Herm Edwards cultivates a culture appealing to sons of former NFL players

ASU football's coaching staff has landed three former NFL player's sons in the past two years

When Herm Edwards was hired for the position of ASU football head coach in 2017, he and Vice President for University Athletics Ray Anderson focused on growing an “NFL model” for the team.

Edwards, formerly the head coach of the New York Jets and the Kansas City Chiefs, has spent the majority of his football career in the NFL. He also spent nine years as an NFL analyst on ESPN. 

As the head coach at ASU, Edwards has taken that unique experience to the recruiting trail.

Within the past two years, ASU football has brought in wide receiver Chad Johnson Jr. and defensive backs Jordan Clark and DeAndre Pierce. The one thing all three of these players have in common is their fathers played in the NFL.

Edwards enforced that vision by bringing in former Pro Bowl linebacker and current associate head coach Antonio Pierce and former Cincinnati Bengals head coach and co-defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis to his coaching staff. 

Edwards believes the “NFL model” they created gives former NFL players a sense of comfort when sending their sons to ASU.

“When they look at a place where they feel like they can place their son in an environment that will allow them to become the best version of themself; this is one they look at and say, 'This is a good place,'” Edwards said. “Our program, when it comes to the men in the building and what’s the requirement and what’s the standard, parents feel very comfortable sending their young man here.”

Edwards noted that having prior relationships with former pros as a player, coach and ESPN analyst has helped him develop connections with their sons. 

One such example is Edwards’ relationship with former NFL safety Ryan Clark. Edwards met Clark while they were both working at ESPN. They developed a relationship that ultimately landed his son, redshirt freshman Jordan Clark, at ASU.

Jordan Clark said when he decided to commit to ASU, it likely gave his father "a freeing feeling, a lot of weight off his shoulders."

“Just being able to send me off and being able to trust that where I’m going there are people who are gonna further my knowledge and make me a better football player,” Jordan Clark said. “He knows I’m in good hands. He knows I’m around people who care about me. He knows I’m around people who are capable of getting me where I want to go."

Although Edwards played a big part in convincing him to play at ASU, Jordan Clark said having a family friend in Pierce on the coaching staff, who he said has known him "since I was in diapers," was the deciding factor.

“I trusted him, I trusted his football knowledge and I also trusted him as a man," Jordan Clark said. "Having him out here to guide me through life when my parents aren’t here was huge because he’s somebody that I trust.”

Jordan Clark was happy to hear that another familiar face would be joining the team this year when Boise State graduate transfer DeAndre Pierce, Antonio Pierce’s son, announced he would be transferring to ASU.

DeAndre's desire to make the NFL fueled his transfer to ASU. He believes the NFL experience ASU’s coaching staff has and the familiarity he has with them will help him get there.

“That’s really what brought me here cause I know I could trust them,” DeAndre said. “They did it at the highest level for the longest period of time and that’s what we all want to do."

Joining Jordan Clark and DeAndre Pierce in Tempe this season is four-star freshman Chad Johnson Jr. His father, Chad Johnson, was a former All-Pro wide receiver who played 11 seasons in the NFL.

Lewis coached Chad Johnson for eight years when he was the head coach of the Bengals. Lewis said he has has kept an eye on Chad Johnson Jr. because of the relationship he has built with him and his father.

“He expects me to hold him to a high standard, and I do," Lewis said. "Even though Junior is over there on offense, I got my eyes on him all the time. I’m always critiquing the things that he’s done since he’s been here and making sure he’s doing things the right way all the time. 

“For Chad Jr., it’s kind of a comfort that he knows someone who’s got his best interests at heart. I think sometimes, I can be an oasis for him.”

With two ASU wide receivers drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft the past two years, N'Keal Harry and Brandon Aiyuk, the program has become a hot spot for top wide receiver recruits. 

“This is a place, when you think about it, if you’re a wide receiver, (it's) not a bad place to be when you think about the history of some of the quarterbacks and wide receivers that have gone on from here and continued to play," Edwards said.

Although all three of these players are dealing with the pressure of living up to their family name, Edwards said all college football players are under duress, whether your father was an NFL player or not.

“They’re no different from any four-or-five-star athlete,” Edwards said. “The expectations are very high for them, but I always tell them, ‘You gotta be you. You can’t be anybody else. You can’t be your dad.’”

Reach the reporter at cfahrend@asu.edu and follow @chris_drop_ on Twitter.

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