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Dan Bickley

ASU’s gamble on dramatically different Herm Edwards paying off

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

Arizona has three marquee football teams, three new leaders and one early winner.

Yeah. Not who we expected.

Herm Edwards is unbeaten, prematurely vindicated and showing great restraint over the first two weeks of the season. He was once the worst hire in recent college football history. He’s now the best story in college football’s present. He is making us all look like fools.

The new ASU head coach is also something of a pioneer. Most successful coaches peddle their status for cushy television jobs. Edwards is doing just the opposite, leveraging his on-camera success to become the impact coach he never was in the NFL.

Edwards is dramatically different in other ways. He stands out among college football coaches because he’s not self-obsessed, tyrannical or ruthless with his authority. He’s comfortable in his skin. He doesn’t belittle or incessantly scream at his young players.

He’s an old-school coach with a new-age mentality. And in a business dominated by sour personalities like Urban Meyer and Nick Saban, Edwards’ demeanor might be a bigger selling point to future recruits than his celebrity and deep well of friends at ESPN.

“I haven’t wavered in my thoughts or my mindset on how I treat them,” Edwards said. “There are consequences when you don’t do things right. It doesn’t matter who you are, and they get that part of it.

“And it’s really about serving them. I’ve always told those guys, ‘My job is to serve you as head coach. You don’t serve me. I’m going to serve you and all I want is respect on the other end of it.’ ”

Edwards’ mentality is a rarity in college football, where too many head coaches are corrupted by the money they generate and the power they wield. He can be trusted when telling a mother he’ll care for her child because his actions match his words.

“We respect each other,” Edwards said of his players. “(I tell them) ‘We don’t always have to agree. You have a voice. My office is always open. You can always come in here and have a conversation with me.’ And I get a lot of players coming in and out of this office, and it’s never about football, which is even more great for me.

“I just think they want consistency. They want someone who cares about them. And I care about them. I care about them like they’re my kids. I’m their dad right now.”

ASU’s early success has made Ray Anderson look like a genius. His controversial hiring of a former client appears to be visionary. Edwards has embraced all media, churning out interviews, turning ASU football into an open book and a feel-good story. The fourth game in Edwards’ tenure is now slated for national television, a showdown against Washington that will be televised on ESPN.

The experiment is working.

“When it comes to Coach Edwards, I think the biggest thing that nobody realizes is that he took a lot of fire,” ASU quarterback Manny Wilkins said. “You saw it all over social media, all the negative comments we took for hiring him. But he handled it so professionally. He just walked into the room, demanded respect and we got after it right away. He set the foundation for the program early on.”

Edwards hadn’t coached a football game since 2009. He hadn’t served on a college coaching staff since 1989. Many believed he was a dumpster fire waiting for a match to drop, and his early rhetorical gaffes only reinforced our ignorance.

Edwards has made very few mistakes since, with the exception of the tumble he took traversing Mt. Kush. He eschewed the comfort of practicing too often inside an air-conditioned bubble, training against the elements, laying the groundwork for their Week 2 upset of Michigan State.

He hired an excellent staff, including a defensive coordinator who is making a real difference in Tempe. He’s also found a soft spot in his profession: An empathetic, fatherly head coach with NFL ties, ESPN contacts and an ego that needs no reinforcement.

Edwards has been remarkably understated following his first two victories, cracking the Top 25 before the middle of September. His humility speaks to experience and maturity, but deep down, he must be exhilarated by what’s happening in Tempe.

He surely feels better than Steve Wilks, who couldn’t sleep after the Cardinals’ 24-6 loss on Sunday. The rookie head coach got back into his car, drove to team headquarters and watched film until his eyes could take no more. His debut was a disaster. He feels worse than his team performed, and that’s no easy feat.

The ASU head coach is far outpacing Kevin Sumlin, once exalted and currently overrated, posting two bad losses in his first two games at the University of Arizona.

And yet Edwards couldn’t shut it down after Saturday’s impressive win against Michigan State, either. He was home by 1:30 a.m. and back at ASU’s football facility by 3:30 a.m., hunkering down to watch film. It’s proof that even winners are insomniacs at the highest level of football.

And that you can’t go to sleep on Herm Edwards.

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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