HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — In the Grand Canyon State, college football is entering a new era. And for the first time, the new coaches at Arizona and Arizona State, Kevin Sumlin and Herm Edwards, respectively, shared the stage during Wednesday’s Pac-12 Media Day.
There could have hardly been a bigger contrast.
Edwards took the podium first at the Loews Hotel Ballroom, drawing a crowd of reporters five rows deep. By this point, the first-time college head coach is a bit of a known commodity. Since taking the job last December, Edwards has already fulfilled nearly 200 media requests and opened the lid on his program during spring practice, allowing media and fans alike an up-close glimpse into his program.
The transparency did not translate to trust though. ASU was picked to finish a last-place sixth in the Pac-12 South preseason media poll. Edwards, who worked as a football television analyst for nine years at ESPN before taking the ASU job, cared not.
“Doesn’t matter to me,” Edwards said. “We don’t go by polls. We’ve got our own aspirations. I told you at the press conference, we’re trying to win a Pac-12 Championship.
“So whatever people write, they can write what they want. That’s good. Hopefully, no players are listening to that, because no coaches are listening to it.”
On Wednesday, some coaches didn’t need the full 30-minute allotment of time to answer all questions. Edwards probably could have gone on all day. He’s affable, honest and unabashed. And the more he talks, the clearer it becomes: He’s not putting on a show for the camera. This is who the real Herm Edwards is.
A telling moment: Edwards was asked what he’s looking for in players ASU recruits. The 64-year-old began revving up for another long answer.
“I’m real big on — and I shouldn’t do this, but I’m going to do it. I’m at the point in my life that really…”
The reporter cut him off: “Nobody’s listening. Nobody’s listening anyway.”
Edwards didn’t skip a beat.
“I hope they are listening. I don’t say stuff where I worry about if people are listening or not. I just tell the truth.
“Obviously, you haven’t spoken to me before. So this might be reference to you, too, because you’re holding that mic: There’s two type of people in this world: There’s the people that are interested, and there’s people that are committed. I want committed players that want to be the best student-athlete that they can be, along with playing the game of football. That’s the kind of person I want, OK? Is that OK for you? Good enough answer?”
An hour later, Sumlin took the same seat and was posed the same question. This time there was no interruption.
The moment served as a microcosm of what might be to come for the state’s new football coaches. Sumlin is entering his 11th season as an FBS head coach. He has a track record of success — though he could never get his last school, Texas A&M, over the hump in the SEC — and fits the mold of a modern-day head coach.
His hiring was widely accepted as a good move in Tucson. His every action won’t be scrutinized. The Wildcats were picked to finish third in the Pac-12 South preseason poll, partly reflective of the greater trust the media at-large has in the direction of Arizona’s program
Conversely, Edwards will be under the microscope. He is at the forefront of ASU’s “new leadership model” experiment, a new top-down philosophy the program hopes will reinvent how to win in the sport. Most outside observers couldn’t be more skeptical.
Like their predecessors, Edwards’ and Sumlin’s tenures in the desert will be linked. Each accomplishment will be compared to the other’s along the way. That was the case for Todd Graham and Rich Rodriguez, the former coaches of the Sun Devils and Wildcats, respectively. They were both hired ahead of the 2012 season and produced mirroring early successes (each won a Pac-12 South division title in their first three years) before steady declines (both were fired this offseason).
It will make the rivaling philosophies of each program easy to compare, starting with opening day this fall, which is now just 37 days away.
“My expectation is to win,” Sumlin said. “It sounds kind of harsh, but I have to take care of everybody’s expectations I understand what the consequences are, believe me. I set the bar high for our program, I set the bar high for our players. That’s the way I’ve always done things.”
Echoed Edwards: “We have to continue to progress. With that being said, it’s a new system for players to learn. So offense will have to carry us some. But I think defensively as we continue to play during the season, we’ll get better, you know, and that’s how it works.”