As Arizona State Learns Fate, How Will Sanctions Suffocate the Sun Devils?

    The NCAA hit Arizona State with sanctions following COVID-era transgressions by Herm Edwards and his staff. What does it mean for the Kenny Dillingham era?

    Former head coach Herm Edwards has been out of Tempe since early in the 2022 season, but Arizona State is still reeling from the effects of his tenure — and will for another few years. How will Kenny Dillingham’s staff respond to the NCAA’s sanctions levied on the program?

    NCAA Hands Down Hefty Sanctions on Arizona State

    The Sun Devils agreed to having impermissible in-person meetings with recruits, offering inducements (basically pay-for-play incentives), tampering, and holding prohibited tryouts during the COVID-19 dead period.

    As a result, the NCAA hit ASU with numerous penalties that will severely impact the program’s ability to compete:

    • Four-year probation
    • An unspecified fine
    • Vacated wins (all eight in 2021 and two from 2022)
    • Scholarship reductions
    • Recruiting restrictions

    Additionally, four former staffers (offensive coordinator Zak Hill and position coaches Prentice Gill, Chris Hawkins, and Adam Breneman) received 3-to-10-year show-cause penalties, and the school must disassociate with a liable booster for five years.

    The ruling came just days after Michigan received its own set of penalties for recruiting violations under Jim Harbaugh, which were significantly less harsh than Arizona State’s punishment. According to the NCAA’s database, ASU is now tied with SMU for the most major infractions in the sport at 10.

    The governing body’s investigation centered around Edwards and former associate head coach/recruiting coordinator Antonio Pierce, who is now the head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders.

    When the inquiry began in July 2021, the four offending coaches either resigned or were fired, including Pierce, and haven’t coached college football since.

    Arizona State issued a self-imposed bowl ban in 2023 and limited road recruiting days for coaches in an attempt to mitigate potential penalties, which drew praise in the NCAA’s initial announcement:

    “Arizona State’s cooperation throughout the investigation and processing of this case was exemplary, and the cooperation began with the leadership shown by the university president. The school’s acceptance of responsibility and decision to self-impose meaningful core penalties is a model for all schools to follow and is consistent with the expectations of the NCAA’s infractions program.”

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    However, the decision to implement the bowl ban last season drew the ire of fans. Why did new HC Kenny Dillingham and his reconstructed coaching staff and roster have to suffer the consequences of the previous regime’s discretions?

    Of course, Edwards and former AD Ray Anderson still paid the piper, with ASU firing the head coach three games into his fifth season and former AD Ray Anderson stepping down in November 2023 amid several controversies.

    Herm Edwards Turbulent Tenure in Tempe

    ASU’s hiring of Edwards was questionable at best. He hadn’t coached since a three-year stint (2006-2008) with the Kansas City Chiefs, where he inherited a 10-6 team and went 9-7, 4-12, and 2-14.

    After leaving ESPN’s booth for the headset one more time, Edwards finished 26-20 as the head coach of the Sun Devils, defeating six top-25 teams and going undefeated against in-state rival Arizona. Yet, the experiment was an undeniable failure and set the program back years.

    In 2022, The Athletic published an article with bombshell information surrounding Edwards’ time in Tempe. In his final campaign, teams reportedly had no issue getting intel on ASU due to some within the program longing for a coaching change.

    The Athletic’s sources described Edwards as a coach who “never bothered to completely learn NCAA bylaws,” was “slow to realize that student-athletes differed from pro athletes,” and “yielded too much authority to Pierce.”

    On a Pheonix radio show shortly after Edwards’ introduction, Anderson said his longtime friend would act as the “CEO of football operations,” focusing on coaching players, developing his staff, and recruiting, leaving the details to others in the department. Perhaps those details alluded his staff, resulting in the various violations. If that’s the case, Edwards would have to eat the words he spoke as an analyst for ESPN in 2017 regarding a Louisville’s football scandal:

    “When the head coach says I didn’t know, I’m like, no, no, no, that’s your job to know. Your name is on this program. The assistant coaches, they come and go. Your name is on the program. That becomes your legacy.”

    The 2021 investigation resulted in a mass exodus of talented players entering the transfer portal, including QB Jayden Daniels (LSU), WR Ricky Pearsall (Florida), Jermayne Lole (Louisville), and LB Eric Gentry (USC).

    The Sun Devils are facing a similar situation in 2024, with star WR Elijhah Badger and redshirt freshman QB Jaden Rashada leaving the program for new opportunities. The recruiting restrictions won’t help matters, as ASU already ranked second to last among Pac-12 teams in recruitment spending last season.

    Dillingham’s squad went 3-9 in Year 1 (making the bowl ban moot), and their first year in the Big 12 doesn’t appear promising. However, Dillingham knows how to scheme an offense, quickly rising up the ranks from Memphis’ OC/QBs coach (2018) to Auburn (2019), FSU (2020), Oregon (2021-22), to the youngest head coach in college football (33 years sold).

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    He has surrounded himself with an impressive staff, including OC Marcus Arroyo, DC Brian Ward, special teams coordinator Charlie Ragle, Shaun Aguano (RBs), Hines Ward (WRs), Saga Tuitele (OL), and Diron Reynolds (DL). There is a vast amount of experience, both collegiate and professional, experience there, which should help Dillingham right the ship.

    However, while the foundation is set, ASU has a long way to go in building up its talent pool and re-establishing itself as a legitimate competitor — and the NCAA’s penalties only lengthen the program’s path toward relevancy.

    College Football Network has you covered with the latest news and analysis, rankings, transfer portal information, top 10 returning players, the 2024 college football season schedule, and much more!

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