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Dan Bickley

Let Edwards, ASU prove themselves after media was quick to judge

ASU head coach Herm Edwards looks on during his team’s first scrimmage of the season Saturday, Aug. 11, in Tempe (Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)

Arizona State’s football program has been mocked from coast to coast. The Sun Devils fired Todd Graham to hire a 64-year old TV guy who hasn’t coached a game in 10 years. They are the only team in the Pac-12 South that didn’t receive a first-place vote in the preseason media poll.

The criticism is valid, possibly warranted. The hypocrisy is stunning.

Start with the scene at Pac-12 Media Day, when Herm Edwards was the brightest star and a towering presence. He was surrounded by cameras, microphones and those craving sound bites. The same crowd scoffing at his chances to succeed in college football.

If the hiring of Edwards is destined to be the Valley’s next dumpster fire, why does he command such attention? If is charisma is so powerful and personality so magnetic, why would anyone think he can’t have the same effect on blue-chip recruits?

“I think that we’ve had a nice spring,” Edwards said. “We added some new players. When you look at our roster now, and I look at it from afar, there’s probably 15 new players that weren’t here in the spring. It’ll help us. They’re going to play. Some of these guys are going to be starters. We’ve got some freshmen kids coming in here that look pretty good.”

Edwards endured painful early missteps at ASU. His rhetoric was over the top and overly ambitious. On occasion, his words seemed to mask a lack of awareness regarding the culture at ASU and the demands of college football. When a local columnist advocated his hiring in a prescient piece, most of the audience roared with laughter.

Spoon-fed or prophetic, the opinion was validated. The reaction was profoundly ugly. The athletic director was accused of staging a coup to hire his buddy, a man he once represented as an agent.

The official rollout was the biggest mistake, a tone-deaf presentation built around a new coach and a new football model. Eyes rolled across the conference. An underachieving program acted like it had just split the atom and reinvented the wheel.

But doubt too much and you sell ASU short. The vision and conviction of Dr. Michael Crow has changed the Valley landscape. Downtown Phoenix is full of college kids and youthful energy. A former party school is soaring in academic status, fueled by innovation. How could he be so wrong about the football program?

Walk through the renovated football facilities, and you’ll discover what it takes to play the game. Lockers cost $3,750 apiece. The weight room is enormous and encased by glass windows, full of ambient light, no longer buried in a basement. The entire facility finally feels at proper scale, big enough to house a real program. Where the equipment manager no longer has to store boxes of gear in the showers of the baseball stadium.

ASU is banking on more than Herm Edwards. The Sun Devils are invested enough to sink an additional $30 million into their student-athlete complex, more than doubling initial projections — the cost of business if you want to succeed.

“The reality is this: In the last three seasons, this team has only won 12 Pac-12 games,” Edwards said. “And when you look at USC and Stanford, they’re at 21; Washington is at 19; Washington State is at 19; Utah is at 14; Oregon is at 13; and we’re at 12.

“So if we’re going to try to win this division, this conference, this Pac-12 thing, we’ve got to do a better job of winning games in the conference. That’s how you get recognition. That’s our task as coaches. That’s the journey our players are going to take with us.”

The Valley has seen its share of wacky sporting experiments, and Edwards has a long way to go before he defies and disproves all the doubters. But he’s already scored a big victory at ASU, where more eyeballs are on the football program than anyone can remember.

Edwards doesn’t have to be a great head coach to succeed at ASU. He just has to be a television star (check), a salesman (check), a former employee still embraced and beloved by those who run ESPN programming (check).

Not by coincidence, an ESPN crew was trailing and filming Edwards at a recent practice. ASU will be a national story in the first month of the season because of their head coach. Guaranteed.

The rest is on him.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@bonneville.com.  Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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Dan Bickley bio
Dan Bickley is the most influential sports media member in Arizona sports history, having spent over 20 years as the award-winning lead sports columnist for The Arizona Republic and AZCentral.com and almost two decades as a Valley sports radio talk show host. In spring 2018, Bickley made the decision to leave the newspaper to join the Arizona Sports team as host of the entertaining and informative midday show Bickley and Marotta, as well as bring his opinionated and provocative column exclusively to ArizonaSports.com.
Bickley’s journalism career began in his hometown of Chicago, where he was part of a star-studded staff at the Chicago Sun-Times. He chronicled Michael Jordan’s six NBA championships; covered the Olympics in eight different countries and attended 14 Super Bowls; spent three weeks in an Indianapolis courthouse writing about Mike Tyson’s rape trial; and once left his laptop in an Edmonton bar after the Blackhawks reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
He has won multiple awards, written two books, formed a rock band, fathered three children, and once turned down an offer to work at the New York Times.  His passions include sports, music, the alphabet, good beer and great radio. After joining Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, he couldn’t be happier