There was plenty of skepticism when NFL coach turned TV analyst Herm Edwards announced he was returning to the college sidelines at Arizona State.
It even extended to his own locker room.
“He’s completely different from what I thought,” sophomore running back Eno Benjamin said after the Sun Devils practiced at Bishop Gorman High School on Wednesday in advance of the Las Vegas Bowl against Fresno State.
“He loves what he does. He’s always been a football coach and that’s all he’s ever wanted to do and it’s what he’s done even when he wasn’t actually coaching. He’s a very fun guy to be around and very well-respected.”
Edwards, 64, was in the media for a decade after 18 years in the NFL before deciding to return to the college ranks for the first time since he served as a defensive backs coach at San Jose State from 1987-89.
“I’m having a blast. Are you kidding me?” he said. “This is what I do. This is who I am. This is who I’ve always been. All my life, I’ve had a love affair with football. It needed to be the right place for me to come back and this was it.
“I just took a sabbatical like a professor. Then I decided to come back and I’m glad I did.”
So are the 7-5 Sun Devils.
His team was picked to finish last in the Pac-12 South, but can finish with eight wins should they beat Fresno State (11-2) on Saturday in a game that airs on ABC at 12:30 p.m.
The Sun Devils won four of their last five to finish second in their division. They never lost a game by more than seven points with a roster full of underclassmen, particularly on defense.
Edwards is excited about the progress he’s seen from his team and the work he and his staff have put in on the recruiting trail.
He has certainly alleviated most early concerns about how he would be able to transition to the college game.
“It really wasn’t that big of a deal for me,” he said. “I’m a football guy. Why wouldn’t I enjoy (the recruiting process)? That’s part of the whole thing. I knew what I was signing on for and I was a college coach first. People forget that. There was nothing about the job that was going to make me go, ‘Wow.’”
While Edwards is building for the future, his quarterback is set to play his last game.
Fifth-year senior Manny Wilkins helped make Edwards’ transition to the college game smoother with his steady play this season.
He’s preparing to enter the NFL Draft with the lessons Edwards has shared with him on and off the field.
“He’s helped me grow so much as a leader and a man,” Wilkins said. “There hasn’t been one time where his attitude or emotions have altered because he’s talking to the media or the team or any one. There is no difference between how he treats everybody. That’s a very cool thing about him.”
Edwards, who has always had the reputation as a players coach, scoffs at any suggestion kids have changed over the years.
“Kids are different just in the sense they do so much multitasking,” he said. “You have to keep their attention and I think you do have to coach a little bit different. I saw that in the NFL, too. If you can tell the player why you’re doing something, you grab their attention. All players want to know if the coach can make me better and if you can make them better at their craft, you can keep their attention.”
So far, so good for Edwards.
Contact Adam Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on Twitter.