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ASU football coach Herm Edwards felt at home on recruiting trail

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. — When Herm Edwards left his gig at ESPN to coach Arizona State football he was “sweating bullets” on the flight to Phoenix.

“I leave Bristol on Friday after this great send-off and I’m sitting next to a guy on the airplane and he says, ‘coach, whatcha’ doin’?'” Edwards said, chuckling. “I said, ‘I got a [NCAA] compliance test tomorrow. I’m supposed to go on the road the next day and if I don’t pass this I can’t go.”

Edwards passed his test. There was no such anxiety when he hit the recruiting trail last month to visit recruits families for the first time in 29 years.

“I enjoyed it a lot,” he said. “I think they liked me coming in there, too.”

There have been myriad changes in the college recruiting process since Edwards last coached in college at San Jose State in 1989, including rules and recruits’ expectations, but the Sun Devils coach relied primarily on a gift that never changes to secure his first recruiting class: his charm.

“My strongest strength is communication,” he said. “I don’t have a problem going into anyone’s home. I know what we’re trying to sell here. We’re selling a top-tier university here; the complete student-athlete.”

Edwards is also selling himself.

“He was unbelievable in the homes,” defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales said. “I’ve been doing this for a long time and he was very instrumental in all the kids we signed.

“He was all over the place. He’s flying to California. He’s flying to Texas, everywhere. Ten o’clock at night, we’re leaving the house and he’s still dancing with the families and having a great time.”

With a trio of commitments on Wednesday, ASU’s recruiting class jumped from the bottom of the Power Five conference recruiting rankings to 36th nationally and fifth in the Pac-12, according to 247 Sports.

Perception may matter as much as reality in the highly inexact science of ranking recruits. It will take at least two years to fairly evaluate this class, but Edwards liked how his staff performed under the constraints and limits of a December coaching change.

“I think we fit a lot of needs, especially in a short period of time,” he said. “When we get a year under our belt I think we’ll be much better and we’ll have more time, but with the limited amount of time we had we really upgraded our roster.

“I don’t get involved in rankings, I get involved in wins and losses. That’s what the fans want. It’s just like in the NFL. You draft seven players and you’re hoping that three of them are really good players.”

Edwards repeated an oft-mentioned philosophy when discussing his approach to recruiting at a press conference Wednesday at Sun Devil Stadium.

“It was very important when we reviewed the tape of a player that we all understood the DNA of the player that went along with the position,” he said. “What happens to you when you scout — and I’m a former scout — it’s easy when you coach a position to know what your player looks like. Sometimes it’s more difficult to know what another coach likes.

“Everyone has to have the same eyes when they look at a player, whether it’s an offensive lineman, whether it’s a wide receiver, whether it’s a quarterback.”

About the only thing that Edwards said made him uncomfortable in this process was sitting on the opposite side of the decision-making process.

“You’re waiting on an 18-year-old to pick you. That’s different,” he said, smiling. “I’ve generally been in rooms where you watch the [NFL Draft] board and you say ‘there’s three guys. We’re going to draft one of them.'”

Time will tell if Edwards’ efforts and approach will translate into wins, but the view from upper management remains upbeat.

“I have certainly had early indicators that we will be fine and that in fact we are doing things at a higher, more efficient level, but we are just going to let the outcomes speak for themselves,” vice president for university athletics Ray Anderson said. “I’m optimistic about everything going forward.”

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