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Herm Edwards sells ASU to recruits without coaching staff filled out

Newly appointed Arizona State University NCAA college football head coach Herman Edwards speaks during a news conference, Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, in Tempe, Ariz. Edwards, a former NFL head coach and current ESPN analyst will assume the head coach position and serve as football CEO according to ASU athletic director Ray Anderson. (AP Photo/Matt York)

TEMPE, Ariz. — With two weeks to scrape together and retain committed players for the early signing period that began on Wednesday, Arizona State head coach Herm Edwards wrapped his tenure at ESPN and hit the recruiting trail.

Selling his football program to 2018 commits likely wasn’t easy.

Edwards has been out of coaching since 2008. Stability was no longer a selling point to keep recruits who had committed to coach Todd Graham’s program when defensive coordinator Phil Bennett opted not to return due to personal reasons and offensive coordinator Billy Napier left for the head job at Louisiana-Lafayette.

Nonetheless, stability is what Edwards sold.

“When you have young coaches, whether it’s this profession or obviously in professional football, you want guys to elevate. That’s just the deal,” Edwards said Wednesday after signing 11 commits in the 2018 class. “I left Tony Dungy. Lovie Smith left Tony Dungy. Rod Marinelli left Tony Dungy. Mike Tomlin left Tony Dungy. It just happens, and you don’t panic as a coach.”

“The sad part for these high school young men, a lot of times they go to the university because of the coach. I get that,” he added. “And it’s kind of sad that coaches elevate and leave. And that’s why you better like the university. That’s kind of important too.”

Assistant athletics director of recruiting Donnie Yantis sold the school more than the coaching staff as well.

He tells recruits the story of freshman running back Eno Benjamin, who chose ASU over other schools like Texas. Yantis asked Benjamin a simple question after he committed to the Sun Devils: Why ASU?

“He said to me, ‘Coach, I envisioned if football wasn’t here, would I want to go to school here?’ I share that story with all our recruits,” Yantis said.

A defensive coordinator hire could be on the horizon, and the expectation is it will be Donnie Henderson, according to 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station’s Mike Jurecki.

Edwards suggested ASU’s coaching staff could be close to put together by the end of the week and that he has some members of the defensive staff all but committed.

“I can’t mention who they are at this point in time; you’ll know who they are,” he said. “We’re going to be fine.”

While he didn’t lend any hints toward who could be brought on as the defensive coordinator, Edwards told returning players and recruits that he and a new DC will cater a defensive identity to them.

That message apparently came through on the recruiting trail. Seven players of the 11 official commits came on that side of the ball.

“We’re starting to formulate our DNA. Scouting is about defining who we are. I think we have a pretty good idea of who we are on offense. I think defensively, it might change a little bit,” Edwards said.

“Coaching is about massaging your system to the player. Ninety-percent of the players that play football, at any level, they are system needy. I’ve never been a coach to say, ‘It’s my system.’ No, the system is the player.”

Offensively, Edwards called the decision to hire former receivers coach Rob Likens as Napier’s replacement an easy one to make.

He stressed that he wasn’t caught off guard with Napier’s departure just 10 days after he agreed to a promotion as offensive coordinator and associate head coach.

“I knew exactly where I was going. It wasn’t like, ‘Well, what are we going to do?’ I called (Likens),” Edwards said. “It’s simple. I said, ‘I got a guy, I’m good.’ Some people get nervous. I’m not nervous about that stuff. You want guys to elevate.”

The transition from Napier’s leadership to Likens should be “seamless,” the head coach added. Keeping similar philosophies should help, as ASU will only lose three significant contributors on offense — two of whom are running backs.

Back on the recruiting front, Edwards said his first two weeks on the job recruiting were humbling.

He remembers being courted as a high school player and understands the importance of National Signing Day. Many of the players could be the first in their families to attend college, just as he was.

With that knowledge guiding him, the recruiting pitch to parents was easy — even without his coaching staff completed.

“That I got their son. I got him. I told every parent, you have my phone number, you call me,” Edwards said. “Weeks are going to go by and he’s not going to call you. You call me and when you call me, I’ma get him and grab his neck and get him in my office: ‘Call momma.’ I said, ‘You call me anytime you want. And when you want to call me and you don’t want your son to know, he won’t.’ That’s important.

“I stay true to who I am. A lot of these parents don’t know me. They see me on television, and when I walk into their homes they say, ‘You know what coach, you’re the same guy.’ Yeah, I can’t change. With that, I can’t panic.”

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