Herm Edwards is the new head coach for Arizona State University’s football team, and he has a plan for building the players into complete student athletes.
Edwards entered the NFL in 1977 with the Philadelphia Eagles before playing for the Atlanta Falcons and Los Angeles Rams. After 10 years on the field as player, he transitioned to coaching, starting at San Jose State University in 1987 as a defensive backs coach. He later served as head coach for the New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs before becoming a TV personality on ESPN in 2008. After 10 years off the field, he now returns to the grass as the head coach for ASU.
His goal as head coach isn’t to help make the best players, but to provide the instruction and materials to help young men become complete student athletes. Edwards warns that only two percent of all college-level players will make it to the NFL. Even after that, the average pro football player’s career is only 3.2 years. Edwards says it’s important to not only teach players to be good at the sport, but to help them become good at life.
“When a young man leaves our campus as a student athlete, we want to make sure he’s a complete student athlete,” Edwards says. “He has a degree in his hands and he understands how to live up to the standards of what it takes to be a part of this football team. He’s also well-equipped to go on to his life work if it’s not football.”
Within the PAC-12, Edwards praises the Harvard team and how it operates. Harvard has won four of the last six conferences, and one of the key reasons is their competitive consistency. It’s a skill that he hopes he can instill in ASU players.
A foundation of trust and respect must be built between players and coach for the team to succeed. A new coach always understands they are joining a team that has mostly been built by the previous staff, Edwards says. Strengths and weaknesses must be assessed, and a leadership group should be in place. It’s not about how to make a player better, but how a coach can elevate their talent.
“When I took the job I told the players there has to be a feeling out period,” Edwards says. “They are going to have to learn to trust me, and I have to learn how to trust them. I have to earn that every day through how I talk and through my actions. Do my words and actions match up? I live that way. Not only in the building, but when I leave the building… My words and actions match up, and they see that. They watch you. That’s how you earn their trust.”
In 2009, Edwards was hired as an analyst for ESPN’s “NFL Live.” He says that experience for him away from being physically on the field has helped him. The view in front of him wasn’t limited to one team or one conference. He was able to analyze the big picture of football.
ASU Athletic Director Ray Anderson approached Edwards with the proposal of coming to ASU as head coach. Edwards says he easily could have ended his career at ESPN, but Anderson presented an opportunity that was the right fit for him.
“I missed the players,” Edwards says. “I missed the ability to teach young men. I missed the ability to teach on the grass. I’ve always been on the grass and surrounded by men who are trying to achieve something great.”
Edwards says the difference between coaching in the NFL and at the college level is minimal. At the professional level, players are looking for coaches who can help them stay in the league. In college, players are looking for coaches who can help get them into the league. Edwards says he knows the formula to get them there, but the objective of coaching isn’t just to teach a man about playing a sport.
“I would hope when a player leaves here, he’s a better man because he played for me,” Edwards says. “That’s what I would hope – that he wasn’t just a football player. Only two percent will make it professionally. What do the rest of them do? What do they get from their college experience playing here? Are they better men? If they’re better men, they’ll be good fathers. They’ll be good community leaders… They carry a little bit of you for the rest of their life. That’s making a difference. Not because they might play in the league for three years… What did you learn from football? How did the great game of football develop you as a man? That’s what so great about this game. This game is life lessons.”
Some are skeptical about Edwards taking on the ASU team. They wonder if the 64-year-old will be a placeholder until a younger coach takes over. There are critics who discuss how the game and players have changed since he was last on the field, and suggest that Edwards may not know how to effectively coach anymore. To that, Edwards says he’s changed too. He’s taught football at every level, and he says the key has always been about communication. Life is about communicating, he says.
“I don’t do things if I’m not committed,” Edwards says. “It took me 46 years before I decided to get married. Once I got married, I was committed. This [coming to ASU] is a marriage… There are three priorities in my life: my faith, my family, my occupation. When those three things are aligned, I understand how I have to operate everyday. I don’t complicate it. The occupation has to be last. My occupation will never define me as a man. I always tell the players, don’t let the game of football define who you are, because you’re better than that.”
Edwards will be working relentlessly with the team until the season starts again in the fall. He’ll also be a part of the scouting process for new players. One of his jobs will be to convince both the player and their parents why Arizona State is the right place for them to be.
“I can’t give your child talent,” Edwards says to parents. “I can’t promise you he’s going to be a pro football player. I can promise you this: Whatever talent he has, he won’t waste it. I won’t allow him to embarrass your last name or this university’s name when he’s a student athlete on this campus. If he does correctly what he’s supposed to do, he’ll walk out of here with a degree. I’ll hold him accountable for this.”