Arizona State defensive coordinator Pierce steps down

© Rob Schumacher/The Republic
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TEMPE, Ariz. – Arizona State associate head coach and defensive coordinator Antonio Pierce has resigned to pursue NFL opportunities, becoming the fifth assistant to depart the program in the wake of an NCAA investigation into possible recruiting violations.

Arizona State confirmed Pierce’s resignation on Wednesday, less than a week after offensive coordinator Zak Hill stepped down. The Sun Devils hired veteran NFL and college assistant coach Glenn Thomas to replace Hill on Monday.

Wide receivers coach Prentice Gill and secondary coach Chris Hawkins were fired for cause and tight ends coach Adam Breneman resigned last week. All three were placed on administrative leave prior to the 2021 season in the wake of an investigation into Arizona State’s hosting of recruits on campus during an NCAA-mandated COVID-19 dead period, among other possible infractions.

Pierce, who spearheaded recruiting under coach Herm Edwards, was restricted from recruiting on the road prior to the early signing period in December in wake of the investigation.

A former NFL linebacker, Pierce was hired in 2017 as linebackers coach and was being groomed to be a head coach by Edwards, possibly to take over the program after Edwards retired. Pierce spent the last two seasons as defensive coordinator, taking the job on alone last season after sharing it with current defensive analyst Marvin Lewis in 2020.

The impact on Arizona State’s recruiting by the NCAA investigation began long before Pierce stepped down. The Sun Devils have lost multiple commitments and their 2022 class was one of the worst in school history, finishing 105th nationally according to the 247 Sports composite.