NCAA investigation hammers Arizona State football, but Herm Edwards never had a chance

The NCAA investigation into accusations of illegal recruiting during the pandemic found evidence of misconduct by Arizona State football coaches and a lack of oversight by coach Herm Edwards.

There are plenty of smug people in Tempe, saying “I told ya so.” And who can blame them? They said it wasn’t gonna work, and it didn’t.

I just wonder whether they’ll realize their culpability in the mess this whole thing turned into?

Edwards was a polarizing hire: His predecessor, Todd Graham, had been popular, if limited; ASU fans tend to have delusional expectations; and Edwards hadn’t coached in a game that counted in a decade.

March 30, 2022;  Tempe, AZ, USA; ASU's head coach Herm Edwards and Ray Anderson, Vice President for University Athletics, talk along the sidelines during a practice at Kajikawa Practice fields.
March 30, 2022; Tempe, AZ, USA; ASU's head coach Herm Edwards and Ray Anderson, Vice President for University Athletics, talk along the sidelines during a practice at Kajikawa Practice fields.

Still, the explosion that followed the announcement was completely out of proportion – and, frankly, racist.

Talk radio, social media, local journalists, hyperlocal bloggers and national pundits all lined up to blast Edwards and the athletic director who hired him, Ray Anderson. They couldn’t find anybody to make the counterpoint?

I was hurt by the response, personally.

It felt a lot like the introduction I received when I was hired as the first Black sports columnist at The Arizona Republic about 18 months earlier.

Most of my critics didn’t even try to get to know me before they rushed to judge me, and I didn’t want to see Coach Herm, ASU’s first Black head football coach, go through the same thing.

Was I a perfect candidate? No. Neither was Herm. Who is?

But the way Edwards was greeted pushed everyone to rush the process of building a winner – and apparently, to take short cuts.

Edwards didn’t do enough to supervise and monitor the guys working for him, according to the NCAA, and if true that’s on him.

But Edwards never has been, nor can I imagine him ever being, a micromanager. He’s a guy who sets the vision, then trusts his people to execute it.

ASU should have hired as many compliance officers as assistant coaches, because the NCAA rulebook probably is thicker than a stack of dictionaries.

My guess is that Edwards skimmed it like we skim the legalese that comes with getting a new email address or downloading an app.

But, again, that’s not an excuse: Wrong is wrong.

Edwards should have known he’d be under a different level of scrutiny than most.

It’s what comes with being the “first.”

But if he had been welcomed with patience and optimism, rather than anger and skepticism, he could still be in the job today.

Edwards brought in Jayden Daniels, who promptly beat Michigan State on the road and outdueled Justin Herbert and a highly ranked Oregon team in Tempe. Daniels would go on to win a Heisman Trophy at LSU.

Edwards started turning out pros like Brandon Aiyuk and Rachaad White.

And the Sun Devils mattered.

The whole thing came crashing down when recruits started showing up on campus during a global pandemic, when travel was restricted, and people were supposed to be sheltering in place.

I doubt ASU was alone in breaking that rule. My guess is that the Sun Devils were just the ones who got caught.

Still, it was reckless and dumb, and whoever was in on it deserves whatever penalties they get.

I just hate what this will do to Edwards’ legacy.

Coach Herm helped prove that Black men belong on the sidelines as head coaches in the NFL by taking the Jets to the playoffs three times in a four-year span in the early 2000s.

The NFL has diversity problems now, but back then? Art Shell, Tony Dungy and Dennis Green had been the only Black coaches since Fritz Pollard in the 1920s!

That’s it. That’s the list: Shell. Dungy. Green.

Edwards was successful and fun, dropping lines that still are often quoted today: “You play to win the game! Hello!” and “Your best ability is your availability.”

And he ushered in a wave of Black coaches that included Mike Tomlin, Marvin Lewis and Lovie Smith.

Then he showed up in Tempe 20 years later and did it again as Black coaches started getting opportunities in college football.

That’s what I’m always going to remember.

I’ll try to forget the way people treated him when he first hit town.

If Edwards was wrong, then he was wrong. And the NCAA says he was.

But I wonder how things might have been different if he had been welcomed instead of shunned before people ever gave him a chance?

Reach Moore at or 602-444-2236. Follow him on X, formerly Twitter, @SayingMoore.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: NCAA investigation concludes witch hunt of coach Herm Edwards