Arizona State coaching candidates: Matt Rhule, Byron Leftwich and Dan Mullen lead options to replace Herm Edwards
Herm Edwards was fired just three games into his fifth season at Arizona State on Sunday. The missteps that got Edwards to this point remain almost too laughable to write down.
When hired, Edwards was seen as an experienced honorable alternative to inexperienced cheaters. But he hadn’t coached in college for 29 years. No problem, said sporting director Ray Anderson, Edwards’ former agent. It would be an NFL model where Herm could serve as CEO-coach. Someone else would take care of the details like, you know, recruiting.
Critics have been told not to worry about Edwards as a recruiter. Even though he hadn’t coached in college for 29 years, Edwards would be at ASU as a figurehead. It’s fine if you’re Bobby Bowden and you’ve built a program from scratch. It’s another thing to inherit an intermediate Pac-12 that really had no plan until now.
Edwards was not bad (26-20). He probably has a standing offer to return to ESPN as a thoughtful, grandfather type analyst. But he was no good for a program in a beleaguered conference that ultimately wound up in a massive recruiting scandal of its own making.
Now, as an Arizona State fan, you have to trust Anderson to lead the coaching search. It’s already 0-1. We must also trust President Michael Crow, whofaster than a fast attack.
I always said it was hard to screw up the state of Arizona. Weather. The West Coast. The city of Tempe. You should be able to find 85 talented guys who would kill to play it. Yeah, well, ASU’s last Rose Bowl was in 1997.
Here are the top candidates to lead Arizona State out of the desert:
1. Matt Rhule, Carolina Panthers coach: The head of the clubhouse if he’s interested. Anderson loves NFL guys (obviously). If Rhule leaves the Panthers and isn’t picked up by Nebraska, it shouldn’t be a tough call for Arizona State. Dave Aranda at Baylor is still using the players left over from Rhule who helped him win the Big 12 last season. The accomplished program builder would be at home in the desert.
2. Byron Leftwich, Tampa Bay Buccaneers Offensive Coordinator: The former Marshall star quarterback is in his fourth year as the Bucs’ offensive boss. Tom Brady loves him. Leftwich already has a Super Bowl ring. Bruce Arians said he wouldn’t have returned to the Bucs without Leftwich. An underrated talent that you better believe Anderson has on his radar. NFL teams may also be interested.
3. Dan Mullen, ESPN analyst: Mullen needs to bounce back from the Florida experience. He’s on the typical year-long TV analyst rehab tour to keep his name there. Not that he needed it. The state of Arizona needs an identity. Mullen, with his offensive chops, would be that identity. Yes, it is weird. Maybe more than that. But as currently structured, Mullen could win the Pac-12. Soon.
4. Todd Monken, Georgia Offensive Coordinator: Monken needs a head coaching job — now. If for no other reason he took quarterback Stetson Bennett and made him one of the best offensive players in the country. He has a national championship ring. Monken has tons of NFL experience — recently, unlike Herm, who hadn’t coached at all since 2008 before taking on ASU. Head coaching experience during a brief unsuccessful run at Southern Miss.
5. Liberty Coach Hugh Freeze: We continue to insert Freeze’s name here. Sooner or later, a Power Five program is going to take a hit. It wouldn’t be too risky. Time heals all the wounds of NCAA investigations. Freeze is a brilliant offensive mind with tons of experience as a head coach whose past mistakes can be checked but ultimately overcome by Crow.
6. Bryan Harsin, Auburn coach: Harsin could be the next coach out, possibly as early as this week. We won’t bore you with chess in Auburn by Auburn. Harsin was a poor fit for The Plains, and not much is his fault. He had been from the start. Harsin is a West Coast guy whose style and personality matches the Southwest. I expect him to return to Boise State at some point if Arizona State doesn’t pick him up.
7. Jackson State Coach Deion Sanders: Anderson exited the script with the hiring of Edwards. Why not throw another knuckleball? I don’t know if Sanders’ top-level practice chops match his mouth, but I’d buy a front row to sit down to watch. Arizona State isn’t a top program in the Pac-12, but it definitely needs a shot of adrenaline. Considering Florida State is unlikely to be open, Sanders would be a bold choice.
8. CBS Sports Network Analyst Tom Herman: Herman has been gone too long. OK, it’s been less than two years since he left Texas, but he still has a lot to give to the college game as a head coach. Remember when Herman was the hottest thing at Ohio State and Houston? There is still a lot of that energy left.
9. Florida State Coach Mike Norvell: A month ago, Norvell was the runaway No. 1 candidate to replace Edwards. Then the season started, Arizona State headed south and Norvell is 3-0 amid what looks like a turnaround at Florida State. ASU was going to be his fallback as the Sun Devils’ former offensive coordinator. Now it seems out of reach.
10. Justin Wilcox, California Coach: Wilcox is a brilliant defensive mind who needs room – and budget – to grow. It’s a constant struggle at Cal, which doesn’t commit to football as much as other programs, even in the conference. That’s not the case at Arizona State, which will pay for the good guy.
11. CBS Sports Network Analyst Rick Neuheisel: Neuheisel, 61, lives in the Phoenix area and is a brilliant football spirit with deep West Coast ties. He doesn’t necessarily fit Anderson’s profile of a young rookie. We have a solution. Arizona State will need something unique as it is likely to go on NCAA probation. He must also stay away. Crow is an overbearing presence that turned against Edwards in the blink of an eye. Split the baby in half and make Neuheisel associate head coach/offensive coordinator for the new guy.