Ray Anderson wants to gloat. The Arizona State athletic director has enough I-told-you-sos ready to fill a conference room.
"I'm glad we were able to say we were right," Anderson said. "And you, frankly, were very wrong. You prejudged us vociferously."
Anderson is talking to me, to you, to anybody who doubted his decision 26 months ago to hire Herm Edwards.
Plucking a former coach best known for being an ESPN analyst had its flaws. So did trying to redefine the infrastructure of college coaching in a press release manifesto featuring a much-lampooned "New Leadership Model" filled with corporate buzzwords.
The New Leadership Model will allow for resource sharing and strategic planning between the football staff and administrators who are directly involved with the program. ... Sun Devil Football's existing recruiting infrastructure will be upgraded through additional staff support and evaluation resources, by instilling a culture of accountability at all levels ... The New Leadership Model affords coordinators and assistant coaches more flexibility in how they develop student-athletes on the field, and enables Sun Devil Football to build on the 'Championship Life' program already in place through the Office of Student-Athlete Development to better equip student-athletes with the tools and skills necessary to succeed in their respective future endeavors.
"Either this is going to be a wild success, the selection of this coach, or it's going to fail miserably" executive senior associate AD Jean Boyd said the time.
It hasn't failed. There are plenty of signs Edwards will be, if not wildly successful, completely capable. Turns out Edwards, a guy with eight years experience leading NFL teams, can coach a little bit. (That's meant as an intentional understatement.)
Edwards, 66, has brought a sense of calm along with competence and righteousness to Tempe, Arizona. His 15-11 record includes more than a couple of mid-level bowl appearances (1-1). There is a sense of purpose around the program. There is direction, a feeling the Sun Devils could win the Pac-12 South as soon as this season in Year 3 under Edwards.
Anderson calls it "DNA" -- code for being able to recruit California. Edwards' last two recruiting classes have included 24 Californians.
If the Pac-12 finally becomes a contender in the College Football Playoff, Edwards will be among the key influencers. His style works. You have to account for Arizona State now. It far from an easy out.
Oregon is currently the class of the league. Cal is ready to ascend. Stanford and David Shaw have established physicality.
If Arizona State doesn't win the South, it looks like USC might.
"To me, it's like the NFL," Edwards said. "OK, what conference are you in? We're in the Pac-12. What is it going to take to compete in this conference? You've got to go after those players."
It will be tough to judge how teams will play out of the gate in 2020, but Arizona State might have an advantage. It has 13 early enrollees who benefitted from the Sun Devils getting in seven spring practices before the shutdown.
Those returning include Jayden Daniels, a sophomore quarterback dripping with potential. Among his accomplishments was outplaying Justin Herbert in a win over Oregon.
Edwards is a thinker. The only modern comparison to the current upheaval amid the coronavirus pandemic and how it is affecting sports is 9/11. Edwards experienced it first-hand that year as coach of the New York Jets.
"This is a worldwide deal," he said. "I think sometimes we lose sight of that. … There was a period of mourning we went through and then went back to work. This isn't that. This is something you can't see.
"Here's the sad part right now. We don't have an answer for a cure. When I look at this death toll, it's almost like you can't really fathom this is happening."
Edwards is also a dreamer. He grew up in the 1960s and attended Cal, the center of the Free Speech Movement. He weighed in recently on Black Lives Matter.
Speaking of those '60s, Edwards loves talking about seeing Jimi Hendrix at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, when he was 13.
"Babysitter had the tickets. She says, 'You want to go to this?' Sure. You see the guy up there? You look up there, this dude is left-handed. That's the first thing I noticed. Then he started playing. That's the concert where he burned the guitar."
Hendrix famously poured lighter fluid on his guitar, lit it, smashed it and threw the remains in the audience. Herm remains a fan to this day.
"Best babysitter I ever had," Edwards said.
Forget Googling the complete list of 66-year-old Division I coaches who have Hendrix blaring out of their office. You just read about him.
Edwards gets credit for remodeling his Arizona State staff following departures and firings. The best part was co-defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis being right there.
After 16 seasons as head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals, Lewis settled in the Valley of the Sun. Edwards brought in his old friend as an analyst in 2019. When coordinator Danny Gonzalez left become coach at New Mexico, Lewis, 61, was promoted.
"I lose a really good coordinator," Edwards said. "Guess what? I get Marvin Lewis."
Critics rolled their eyes at the "NFL model." Boyd was named de facto "general manager;" Herm was the "CEO." There is a heavy NFL flavor on the staff.
And so far, it's all working to the point there is a future at Arizona State. It starts with the game's sixth-oldest coach.
"Some people just indicted us," Anderson said. "'What a disaster it's going to be. It's the worst hire in college football. It's arrogant, and this NFL stuff will never work.'
"I am hoping, in quiet moments, [the critics] will say they are wrong."