Opinion: Ray Anderson's ambitious leadership has elevated ASU sports

Anderson's high expectations have brought new fire to ASU athletics

President Michael Crow proudly flaunts ASU's No. 1 in innovation title.

Although there have been critics of his lack of innovation on the athletics forefront, President Crow certainly made a statement back in 2014 with the hiring of former NFL Senior Vice President of Football Operations Ray Anderson as ASU’s new athletic director.

Before taking the ASU AD job in 2014, Anderson had worked in the NFL front office for eight years, during that time serving as the executive vice president of the Atlanta Falcons, among other roles.

"His mindset about building a legacy here is in alignment with lot of what (Michael Crow) stands for," ASU Executive Senior Associate Athletic Director Jean Boyd said. "(Ray Anderson) was extremely impressed with the concept of the New American University Model."

After the 2013 season, Anderson moved on from the NFL, taking ASU’s open athletic director job previously held by Steve Patterson, who had left to become the athletic director at the University of Texas.

Anderson’s first move as ASU athletic director was a comprehensive plan to rebuild Sun Devil Stadium, which included reduction of 60,000 seats from the north end zone in a $300 million plus rebuilding plan.

The stadium’s third and final stage of redevelopment went underway in November just a week after the conclusion of the Territorial Cup.

In addition, Anderson was part of a committee to bring the 2017 Final Four to the Valley, brought ASU hockey to a Division I level and created an eight-year, $38 million dollar partnership between Adidas and ASU.

The new ASU athletic director reached all of these accomplishments in just his first year in charge of the Sun Devil Athletics programs.

Since the start of 2015, Anderson has made ambitious and upper tier hirings of coaches such as Bobby Hurley, Matt Hill and most notably, Herm Edwards.

Anderson’s hirings have resulted in improvements for the athletics department across the board.

"(Coaches) are not coming here to 'do a good job' or be average," Boyd said. "They're coming here to be a leader of a top program in their specific sport."

Since the appointment of former Eastern Michigan University head coach Jay Santos, ASU’s women’s gymnastics team reached No. 17 in the country, and Santos was named Pac-12 Coach of the Year in just his second season in charge of the Sun Devils.

The hiring of former American Athletic Conference Coach of the Year Matt Hill has turned ASU men's tennis into a surprising contender. In the program’s first year competing since 2008, Hill has elevated the Sun Devils to the No. 34 ranking in the nation, and ASU was at one point the No. 13 team in the country.

After two years of meddling success, ASU men’s basketball head coach Bobby Hurley brought the Sun Devils to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in his three-year tenure at ASU.

This season, ASU men’s basketball reached No. 3 in the country in the AP Top 25 poll, and the Sun Devils became one of the final undefeated teams in college basketball at 12-0.

All three of these hires are direct reflection's of Anderson's vision for the athletics department. 

ASU football looks to be the next project for improvement for Anderson as the ASU athletic director fired Todd Graham the Sunday after defeating UA in the Territorial Cup.

With sky high expectations, Anderson decided to hire former New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs head coach Herm Edwards to become the Sun Devils new head football coach in what has become one of the most talked about hiring decisions across the country.

"Ray (Anderson) and Herm (Edwards) have a history," Boyd said. "They've known each other for some time, but I think that was advantageous."

Edwards was hired not only to be the Sun Devils' head coach, but also to become the the head of the New Leadership Model and use a general manager structure similar to the NFL.

“(The New Leadership Model will be) a collaborative approach to managing the ASU football program that includes sport and administrative divisions, which will operate as distinct, but collective units focused on elevating all aspects of Sun Devil football,” stated Sun Devil Athletics after Edwards’ hiring.

This leadership model designed by Anderson may seem a bit overambitious, but that fact is just consistent with who Ray Anderson has been throughout his tenure at ASU: aggressive, ambitious and hungry.


Reach the columnist at kbriley@asu.edu and on twitter @KokiRiley.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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