20 years into this deal,” Gonzales said. “I have my mind set on how I want to coach these guys – and I’ve learned so much in the past six months.”
After chatting with special-teams coordinator Shawn Slocum, Edwards walks to the far end of Field 2, working with White, Gonzales and the defensive backs. A couple minutes in, Edwards stops the drill. The Sun Devils take a knee.
For the first time, Edwards’ voice can be heard throughout the practice complex. When he’s finished, the defensive backs line up for sprints.
“I was trying to influence some confidence in them,” Edwards said. “It’s a tough position. You have to have a mindset when you come to practice that, ‘Hey, there’s a standard we have to play at and we got to meet it. And when we don’t do it, we got to handle it within the group. Coach doesn’t need to handle us anymore.’ ”
Edwards said he had an edge during his playing days. It’s what propelled him from an undrafted cornerback to a perennial starter.
“You’re one false step from being beat and being on the wrong side of a highlight tape,” Edwards said. “You can’t make a mistake. When you make a mistake, you turn around and one thing is coming – we receive. You can’t play, like, ‘Ah, it’s OK. I’m going to get it right.’ No, you got to get it right.”
With both offense and defense moving to the first field, offensive coordinator Rob Likens yells out encouragement: “Come on! Practice is almost over. Let’s pick it up. We got 30 minutes.”
Edwards chats with football executive Jean Boyd on the sideline, then positions himself about 40 yards off the ball as the Sun Devils battle 11-on-11.
He meets with Likens each morning to discuss the offense.
“He’ll tell me: This concept you guys have in – if you put a post on it instead of this, you’re going to get the defense,” Likens said. “And that is great to have at your disposal as an offensive coordinator, because he played the DB position and he coached them.”
Practice ends. Edwards talks with the Sun Devils at mid-field. He doesn’t keep them long. For the most part, practices always end on time. They seldom run long.
“The thing that he does really well as a head coach – he knows how to manage players,” Likens said. “They’re kids still. They come in here, and they kind of carry the baggage of the day. What’s going on with their families. And he does an amazing job of managing their personalities and getting them to trust him and to practice hard. That’s been big.”
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Contact Doug Haller at 602-444-4949 or at [email protected]. Follow him at Twitter.com/DougHaller. Download the ASU XTRA app for more.