Amid NCAA investigation and sluggish 1-2 start, Herm Edwards out as Arizona State football coach

Herm Edwards’ tenure as Arizona State’s football coach began with bravado, featured dollops of optimism and ultimately ended on Sunday amid a spiral of off-field issues and bad football.

Under the dark cloud of a significant NCAA investigation and in the wake of both a staff and roster exodus, Edwards’ time as coach ended like so many others in college football — with a humiliating loss.

Arizona State announced Sunday the school was making “a change in leadership” by “mutual agreement,” according to athletic director Ray Anderson. In reality, an embarrassing 30-21 home loss to Eastern Michigan on Saturday — at the hands of the Eagles’ backup quarterback — made Edwards’ inevitable departure a reality.

Edwards finishes his tenure at Arizona State (1-2) at 26-20 with one bowl win in five years. His time there will be remembered much more for the antics and issues off the field, as the NCAA investigation led to five full-time coaches leaving the staff, including both coordinators. The roster soon atrophied, as the program’s best quarterback, running back, defensive lineman and linebacker and its top two wide receivers transferred out in the past year.

It took the losing that followed all of that fleeing for Arizona State to push out Edwards, 68, a former client of Anderson, who had worked as an agent earlier in his career. When Anderson hired him in 2017, Edwards hadn’t worked in college football since 1989.

The financial terms for Edwards’ departure were not disclosed; a school spokesman said they are still to be determined.

Edwards’ hiring came with a bold news release that claimed he would bring an NFL model — New Leadership Model — that Anderson said would allow the Sun Devils to “operate more innovatively and efficiently than we have in the past.”

Instead, Edwards finished with a worse winning percentage (.565) than that of Todd Graham (.590), whom Anderson fired to hire Edwards, and never won more than eight games.

The status of Arizona State’s NCAA investigation will be the subject of much industry scrutiny, as coaches try to parse potential sanctions as they evaluate the job. The Sun Devils have yet to receive a notice of allegations from the NCAA, as the investigation began in June 2021 and doesn’t appear close to being over.

Edwards’ poor staff management led in part to the investigation, as it came after he empowered former defensive coordinator Antonio Pierce within the program. Pierce alienated staff members, as they alleged in a dossier of documents sent to the NCAA in May 2021 that he helped create a culture where rule breaking was rewarded.

The dossier came together because the breaking of recruiting rules — specifically ignoring NCAA-mandated dead periods during the COVID-19 pandemic — was so blatant that some Arizona State staffers kept a group text documenting them. The dossier came with pictures and time stamps that documented violations, and it named 10 staff members and 13 different recruits. Sources have told ESPN the investigation is considered significant by the NCAA.

The dossier came with a note that read: “I am writing this letter to inform you about recruiting violations that are occurring at Arizona State University in their Football department. My objective is … providing enough information to assure you if Arizona State football is looked into, there will be violations found.”

Edwards acted generally dismissive of the NCAA investigation, referring to it early on as a “review.” Arizona State president Michael Crow and Anderson stood by Edwards, even as the talent level in the program tanked, recruiting stalled at the bottom of the Pac-12 and fan interest waned.

When the results on the field began to match the quality of the roster and staff, things changed. Eastern Michigan manhandled Arizona State, as a senior tailback named Samson Evans, who’d never rushed for more than 89 yards, ran for 258 yards as the Eagles of the Mid-American Conference dominated the Sun Devils in the trenches.

In less than 24 hours, Edwards was out as Arizona State’s coach. Anderson stated the objective of the change was “doing what is best for our current team, staff and university. I understand the frustrations out there. We must do better and that starts with our decision today.”

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