Arizona State athletic director Ray Anderson must have been jealous. He must have seen Tennessee athletic director John Currie’s flailing coaching search and tried to top him for short-sightedness, puzzling decisions and potential to ostracize his fan base.
A report emerged on Wednesday night that Anderson plans to hire former NFL coach Herm Edwards as its next head coach, pending approval from Arizona State’s president. The initial report came from 24-7 Sports and was greeted with a loud laugh track in college and NFL circles.
We’ll see if Arizona State ends up going through with it. On paper the connection makes sense, as Anderson represented Edwards as an agent. And some of the bread crumbs that Anderson left at his disastrous press conference – like the new coach keeping his coordinators – made it likely that a coach with few ties to college football would soon enter the picture.
But taking a coach who hasn’t been on the sideline since 2008 and in college football since 1989 and expecting to magically take a middling program to new heights is simply naïve. This potential hire appears like an over-reliance on a friend and former client more than any type of common sense.
Anderson overpromised in his press conference, saying those that think Arizona State shouldn’t be a Top 15 program “don’t grasp the vision” he and President Michael Crow have. Few in college athletics have “grasped the vision” of anything Anderson has done since firing Todd Graham. The overwhelming feeling among athletic administrators, between chuckles, is that this hire will turn into a Lovie Smith Sequel – an out-of-touch NFL coach returning to college for one last pay bump before retirement. And potentially paying more than $11 million as a parting gift to Graham to bring in Edwards is the topper.
“It’ll be a learning curve for a guy who has never been an X’s and O’s specialist,” said a veteran NFL executive familiar with Edwards. “There’s some real danger in terms of playing against the schools in that conference that know what they’re doing. It’s one thing to have a good motivational speaker, it’s another thing to have a good football coach.”
Anderson’s press conference announcing Graham’s dismissal and laying out a vision for the future will be played in Sport Management classes as an example of how not to set expectations for a program.
Anderson’s comments and expectations were so over-the-top and Pollyanna-ish for a traditionally middling program that the potential looms that he and Edwards will end up eventually caving underneath them. These are statements for the Sun Devil club on $1 pitcher night, not when projecting what you want out of your program.
A sampling: “We should be top three in the Pac-12, in my opinion, every season.”
“There’s no reason we shouldn’t be every year Top 15 nationally, if we do what we’re supposed to do.”
“Some folks are OK with going to the Cactus Bowl, and even the Sun Bowl.”
“[ASU QB] Manny Wilkins does not need a fourth coordinator in four years.”
Why exactly a coach who hasn’t been in college football in three decades would be able to recruit, retain and develop a top-notch staff – at a place that historically can’t pay one – is one of the many curious assertions by Anderson.
So good luck, Herm Edwards, taking a program that’s essentially been .500 in league play since Bruce Snyder left in 2000 and making it a Top 15 program. A lot has changed since Pat Sullivan won the Heisman Trophy. We may see in real time how difficult that learning curve is for Edwards.
Even during the best of times, with an SEC title and a spot in the College Football Playoff attainable on Saturday, Auburn can’t manage to shed its penchant for dysfunction. On the field the past month, there’s been no better team in college football than the Tigers. They dominated a pair of No. 1-ranked teams and are poised for the school’s first appearance in the College Football Playoff with a win over Georgia on Saturday.
Only Auburn, with so much going right, could allow its dysfunctional soul to still shine so brightly. There’s a federal investigation that one of its recently fired basketball assistant coaches, Chuck Person, is in the thicket of. There’s a basketball coach, Bruce Pearl, who could be fired any day. And then there’s the magic question that always hovers over Auburn: Who is actually in charge? This time, it’s because athletic director Jay Jacobs resigned, although he hasn’t left yet. But really, even when he wasn’t on his way out, that question has always shrouded Auburn’s athletic department.
And, yes, all those are just backdrop issues to the larger anvil lingering over what should be a sun-kissed weekend for Auburn – a contract showdown. Arkansas is so eager to throw money at Auburn coach Gus Malzahn that they are holding up their entire search just for the opportunity. One source with knowledge of Arkansas’ thinking said the school is “ready to back up the Brinks truck” to lure Malzahn away from Auburn. Arkansas athletics has financial backing of the families around Tyson Foods and Walmart who’d like nothing better for their native son to return home.
Malzahn’s contract hasn’t been significantly adjusted – other than a year added on – since the eve of the SEC championship in 2013. Could there be a repeat of the timing in 2017? If not, and Auburn loses on Saturday, things will get really interesting. Only at Auburn could there be this level of drama on this big of a stage.
If you haven’t heard, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher is the prime target here. He’s done absolutely nothing to downplay rumors he may leave Tallahassee, and the whole situation has gotten so sideways that an angry Seminole fan who questioned his loyalty got escorted from Fisher’s radio show on Wednesday night.
Fisher won’t talk with anyone about going to Texas A&M until after Florida State plays Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday afternoon.
There’s been endless speculation about how much Texas A&M could pay Fisher, as Texas A&M athletic director Scott Woodward hasn’t been shy about the potential financial muscle available at A&M.
For Fisher, staying in Tallahassee would require a Brian Kelly-like staff reboot, similar to the overhaul the Notre Dame coach executed last off-season. That would involve potentially cleaning house on an aging and stagnant staff that isn’t exactly percolating with hot coaching candidates.
FSU did have three high-profile recruits de-commit on Wednesday, another sign pointing toward Fisher not sticking around.
But leaving may require thorny personal decisions, as the family dynamic of this is the unknown and personal part for Fisher.
The only sign that doesn’t point to Fisher leaving is his history of staying, as LSU called twice recently and there have been other opportunities to depart Tallahassee over the years. This time feels different. We’ll know after Saturday if it actually is different.
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