Why did Ray Anderson fail leading Arizona State athletics? Here are 3 key reasons
Nov 13, 2023, 3:46 PM | Updated: Nov 14, 2023, 9:00 am
Ray Anderson certainly deserves credit for shaping large portions of the Arizona State Sun Devils’ athletics programs as we know them.
Generally, he thought as his boss, ASU president Michael Crow, did in prioritizing the lesser-known sports.
Anderson thought outside the box to hire Bob Bowman to flip one of the Pac-12’s worst swimming teams to make it among the best. He helped the Sun Devils prioritize hockey, built a new multipurpose arena and put an emphasis on teams from baseball to wrestling.
But the notable shortcomings came with the most visible and most revenue-generating sports.
1. The Herm Edwards hire burned Arizona State’s Ray Anderson
Anderson, a former agent, hired his former NFL client Herm Edwards as the head coach of the football program in 2018. It raised obvious red flags.
It didn’t help that, at the time, ASU promoted the hire as out-of-the-box thinking rather than the copy-paste of every other college program it was. Only the Sun Devils’ hire had hardly any college experience.
Hindsight doesn’t help after Edwards went 26-20, lost his top coordinators after they were alleged to brazenly break recruiting rules during a worldwide pandemic and left the current roster, to a great degree, in a terrible position. Edwards’ firing in 2022 was followed by stories of a disconnect between the head coach and his players — and there was either blatant cheating by Edwards or a disconnect between him and his top assistants, starting with recruiting coordinator, DC and associate head coach Antonio Pierce.
The optics look worse on the day of Anderson’s resignation for a few reasons.
Anderson had two highly regarded offensive coordinators under his nose in Mike Norvell (2012-15) and Billy Napier (2017) preceding the Edwards hire.
Norvell has Florida State at 10-0 at present. At Florida, Napier is on the hot seat — yet he has strong ties to Clemson and Alabama, along with a 40-12 mark in four years leading Lousiana after his ASU tenure.
Speaking of people leaving to find success, Pierce is now interim head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders and 2-0 at that posting.
Former starting quarterback Jayden Daniels is a legit top-five Heisman candidate at LSU.
2. There wasn’t enough support for Bobby Hurley
Think about Bobby Hurley’s own abilities whatever you want. While the men’s basketball head coach likely would have four NCAA Tournaments in eight seasons had the pandemic not happened, the Arizona State program has not received enough support beyond the minimum of contractual loyalty.
ASU initially began discussing an overhaul of the basketball arena facilities back in 2018. The school pivoted around the pandemic due to financial reasons and logistics regarding the new hockey arena. Anderson last said in February 2022 that he would be prioritizing an improvement project without much of a peep since.
That was despite Anderson admitting the arena was in “dire” need of upgrades.
Then there’s the uncovered rift between Anderson and Hurley involving Arizona State’s lack of action on disciplining a booster who had allegedly harassed three women with ties to the athletic department, including Hurley’s wife.
That case grabbed headlines more subtly. Hurley ultimately said the pair was past it, but it indicated at least another example of inaction in a case when it was sorely needed.
3. Anderson’s attitude to NIL, transfer portal
Maybe Anderson was simply speaking in step with his boss, but their combined complaining and pushback against name, image and likeness set the program back.
In February 2022, Anderson said Arizona State wouldn’t get into the arm’s race.
“One thing’s for sure: The model has changed and … we will not and have no intention of being in an arm’s race to provide NIL that really results in bidding wars. We can’t do that,” Anderson said on Arizona Sports’ Bickley & Marotta.
He at that point said ASU and its boosters had begun discussing a way to support the athletes.
But for context, the rival Arizona Wildcats two weeks earlier had already launched their NIL program. Arizona State’s didn’t officially get off the ground until August 2022.
Change in tune came too late
If there’s a theme here, it’s that Anderson failed to identify mistakes and took too long to adapt when he made them. It was an extension of Crow in many ways.
Anderson was too late to see that NIL and transfer portal dealings were an accept-or-die reality in his position.
Arizona State’s tune changed in the past calendar year. There was a stark uptick in urgency to keep up with the direction of college football.
That change in perspective came through when Crow told KTAR News 92.3’s The Mike Broomhead Show that now-Colorado coach Deion Sanders was “in just the early age of learning how to be a coach.” Just 13 months later, Crow and Anderson were complimenting the Pac-12 rival Sanders in an Andscape article.
ASU’s move to the Big 12 at least showed they were not willing to die on a lonesome island where the old way was the right way. By all reports though, the conference switch was pursued more aggressively by the rival Wildcats. Crow said it was ultimately triggered by Washington’s and Oregon’s departure to the Big Ten rather than any action by Arizona State’s accord.
Still, Anderson was too late to recognize Edwards’ lack of control over his program was spiraling as his top assistants resigned or were pushed out. He continued to defend the head coach as the recruiting rankings mirrored the success of the product on the field and the incoming drain of talent.
Anderson’s failure to support the basketball program probably has something to do with Hurley attempting to manage heavy roster losses the past few offseasons.
And if you don’t believe all that, well, it seems Anderson at least saw his mistakes on his way out.
“We have entered an unprecedented era where the number and magnitude of changes in the college sports landscape are astounding,” he said in the release announcing his resignation. “As I approach 70, these are not matters that my leadership would be able to corral during my tenure. Continuity of leadership will be needed, and I am choosing to step aside to let the university find that leader.”