TieBreaker was fortunate enough to have a conversation with Coach Herm Edwards of Arizona State University. The second-year ASU head coach discussed all things football, from recruiting to getting back into coaching to the differences between college football and the NFL.
Questions for Coach Edwards
Q: Why don’t you think more colleges are running a prostyle program?
A: I think a lot of colleges are probably doing some of the work we’re doing. I think they all have a vision of understanding in their DNA, what type of players that obviously they want there, what they’re going after and what type of team they want to build to be competitive in their conferences. And that’s where we started. You always look at your conference, we improve in our conference. How do we make the playing field level?
Q: Can you talk a bit about recruiting?
A: The recruiting areas out here for a lot of teams are obviously California, Arizona, Texas and, for us, Nevada. That’s kind of a footprint. We’ll leave that area for certain players, but we’d like to stay in that vicinity. We feel like there are enough good players there that we can hopefully sway them to become Sun Devils.
Q: The last coaching staff had trouble recruiting in California. Have you and your staff made big efforts to improve this?
A: This recruiting thing is more than just the kids. It’s the handlers, the coaches, the parents. A lot of people are involved in this. The staff we’ve assembled, and Antonio Pierce being one of them, worked down there at Long Beach Poly and has a lot of connections in the Los Angeles area. I was a West Coast guy. I grew up on the West Coast and have some connections there. Coach Gonzales and Coach White are from San Diego State. They have connections in California. It was having a lot of coaches that had former connections with people that allowed us to really ever recruit California.
Q: Do you like the recruiting aspect of coaching at the college level?
A: Well, I think it’s a lot of fun. In the National Football League, you grab them. In college football, they get to pick you. So there’s a little bit of difference there.
Q: Any big differences between motivating college kids and NFL players?
A: No, I think they all yearn to become better players. And I think that’s what you have to sell and your ability to coach. And that’s why position coaches are so vital at any level. Look, NFL players want to know how can coach keep me in the league. College kids want to know if and how they can get in the league. So, they all strive for the same thing.
Q: What’s been the biggest difference between the NFL and college
A: Well, the hours. You don’t have as many hours to coach football. And rightly so. They are student-athletes. In the NFL, we have a draft and we have scouts that go out and coaches get involved about a month prior to the draft. This recruiting thing is year-round.
Q: So in a sense, it’s a more full-time job?
A: No doubt. And you’re looking at 2020 and 2021. So I mean you’re constantly looking for players. That’s the big deal with college football and there’s this constant search for players. That’s just part of recruiting.
Q: Would you say that having NFL experience on your coaching staff is a huge advantage for these college kids?
A: I think it helps. I do. I think it helps with the kids that have the aspirations to play pro football. You know, all of a sudden these kids are coming into a system that’s built on a pro system. How we evaluate players, how we practice, how we meet. Everything is done in the sense of professional football.
Q: What is one thing you want every player on your roster to leave ASU with?
A: You want these young men to walk away with a great experience of being a college athlete. Because this is only one time where you experience it. You don’t get to come back and do this. It’s one and done. And if they can leave here with that experience and graduate, everybody wins.
Q: What inspired you to get back into coaching?
A: Well, I think it’s a relationship that you have with people that you work with. You gotta have good relationships and you also have to have the same vision. That’s what brought me back. Quite honestly, I could’ve stayed on television but I had a passion to coach. I missed it. I missed being around the players. And this is a unique opportunity that only comes along once in a lifetime, especially at my age. This was a unique situation. This doesn’t come along that often where the parties have the same vision and you’re familiar with the party that you’re working with and that was the athletic director (Ray Anderson). I’m very fortunate and very humbled to be here.
Q: At the NFL level, a recent coaching trend is hiring young guys, like Kliff Kingsbury, Matt LaFleur, Sean McVay, etc. You’re an older coach, so to speak. Have you had trouble connecting with the college kids?
A: Well I think the thing that I’ve never, never questioned as far as myself is being a communicator with all people. That might be my best friend. That is never been a problem. I coach the Under Armour All-American team; those are high school kids.There was no lack of communication there. I think they felt comfortable with me being their coach.
Q: What’s been your biggest takeaway from coaching at ASU so far?
A: Well, I think the thing that you don’t realize from afar is the tradition in college football. People come to the university, they graduate, they become a part of that family and never leave it. The tradition is very rich. 150 years of college football. And you realize that when you step on a college campus you’ve got people that have been here for 20 years [and more] supporting the Sun Devils. There’s the support of the donors and alumni, too. More people are involved with College football than with pro football. They all have loyalty to this university and you don’t realize that when you’re not connected to college football.
Q: Because of all the layers at ASU — the alumni, fans, donors — do you feel more pressure?
A: I’ve always said that pressure is when you’re not prepared. I prepare myself every day and what I think I should do as a head coach and try to prepare my football team. When you’ve lived in this world as long as I’ve lived in this world, it’s normal. It’s what you do. I’ve never done anything else but this, from playing to coaching.
Q: Do you think it was a smart move for ASU to downsize their stadium?
A: Yeah, I think it was a smart move. Now, you’ve got all these professional teams, got another Arizona college down the road. So, it’s good for us. If you’ve ever been to games here, it’s a unique place to play. It’s one of the better places in college football to play in, especially at night. It’s loud and it’s just a beautiful venue with the mountains to the side.
Q: Which coaches inspired you to become the leader and coach you are today?
A: Well, I think you take a lot from a lot of different coaches. My high school coach, Dan Albert. Dick Vermeil, my pro coach; Marty Schottenheimer- I worked with him. He was a Fabulous coach. Tony Dungy. He was my mentor. We came into the league together and I learned a lot from him when I was in Tampa as an assistant head coach under him.
Q: Do you think certain styles of coaching, be it a players’ coach or a disciplinarian, work better?
A: No, I think you have to be who you are. That’s what players want to know. Be who you are. You can’t be anybody different. And I’m going to stay true to who I am. I’m going to coach the way I know how to coach. Coaches are teachers. You’re a mentor, an information giver. That’s what we do.
Q: Do upperclassmen deserve playing time or is your spot on the field strictly determined by one’s ability?
A: You don’t inherit playing time because you’re a senior and waited three years to play. You need to earn the spot. Players know who the good players are. You can’t trick them. If you play pickup basketball and you got the next game and you’re watching the guys on the court and you’re going ‘whoa man, that guy with the orange hair, he’s pretty good. I’m going to get him on my team.’ You figured it out. And players know how to figure it out too.