TEMPE, Ariz. — Arizona State athletic director Ray Anderson made a calculated gamble in hiring a football coach five years ago, one that earned the school a national mocking.
He hoped Herm Edwards, despite no head college coaching experience and nine years in a television studio, would give the program the jolt it needed, usher it into a new era through an NFL-like leadership model.
Edwards managed to quiet many of the critics with some early wins on the field and recruiting trail.
When ugly losses piled up and an NCAA investigation into alleged recruiting violations lingered, Anderson decided to make a change.
Arizona State and Edwards mutually agreed to part ways a day after the Sun Devils lost 30-21 to Eastern Michigan of the Mid-American Conference as heavy home favorites.
“I don’t regret at all because I believed it was the right thing to do then,” Anderson said. “But I also believe that when you come to a point where you realize that you’re not always right, and perhaps it’s not working at the level you want and you don’t have the patience to wait because the world is changing really fast out there, then you make changes. That’s what we’ve done.”
Edwards managed to hold onto his job after an up-and-down 2021, but another shaky loss led to his firing three games into his fifth season. Arizona State is still awaiting word on possible NCAA sanctions for allegedly hosting recruits on campus during an NCAA-mandated COVID-19 dead period in 2020.
Edwards went 46-26 at Arizona State, including 1-2 this season and 17-14 in the Pac-12. The Sun Devils never won more than eight games in a season under Edwards and fell short of Anderson’s goal of playing in major bowl games.
Running backs coach Shaun Aguano will serve as interim coach.
The Sun Devils begin Pac-12 play next with three ranked teams: No. 13 Utah at home Saturday, followed by No. 7 Southern California and No. 18 Washington.
“Our future begins now and our responsibility is to try to infuse new energy, new urgency into the program,” Anderson said.
Edwards, a former NFL head coach, was considered an unconventional hire when he was tapped by University President Michael Crow and Anderson to lead the middling program. A former NFL agent, Anderson represented Edwards during his playing days with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Edwards spent the nine previous years as an NFL TV analyst and had not been a college coach since serving as San Jose State’s defensive backs coach from 1987-89.
The loquacious coach changed the narrative his first few seasons in Tempe, proving to be an adept recruiter while leading the Sun Devils to two straight bowl appearances.
The goodwill didn’t last.
Arizona State was hit hard by COVID-19 during the delayed 2020 season, finishing 2-2. The Sun Devils opened the 2021 season 5-1 before suffering consecutive ugly losses, giving up 56 straight points to Utah and Washington State.
Edwards was thought to be on the hot seat at the end of the season, but Anderson said he would remain as coach following a lopsided win over rival Arizona.
Arizona State had an exodus of players and coaches during the offseason, losing five assistant coaches, 11 players drafted or signed by NFL teams and numerous key players to the transfer portal.
Edwards rebuilt the Sun Devils mainly through the transfer portal, adding 43 new players to the roster.
The Sun Devils opened the season with an expectedly-easy win over FCS opponent Northern Arizona and played OK at No. 8 Oklahoma State before fading late in 34-17 loss.
Arizona State hoped it righted itself against Eastern Michigan, only to fall flat against a 20 1/2-point underdog at home. The Sun Devils could not stop the Eagles defensively, were plagued by key penalties and became the first Pac-12 school to lose to a MAC school.
“We had a lot of faith and confidence that with the right coaching staff and with some of the folks that we were anticipating bringing in, we would have an opportunity to really bounce back,” Anderson said. “We were looking to do that with the leadership we had and thought we had an opportunity to do that – and it did not materialize.”