Athletic Director Ray Anderson made his most critical decision at the most critical time for the ASU football program, and he made the wrong choice.
After ASU’s humiliating loss to Eastern Michigan on Sept. 17, President Michael Crow said decisions were needed to determine where the program was headed. He told The Arizona Republic, “Like anything, when you’re in combat, you support your officers. And we’re in combat."
Crow’s actions matched his words, as Anderson is still in charge. Anderson, however, let his subordinate take the fall. Whether coach Herm Edwards was fired, or he and the University mutually agreed to part ways, Crow’s comments make one thing clear. If Anderson wanted Edwards to stay, then he’d be preparing for Utah.
READ MORE: Herm Edwards out as football head coach
Instead, some speculate Edwards, known for scoring an improbable touchdown in one of the biggest mistakes in NFL history — the “Miracle at the Meadowlands” — may have finished his career by being fired in the end zone. Is this an equally embarrassing end, "Severance at Sun Devil Stadium?"
Edwards headed to a commercial flight to San Jose, and ASU is headed toward a raging storm threatens the future of ASU football, this season and beyond.
It’s clear the court of public opinion has ruled that Edwards had to go. The team has underperformed in his tenure, and ASU’s loss to Eastern Michigan is embarrassing. The NCAA investigation for recruiting violations is serious. Edwards isn’t the sole cause of any of that — though he would never say it — and this unceremonious exit is short-sighted and shameful.
His value, though arguably limited, remained the same this week as it did when he was hired — an experienced “big name” whose presence helped elevate national interest in the program. Edwards was the type of leader who could withstand criticism and weather turbulent times. Now, this mess leaves the program vulnerable.
The fact that Anderson feels right now is the best timing for Shaun Aguano, the interim head coach, to carry that weight is baffling.
Aguano wrote a letter addressed to the Sun Devil Family, where he expressed love and asked for support through trials and tribulations because, he said, “it takes a village.”
It would be a great story for Aguano to come in and overachieve. There may be a rush of enthusiasm from the team that might feel like change, and maybe that could improve the trajectory of the season.
But like Edwards, he’s one coach fighting against systemic problems. Like Edwards, his character won’t be enough. And like Edwards, he’s probably more of an insulation against accountability for Anderson than he is a legitimate long-term solution.
The end of the season would have been better timing. It would have been more respectful to Aguano and to Edwards.
Whether Edwards would have salvaged the season or whether he would have lost to UA, Anderson would have had the entire offseason to decide what comes next. Instead, he gives the first-time college head coach less than a week to prepare for the beginning of conference play – and the most challenging three-game stretch of the season.
How will that village — the same village that booed on Saturday and celebrated this midseason chaos – react when the team is 1-5?
I’ll be curious to hear the thoughts of those celebrating his exit when the Wildcats storm the field on Black Friday. Given the chance, could he have improved this team enough by late November to win that game?
That’s not even the worst of it. Power Five conferences are playing a game of musical chairs right now. ASU’s failures drag down an already weak Pac-12, which makes it more likely the conference will lose other top-tier teams than recruit them. That reality will be a consideration for any prospective coach.
USC enticed Lincoln Riley away from Oklahoma and then the Big Ten lured USC away from the Pac-12. With leadership like this, look for ASU to overpay Rich Rodriguez from Jacksonville State and settle for the MAC – where they’ll replay the "Severance at Sun Devil Stadium" every year when they lose to Eastern Michigan University.
Brace yourselves, Sun Devil fans. There’s no Edwards to blame now.
Edited by Sadie Buggle, Logan Stanley and Greta Forslund.
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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James Doyle Brown, Jr. is an opinion columnist at The State Press. He is also in his final semester as a graduate student studying investigative journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. He has previously reported for the State Press politics desk, The Howard Center of Investigative Journalism and Carnegie-Knight News21.