ASU head coach Herm Edwards talks about the first day of spring practice with the media. (Screenshot from Sun Devil Source YouTube channel)
TEMPE, Ariz. — The train left the station at 9:30 Tuesday morning, minus the frenetic pace of the previous six seasons.
The conductor, ASU football coach Herm Edwards, walked to the first day of spring practice rather than ride a golf cart or the tram. Once there, he introduced a noticeably different vibe with his players, who were fresh from being allowed to sleep in and start later.
The muscle beach rehab area was gone. The coaches’ demand of running from drill to drill was gone, and the barking and shouting that characterized Todd Graham’s disciplined, regimented approach was replaced by… music.
The players hooted and hollered when Nelly’s “Ride Wit Me,” came over the loudspeakers. As it played, Edwards did something most unexpected. He danced.
“That’s my song,” Edwards said, laughing. “That’s the one I listen to in the weight room at about 4:30 in the morning. There are some lyrics in there that are kind of funny to me.”
Edwards has repeatedly stressed that he wants his players to have personality. He wants them to have fun, and that emphasis rang true on the real Day 1 of the new era of Sun Devil football.
“We were all loose,” quarterback Manny Wilkins said. “Everybody was trying to be themselves but at the same time you’ve got to know that when you cross that line it’s all business.”
That’s a line that Edwards has drawn very clearly for his players.
“The more they are around me the more they will familiarize them with, ‘OK, we can go so far but we’re not going that far,’” Edwards said. “You always want to honor the game as a coach and as a player. It’s a game of enthusiasm. It’s a game of frustration at times. It’s kind of like life.”
Tuesday had many of the trappings of a first day of spring ball. There were dropped balls on offense, there were mental errors, there were technique errors and there was plenty of coaching including Edwards, a defensive coach by résumé, and defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales trying to impress upon their players the urgency with which they need to play.
“They’ve got to run to the ball,” Edwards said. “I told them the great thing about football is every time you practice you actually autograph your performance. The film doesn’t lie. No one’s wearing your jersey.”
Nobody expected Edwards to have a hard time relating to his players. There may not be a more enjoyable interview in college football, or a coach more comfortable in his own skin.
“He’s a very personable person,” Wilkins said. “He can relate to a lot of guys and he just keeps it real with you. That’s something he did coming in his first day and that helped him gain the respect of the players.”
While he was busy introducing his players to a new way of operating, Edwards admitted he was also taking joy in getting re-acquainted with his lifelong passion.
“This day couldn’t get here fast enough for me to finally get my feet back on the grass and have a whistle,” he said. “To orchestrate practice and just to watch it through my eyes, this is what I know. My whole life has been this.
“That’s my world.”