TEMPE, Ariz. -- It's a third of a mile from the Marriott Residence Inn on South Forest Ave. to Sun Devil Stadium. Living out of a suitcase from that hotel in his first three months on the job, Herm Edwards dutifully rose at 4 a.m. and got in a quick workout at the stadium before doubling back.

The Starbucks on Mill Ave. was a regular stop. It opened at 5:30 a.m. The homeless in the area began to recognize the new face in town.

"There'd be a guy," the Sun Devils coach said. "I'd give him some change and say, 'Go buy a coffee and something to eat.'"

Those around the football facility say Herm is being modest. The coach did not simply give one guy a few coins, he bought coffee for a passel of homeless and actually handed out Starbucks.

"You know where I learned that?" Edwards asked rhetorically. "Berkeley."

Herm is, of course, referring to California, where he started his college career 46 years ago. It's also a reminder that, in order to get to the bottom of any question with him, there is a price to pay beyond pocket change and coffee.

You always have to accept Herm's journey to the point. In this case, it is the digging down to the "why." Succinctly, why is he here in the desert?

The short answer is Arizona State has been so numbingly mediocre over the years that athletic director Ray Anderson was willing to try anything. He settled on hiring a 64-year-old former coach known best as a TV personality.

Never mind that Herm Edwards hasn't coached in 11 years (2008 with the Kansas City Chiefs) or coached in college in 29 years.

When he arrived last December, ASU revealed it was part of a "New Leadership Model" somewhat outlined in a 2,600-word press release that did for corporate communications what Louie Anderson did for Weight Watchers.

In clunky, verbose language, it was explained that Arizona State football would be run like an NFL franchise with Herm as the CEO. There would be a sport division and an administrative division. There would be a "recruiting infrastructure" and even a general manager.

Filling that role is Jean Boyd, who also doubles as an executive senior associate athletic director.

"Either this is going to be a wild success, the selection of this coach," Boyd said, summarizing the outside reaction to date, "or it's going to fail miserably."

Arizona State introduced Herm Edwards with plenty of fanfare. ASU Athletics

Back to Berkeley. Cal's campus in 1972 was where a wide-eyed son of a career military man landed for football. Except it was much more than that.

After serving in both World War II and the Korean War, Herm's father -- Herman Sr. -- couldn't be stationed in the South, as the son tells it, because of his parents' interracial marriage. Edwards' German-born mother is white. Herman Jr. is African-American. They lived in New Jersey.

"We went to California," Edwards recalled. "It was great."

He arrived at Cal at the tail end of the 1960s Free Speech Movement. Herm was amazed at the ideas and diversity on campus flowing through and around iconic Sproul Plaza.

"There was a microphone, free speech," Edwards said. "We'd sit there and say, 'Who's talking today?' You're kind of watching all this stuff. This is a place where everything is happening.

"The climate there -- you want to be a street person. My daughters have picked up on that. When they see people like that, sometimes they say, 'Daddy, you going to give that guy some money?'"

Herm usually does. Part of the reason he was brought to Tempe is the depth of his character.

You would want to play for Herm Edwards for the same reason I wanted to play for Herm Edwards after meeting him for the first time: He's real, inspirational, smart, fair.

The man could motivate cookie dough. He knows football. For the last nine years, ESPN let us see this, televising Herm so much that Edwards could have been his own network.

Talk about free speech. Edwards claims to have a "lifetime contract" if he ever wants to return to Bristol, Connecticut. That's a heck of a safety net.

But for now, this grand experiment has produced equal measures of snark and snickers.

What we're being asked to do is care about Arizona State football. "Care" might be too strong a word. Maybe a good start is slowing down by the side of the highway to see the spectacle.

A sample of that spectacle from Edwards:

"It's competitive consistency. Look at this conference. You have USC. Whoa! Washington. Oh! Oregon. Oh! That's not the teams. The team is Stanford. Here's why: The last six years they won the conference [three] times. That's what you want to become."

"You miss coaching. You miss being in the bubble. I've always been in a huddle with players or coaches. My whole life is that."

"I could have gone anywhere in the country. My dad wanted me to go to Stanford. I said, 'Dad, they wear white tennis shoes over there.' He said, 'Son, They burned the American flag there and smoked those funny cigarettes at Cal.' I was compelled to go there."

Edwards actually finished at San Diego State, but he is a man who knows where he came from -- and where he is supposed to be. Part of his value is measured in the Chiefs once trading a fourth-round pick to the Jets to land him as their coach.

At 64, Edwards is a rookie college head coach -- two years younger than Nick Saban, who is entering his 23rd year in that role.

If mentor and former NFL coach Dick Vermeil can take 16 years off between head coaching jobs, why can't Herm?

"Dick is like my second dad," Edwards said. "He still calls me once a month."

In the 40 years since Arizona State entered the (formerly) Pac-8, it has won exactly six games 13 times -- almost a third of those seasons. The Sun Devils haven't been to the Rose Bowl in more than 20 years. The 2017 recruiting class under former Todd Graham inexplicably had zero signees from California.

Edwards signed 13 Cali natives in his first transition class. Perhaps ASU needed this spectacle. Creating one is what has been accomplished, for the moment, by hiring this whirlwind.

"The guy on TV? I'm the same guy," Edwards said. "That ain't going to change. You don't forget football. You actually learn more football [being on TV] because you're sitting there with the wide view. You're watching every conference. College football is the lifeblood of the NFL."

Edwards could study a heck of a lot of film from 40,000 feet flying 6,000 miles roundtrip each week from his California home and Bristol.

"Sometimes I stayed four days, sometimes I stayed two weeks," he said.

Yeah, but here's the ultimate question regarding this hybrid, wacky, futuristic, cross-your-fingers model: Can Herm Edwards still coach?

You must first consider the fact Edwards was 20 games below .500 (54-74) as an NFL head coach.

"At this level, it isn't all about the coaching," Anderson said. "Good coaches don't forget how to coach. After spring practice, Herm has erased most people's doubts that he doesn't know how to coach."

After getting their first look at the new coach, observers have complimented Edwards' approach in those practices.

"I never use a cuss word. I don't swear," he said. "I'm a teacher."

The reaction to his much-discussed warning near the end of spring about "cutting" players was way overwrought. Edwards never said the word "cut" and was merely describing the process by which players are told they aren't good enough to play.

"One thing players know is the truth," Edwards said. "I don't try to run guys off. I say, 'You guys better compete because in life and football you have to compete every day.'"

The coach is proud of how he disciplined a couple of players whose grades weren't measuring up.

"A couple of guys went down to the locker room and their stuff wasn't in there," Edwards recalled. "They come up here. I tell them, 'Go over to the administration building where you have your academic counseling. Right now, your grades are down so you're not practicing. … Half your classes are online. It ain't that hard.'"

Herm Edwards is participating in his first college spring practice since 1989. ASU Athletics

The New Leadership Model included firing Graham but retaining coordinators Billy Napier (offense) and Phil Bennett (defense). The impression: The head coach wasn't good enough, but his coordinators were just fine. It was stranger when Napier left to become the head coach at Louisiana-Lafayette. Bennett stepped away for health reasons. The talented Danny Gonzales left San Diego State for his first Power Five job as defensive coordinator. New offensive coordinator Rob Likens was promoted from receivers coach.

You don't know whether to pull out crystals and start worshipping the sun or warn Saban there's a storm coming to take over college football.

Anderson wants to mimic the pro models at Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Clemson and even Washington under Chris Petersen. It's no accident those programs have a combined eight College Football Playoff appearances.

"The structure wasn't the traditional head coach, nine assistants, a few ops people and that was it,"  Anderson said. "You knew some hybrid models were happening out here."

Whether Herm can coach is actually the second-most relevant question: In this climate, in this metro area, on this campus once labeled by Playboy the No. 1 party school in America, why can't Arizona State consistently keep 85 highly talented scholarship athletes on its roster?

"Every time you have a change in leadership in the athletic director seat or head coach seat, you have to start over," Boyd said. "I don't think we've had a consistency in philosophy, top-down."

Boyd played here before getting had a cup of coffee with the Patriots and NFL Europe. In the 24 years since his graduation,  there have been six ADs and five coaches.

Anderson -- once Edwards' agent and NFL executive vice president of football operations -- has populated the administration with former NFL types. That partially explains the presence a former NFL coach.

"It's a success if, indeed, we … consistently finish in the top three of the conference," Anderson said. "That automatically puts us in the top 15 in the country."

The last time that happened here was 1997.

But in a Pac-12 that can use some positivity, Edwards is at least the perfect pitchman. The conference is coming off its worst bowl season, 1-8. For the second time in four years, the Pac-12 did not place a team in the CFP. That's going to happen when every team but one (USC) had at least three losses going into bowl season.

While Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin was all but shutting down spring practice from the media, Edwards couldn't meet a national writer he didn't welcome. He still appears on radio talk shows breaking down the latest NFL news.

At the end of our conversation, Herm gladly pulled out a binder labeled "Arizona State Recruiting." The guide compares the average size of Arizona State players to those at Alabama and in the NFL. Just in case you're wondering the stated goal.  

Anderson has been told that, if this works, he can forget about a mere raise. He'll be reshaping the industry, giving TED talks across the country. Arizona State is in the middle of a $300 million facilities upgrade that is making Sun Devils Stadium look like a palace. The school itself claims a total enrollment of 100,000.

And if it doesn't work, well, that's what was expected in the first place.

"I think anybody … would be skeptical," Anderson said. "Is this something that really makes sense?"

Arizona State's entire football program is undergoing a renovation. ASU Athletics