By Dan Guttenplan, FNF Coaches Managing Editor
In December of 2017, Arizona State announced the hiring of former Jets and Chiefs head coach, and then-ESPN analyst/motivational speaker, Herm Edwards to replace Todd Graham as its head football coach. At the time, Edwards hadn’t coached anywhere in a decade after logging a 6–26 record over his last two seasons in the NFL.
To the surprise of some of Edwards’ doubters, Arizona State went 7-6 overall during the regular season, and earned a trip to the Las Vegas Bowl.
FNF Coaches recently caught up with Edwards to discuss is return to coaching and his philosophy.
What has surprised you most about your return to coaching? What’s changed the most?
“Here, it’s the recruitment of high school athletes. Where it’s gone from when I was coaching to now, it’s like pro football. The volume of information you can obtain for guys in the 10th grade is incredible. What I understood is we needed to implement a way to evaluate players and define the DNA of what it takes to compete in the Pac-10. We had to dial in our recruiting and how we’re going to do it.”
Do you still involve high school coaches in the recruiting process? Or do the players have other handlers now?
“We still go through the high school coach. These guys have handlers as well. The more information you can gather, the better off you are. This is all about the relationships with high school coaches. Then, it’s forming relationships with players. How do we communicate with these guys? The culture of Twitter and high school kids being on their phones all the time is huge in recruiting. When can you do it? When can’t you? Guys are constantly being bombarded with texts.”
It seems like the best coaches are constantly adjusting their schemes? What have you changed since you’ve started at ASU?
“My scheme is always based on who the players are that we have available. I’ve never built a system; the system is the players. Your No. 1 job is to make the guys that play for you successful. How do you do that? The system can’t be one dimensional. There are certain things I believe. I’m always going to believe you have to run the football on offense. The passing game? That’s up for grabs. Who is the quarterback? Is he a running quarterback or a pocket passer? We can develop that. I have to be flexible as a coach. Who are the players on defense? I was a guy who played 4-3 and 3-4, but I loved the 3-3-5 that Danny Gonzales ran at San Diego State. I brought him here, and we have five defenders on the back end. We can cover and use them as blitzers.”
Coaches always say that one of the most challenging aspects of the job is dealing with parents. How do you manage overbearing parents?
“When kids come on official visits with their parents, I say, ‘Look, our culture is very simple.’ The first thing we talk about is being on time. Second, do your words match up with your actions every time? Third, come here to compete, and it’s a level playing field. The best guys will play. I don’t care if you’re a five-star or a walk-on. Five freshmen started last year. That wasn’t by accident. Do those three things right, and you have a chance to be successful.”
High school coaches occasionally have to deal with disciplinary issues or players who are struggling to remain eligible for academic reasons. What can they do to help players stay on track?
“Some coaches say they want to treat everyone the same. That’s the wrong way to look at it. I treat everyone fair; I don’t treat everyone the same. That’s how life works. When you’re not accountable in the way that’s necessary to be a student-athlete, you don’t practice. You don’t participate. I don’t care who you are. I’ve benched players in the NFL for conduct detrimental to the team. Good players understand. If they don’t play, that gets their attention.”
How has strength and conditioning changed at the highest level of football over the last decade?
“It’s in line with the evolution of all sports. You have to keep up with it. The strength coach is called a head coach now. It’s so important. He is in contact with the kids more than anybody. He spends more time with them after spring ball. That’s how you build a program. Hire a guy that has a mindset of developing bodies with the nutrition that’s needed.”
Are you surprised by the time commitment head coaches make at the college level?
“No, because you only get 20 hours a week. You have to allocate that time efficiently. I always tell coaches this: ‘Players don’t have the ability to spend as much time as you do. It’s one thing we know. You have to teach the players what you know in the time that’s available to you.’ Most of the coaches have been at this level before. We hired a really good staff of coaches.”
Building a Culture
Some coaches find that the spring can be a difficult time to motivate players, with the next game still several months away. Not Herm Edwards.
“I’m an energetic person,” Edwards said. “I wake up every morning motivated to help coaches and players get better. I choose four or five players every day, and I have a conversation with each of them. There are two types of leaders – people who lead from their seat and people who lead from their feet. I choose my feet. I’m everywhere – in the locker room, weight room, in the training room.”
Edwards also recognizes that what works for one player might not work for another.
“There are different types of guys – confident guys, type A personalities,” Edwards said. “Even those guys need certain things. We all have bad days. They’re all different. That’s the uniqueness of coaching, managing personalities. How do you capture their attention? That’s important. When I sit in a leadership position, I have to provide hope. That’s one of the strongest, most powerful words in the dictionary.”
Edwards believes the best coaches are constantly growing in the position.
“You learn it as you live life,” Edwards said. “I’m going to learn something today from somebody. You can’t wake up thinking you know everything. Everything I’ve learned, I’ve learned from someone else. That’s what’s great about life. There are always opportunities to learn.”