Herm Edwards’ dual challenges at ASU: perception and performance

Aug 4, 2018, 8:17 AM
Arizona State head coach Herm Edwards pauses while speaking at the Pac-12 Conference NCAA college f...
Arizona State head coach Herm Edwards pauses while speaking at the Pac-12 Conference NCAA college football Media Day in Los Angeles, Wednesday, July 25, 2018. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

TEMPE, Ariz. — Herm Edwards embraced the Pac-12-after-dark theme when Sun Devil football training camp began Friday at the Kajikawa practice fields.

“I practice at night because I know you guys don’t like to put sun tan oil on during the day,” Edwards said after a muggy first evening of training camp. “What I’ve tried to do is create an atmosphere. It’s been a long day for these guys, for coaches, as well. But if you can imagine, this is what a Saturday is before a game. It’s a long day, and I wanted the players to understand this is the process when we get ready to play on Saturday nights. It is a long day, so everything was structured to a Saturday night when we’re actually going to play a football game.”

As the Edwards era began in earnest, with only four weeks remaining before the first game, there was the expected positivity that flows freely in the preseason. There was music blaring at the start of practice. There were smiles all around and there was professed optimism that this change in culture and coaching staff was an investment that would pay off with better days.

“I just think that as a group, we’re just sick of being mediocre,” quarterback Manny Wilkins said.

How long it will take Edwards to turn the corner – if he ever does – is not a question that anyone is willing to tackle so soon. Edwards and his staff have made it clear that they faced some challenges with the 2019 recruiting class. That reality and the impending loss of Wilkins to graduation and receiver N’Keal Harry to the NFL after this season will likely make the first two seasons a challenge, but nobody was ready to pin down how much time Edwards would have to get this train rolling.

“We are looking for competitive consistency and culture consistency,” Sun Devils Vice President for University Athletics Ray Anderson said. “There is no definitive timeline at this point.”

With a senior quarterback, a talented receiving group and an intriguing running back in Eno Benjamin, the Sun Devils have enough talent on offense to at least match last season’s seven-win result. But there are questions aplenty on defense, with position battles raging in the secondary and the linebacking corps, and the Sun Devils will be lost if they have to turn to a thin group behind Wilkins. Backup QB Dillon Sterling-Cole has cup-of-coffee experience and redshirt-freshman Ryan Kelley is not even throwing yet as he recovers from a shoulder injury.

“We don’t want anything to happen to Manny,” Edwards said. “Trust me, I lived in that world before, losing quarterbacks.”

Losing doesn’t end well for any coach, but with so much public bias already set against him, Edwards has an especially tall task ahead of him, trying to convince Sun Devil nation that he is the right man for the job.

That task will begin by convincing and transforming his players.

“I feel like they understand who their head coach is and they understand who their position coaches are as well,” Edwards said. “They want to know what’s expected and you’ve got to be consistent. It’s been a good learning period for the coaches, for the players and now we have, what 21 practices left before we actually play a game. We‘ll find out a little bit more of who we are.”

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