TEMPE – The Arizona State football program finds itself on the downward slope of a roller coaster ride in its first season under coach Herm Edwards.
The nation saw a roaring start to the Edwards era with ASU’s win over the 15th-ranked Michigan State Spartans in Week Two that propelled the team to a No. 23 ranking in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.
Since then, things have cooled off as the Sun Devils find themselves at 3-4.
Excitement has shifted to a wait-and-see mentality.
“The fair thing is probably to wait till the end of the third year to judge how he is doing,” said Jon Wilner, a San Jose Mercury News reporter who has covered the Pac-12 Conference for many years.
“It’s a process,” Edwards said. “And you got to enjoy the process, and I do.”
When Edwards was hired in December of 2017, many in the sports landscape didn’t want to hear about a “process.”
“When he got hired there was a ton of criticism and skepticism all rolled into one all from the majority of folks outside of ASU athletics,” Wilner said.
Edwards slowly helped create a positive narrative following the public outcry of his hire with the additions of former NFL linebacker Antonio Pierce and former SDSU defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales to his coaching staff.
Things hit an apex when ASU knocked off No. 15 Michigan State.
“All of a sudden after that Michigan State game, he’s a genius,” Wilner said. “And everyone who doubted the hire was dumb.”
Since that Michigan State game, the team is 1-4 with just one win in Pac-12 play.
“I think that it’s settling down a little bit. … Things are kind of finding a little bit of a baseline,” Wilner said.
Edwards always had a vision of a bigger picture, however, than that of the first two Saturdays of September, Saturdays that saw ASU start the season with a 2-0 record.
He made that clear in his opening press conference back in December of 2017.
“I’m here to build a program on top of the foundation that’s already been built here,” Edwards said in December.
Fast forward eight months, Edwards is seven games into his ASU tenure and still laying the groundwork for the program he is trying to construct.
“I have a preview, a vision of what we are trying to do here,” Edwards said. “And I think the players understand that, the coaching staff understands that, the administration understands that. We’re all on the same page.
“And I said this when I took this job: When those players walk into that stadium, especially our stadium, and they walk by that Tillman statue, whatever they have they’ll leave on the grass.”
The hire, and the immediate success that followed, came as a surprise to many. Edwards hadn’t paced the sidelines as a coach of a football team at any level for 10 years. Yet just two weeks into his career at ASU, he found his team sitting at 2-0 and ranked No. 23 in the nation.
“I thought it was important for him to show a level of competence and understanding of college football. … You wouldn’t know he hasn’t been on sidelines in 10 years anywhere,” Wilner said.
After coming out of the gate like ASU did, expectations for both the team and Edwards may have been set too high, Wilner said.
“They are what most of us expected, which is a not very good team,” he said.
In each of its four losses, ASU has found itself just a touchdown short in the end of each outing, despite often trailing by 14 headed into the closing stretch of the game.
“I like the resolve,” Edwards said. “They continue to fight and they’ll continue to fight because they understand they’re that close. I feel bad for the players, I really do. Because of the effort and everything they put into it, it’s going to cash in one day.”
“One day” may be after the days of senior quarterback Manny Wilkins and other seniors on this roster.
Rounding out this year, ASU faces a tough schedule that includes USC and two ranked teams: No. 23 Utah and No. 19 Oregon.
“You can’t panic,” Edwards said. “You cannot panic and I won’t. Look, you guys have watched me coach seven games. You seen any panic in me?
” You won’t.”
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