In the annuals of NFL players re-casted as football analysts, there have been few as charismatic as Herm Edwards, whose 10-year career with the Philadelphia Eagles, Los Angeles Rams and Atlanta Falcons is essentially remembered for recovering Giants quarterback Joe Pisarcik’s fumble on Nov. 19, 1978 and returning for a 26-yard touchdown to create the “Miracle at the Meadowlands.”
During his time with ESPN (2009-17), Edwards was emphatic and entertaining, more capable than most of combining his knowledge of the game with a dynamic stage presence able to keep his viewers away from the remote.
But like most of these former coaches, save for Bill Cowher, success on television is never quite able to suppress the desire to jump back into the fray. Jon Gruden just did it. And Edwards leapt in with both cleats last December by agreeing to become Arizona State’s next football coach.
The decision was met with general derision, although he’d spent years coaching the Kansas City Chiefs and New York Jets – thrusting himself into popular culture with his “You play to win the game!” exhortation.
The reality was that Edwards, who took the Jets to the playoffs three times, won only six games in his final two of this three seasons in Kansas City. And the man who hired him at ASU, athletic director Ray Anderson, was once not only the NFL’s executive vice president for football operations, but Edwards’ agent.
In addition, there was a practical concern that Edwards, who hadn’t been a college coach since his days as an assistant at San Jose State (1987-89), couldn’t possibly be in tune with the modern-day game and intricacies of recruiting.
As it turned out, Arizona State wasn’t just looking for a new football coach, it was also looking for someone to choreograph the establishment of a new culture by adding a touch of inspiration.
No one can fire up a room than Edwards when he’s equally fired up:
“A goal without a plan is a wish,” Edwards said.
“Nothing good happens after midnight,” Edwards warned.
“Are you interested or are you committed,” Edwards asked.
Imagine for a moment you are a high school recruit and Edwards is sitting across the coffee table from your parents.
“Your habits create who you are,” Edwards might reiterate.
Where do I sign, coach?
And after the first three weeks of the season, it looks as if Edwards may already ahead of schedule.
ASU began the season with a win over Texas-San Antonio. One week later, he crafted a 16-13 upset of No. 15 Michigan State, which managed to thrust the program into national focus.
To win the game, Edwards oversaw a 69-yard drive that sucked the final 4:55 off the clock before a game-winning 28-yard field goal by Brandon Ruiz.
“That was really gratifying to see, because some of the folks wanted to doubt the intellectual capacity [of Edwards]. I think he has quieted that noise quite well,” Anderson told ESPN.
The Michigan State win vaulted ASU to its first Associated Press Top 25 ranking (No. 23) since before the 2015 season.
“You gotta stay humble and hungry, man,” Edwards told ESPN. “That’s how we function around here.
“They’re getting a good feel for who I am when it comes to that stuff because I create chaos all the time around here, but you have to be able to function in it. I would hope not, but that’s the emotions of football. That’s the emotions of, do you live off of what you did last week? We can’t do that because we were in no way perfect last week. There’s a lot of things we can still improve on. I told the players that. I told them, ‘Look at the tape. Tape doesn’t lie.'”
ASU came very close to going 3-0 last weekend. The Sun Devils rebounded from a 28-14 deficit in the fourth quarter against San Diego State They scored a touchdown with less than two minutes to play and then recovered a fumble with 43 seconds remaining.
With 14 seconds to play, quarterback Manny Wilkins appeared to hit receiver Frank Darby at the 2-yard line. Upon review of the play, which also featured a controversial head-to-head hit, the officials determined the ball had hit the ground before Darby could corral it. An ensuing Hail Mary failed.
“They never had that [national recognition],” Edwards said. “They’ve never seen that, and I’m telling them, ‘Guys, that’s the elements you’ve got to play in. That’s the stage you want, man. But you gotta work at it because when they turn the TV on, they’re looking for something, and you can’t disappoint them now.’
“We’re on the stage now, so let’s go play.”
Before the season began, Edwards told USA Today that he understood why so many pundits questioned his hiring.
“I understand,” he said. “This (hire) is something outside of the box. People don’t generally do things this way. … We all understood when this took place, there were gonna be some people who didn’t agree – and that’s OK. This is America. We can have differences of opinions.
“The joy they [the players] have. The voices, them hugging, guys screaming. I don’t say a word. I just sit there. I’m like a little kid. I just take it all in. … That’s the joy for me.”