ASU’s Antonio Pierce resigns amid NCAA investigation
Feb 2, 2022, 1:34 PM | Updated: Feb 3, 2022, 7:54 am
(Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)
Antonio Pierce is no longer the Arizona State Sun Devils’ defensive coordinator, associate head coach and recruiting coordinator under head coach Herm Edwards.
ESPN’s Pete Thamel was first to report the news of his decision to resign on Wednesday, and an ASU spokesperson confirmed that Pierce is no longer employed by the university.
Pierce had been named in reports about the ongoing NCAA investigation into ASU’s alleged recruiting violations.
Pierce is now eyeing NFL coaching opportunities, Thamel adds.
The report of Pierce’s resignation comes on National Signing Day. The Sun Devils have only nine commits who are not transfers and have the 104th-rated class in the nation, according to 247 Sports. It’s the worst class in the Pac-12 this year and historically the worst for ASU since 247 Sports’ database began in 1999.
Arizona State has never finished worse than 65th in the nation (2011).
The coach’s departure is the fifth related to an NCAA investigation that involves alleged ASU staffers committed recruiting violations during the COVID-19 dead period in 2020.
While that investigation continues, ASU in January removed former ASU wide receivers coach Prentice Gill and secondary coach Chris Hawkins, while tight ends coach Adam Breneman resigned.
That trio was on administrative leave the entire season amid the investigation, but the Sun Devils then took a bigger hit on Friday when offensive coordinator Zak Hill resigned due to his apparent involvement in recruiting malpractices.
Pierce was promoted to recruiting coordinator as well as co-defensive coordinator in 2020 after serving as the team’s linebackers coach since 2017. In 2021, he was named associate head coach and sole defensive coordinator.
On June 16, The Athletic’s Doug Haller was first to report on the team’s misdeeds during the COVID-19 dead period in 2020.
Haller said it was unclear how much Edwards was involved in the investigation, being that he relies heavily on Pierce for recruiting efforts.
Thamel, formerly with Yahoo!, reported in detail that Pierce was the one who led the charge in pushing the boundaries of allowing recruits to visit Arizona State’s campus during the dead period.
Thamel reported that an anonymous person sent the school’s athletic department “dozens of pages” of evidence regarding the recruiting practices. Thamel wrote of Pierce’s involvement:
With Pierce’s power has also come division, as coaches have lost jobs, recruiting staff have felt pressure to blindly follow Pierce’s aggressive tactics and multiple sources said that those who insisted on avoiding recruiting gray areas were ostracized. That left a running joke on group texts and in phone calls this week about the mystery of who collected and documented all the receipts, emails and screenshots.
Multiple sources indicated that there were numerous staff members — one estimated a half-dozen — “keeping receipts” on illicit recruiting activity. One said that Pierce fostered an “in or out” culture within the program, which created mistrust and fear as he accumulated power and convinced Edwards to bring in recruiting-focused coaches like defensive backs coach Chris Hawkins and receivers coach Prentice Gill. Neither had on-field experience at a Power Five school. They replaced veteran coaches who Pierce didn’t think recruited well enough.
As a distinct “camp” formed around Pierce and those loyal to him, coaches and staffers began collecting evidence as protection for their own jobs. And that’s why it remains a mystery as to who accumulated and sent the dossier, which one source estimated was more than three dozen pages.
For the story, Yahoo! Sports interviewed more than a dozen current or former football staff members, some of whom believed coaches would take the rare step of speaking out against the recruiting practices.
Edwards told reporters after the Sun Devils’ win against rival Arizona in late November that he would return to the team.