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Dan Bickley

ASU could represent the tip of the iceberg for Valley sports

(AP Photo/Ralph Freso)

We have a culture problem in Arizona. The failure of our major professional sports franchises makes transient fans flee the scene, seeking familiar shelter of their hometown teams. Natives and diehards justify their fandom by lowering their standards, accepting baby steps and mediocrity as signs of progress.

It’s a vicious cycle that dooms our existence, and defines our existence. It frames the final 120 minutes of Arizona State’s regular-season schedule.

The Sun Devils have a daunting, delicious opportunity.

If they beat Oregon and Arizona on the road, they win their division. Their current three-game winning streak is rare altitude for November football in Tempe. This team is good enough to win the Pac-12 Championship, and the irony is precious:

The sleeping giant of Valley sports could save us all from the underachievers in our midst, the pro teams stunting our collective growth.

ASU offers lessons in leadership.

Ray Anderson has done a stellar job hiring impact coaches at ASU, and was bold enough to hire Herm Edwards after buying out Todd Graham’s contract. He was undeterred by the noxious scent of cronyism and conflict of interest. He knew he’d be ridiculed. And yet he believed in his instincts, and dared to be different.

The experiment is working.

Edwards isn’t a great coach. Neither was Bruce Arians. But he suddenly feels like the right choice at the right time in the right place. He’s a testament to the cult of celebrity and the power of television. He’s trustworthy and familiar, charismatic and comfortable in his own skin.

Like Arians, Edwards isn’t worried about climbing coaching ladders or covering his backside. His transparency is beyond reproach, his lack of ruthless ambition liberating.

Contrary to the laughter that surrounded his appointment at ASU, Edwards has become something of an anomaly, an asset in Division I football. He’s a servant king in an industry of tyrants, full of overstuffed, insecure men building pedestals in their own honor.

Edwards is neither duplicitous nor dangerous. He makes mothers feel good about handing over their sons to ASU. In the shifting moral landscape of America 2018, oath keepers matter in college football.

He also hired a Wildcat (Antonio Pierce) who is fast becoming a recruiting powerhouse on the West Coast. He hired Danny Gonzales, a defensive coordinator who vowed to quit if he didn’t transform the ASU defense. He just got off the phone with former NFL great Earl Campbell, who raved about the running style of Eno Benjamin, who might be the pound-for-pound champion of Valley football in 2018.

ASU is ascending and entertaining. Harry and Benjamin are home-run hitters. Manny Wilkins is a live wire of experience and emotion. In the end, they could give Edwards the kind of debut season many expected from Arizona’s Kevin Sumlin, who inherited a Heisman Trophy candidate (Khalil Tate) and an extremely soft schedule.

ASU might be the unexpected winner, with a coach who feels like a team player, great for campus morale, well-liked throughout the entire university. That’s not the case at most elite programs, where the head coach inspires fear, loathing, awe and resentment.

Edwards was deemed a failure before his first game at ASU, the new coach most likely to fail in Arizona. He might end up in the Rose Bowl, possibly in a rematch against Ohio State.

In a dungeon full of dismal teams, ASU football might finally represent the dawn of a new era. The awakening giant we’ve all been waiting for.

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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