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Why Florida Gators, FSU fans should be grateful for Herm Edwards’ Arizona State era

Arizona State’s decision to hire and retain the former Bucs assistant had a domino effect to Florida.
Arizona State's decisions to hire and retain Herm Edwards (until this weekend) rippled into Florida.
Arizona State's decisions to hire and retain Herm Edwards (until this weekend) rippled into Florida. [ DARRYL WEBB | AP ]
Published Sep. 21

Arizona State’s decision to hire Herm Edwards in 2017 was a headscratcher. The former NFL head coach and one-time Bucs assistant had been out of coaching for nine years and out of the college ranks for almost three decades.

It ended poorly for the Sun Devils and Edwards, who mutually agreed to part ways Sunday. But Florida and Florida State fans owe him and Arizona State a thank you.

Before Mike Norvell became the head coach at Memphis and FSU, he was Arizona State’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. He did well enough there to get a head coaching opportunity with the Tigers and was 26-13 with one top-25 finish there when the Sun Devils’ job was open.

Mike Norvell spent four seasons as an Arizona State assistant.
Mike Norvell spent four seasons as an Arizona State assistant. [ RICK SCUTERI | AP (2014) ]

Norvell’s name was thrown around as a potential candidate. It wasn’t the first time he was connected to a Power Five job; he was on FSU’s radar a year earlier after Jimbo Fisher left.

Instead, Arizona State chose Edwards, while Norvell stayed at Memphis for another year before taking over the Seminoles. It took two-plus years, but FSU has finally turned a corner and enters this weekend’s game against Boston College with its first 3-0 start since 2015. Norvell’s success and connections are why he has been mentioned as a potential target in this coaching search, too, but it’s hard to see him leaving Tallahassee for Tempe.

Related: AP top 25: Why Florida State moved past Miami Hurricanes in our rankings

Not long after Edwards started at Arizona State, he promoted a holdover from the previous regime to associate head coach: Billy Napier.

The case for Napier as the Sun Devils’ head coach wasn’t as strong. Though he was well respected as Arizona State’s offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach and succeeded as an assistant at Alabama, he had never been a head coach before and was only 38 years old.

But the idea of giving the program over to Napier wouldn’t have been crazy. Louisiana Lafayette hired him the same month Edwards started. He shined in the Sun Belt and now has the Gators in the top 20 heading into Saturday’s “College GameDay” matchup at No. 11 Tennessee.

Related: Why Billy Napier’s personality is vital to Florida Gators’ success

Edwards’ departure was not a shock, given his mediocre results (zero top-25 finishes) and an ongoing NCAA investigation. The uncertainty had been brewing for months, which also helped the Gators and Seminoles.

FSU’s breakout star in last week’s win at Louisville was receiver Johnny Wilson, who ranks fifth nationally with 23.6 yards per catch. Florida’s top receiver is Ricky Pearsall (120 yards), who added some explosiveness to a unit that needed it. Both transferred from Arizona State.

Ricky Pearsall is the Florida Gators' top receiver.
Ricky Pearsall is the Florida Gators' top receiver. [ HANNAH WHITE | Courtesy of UAA Communications ]

It’s probably not fair to pin their exits solely on Edwards, but they were part of a broader exodus in the coach’s final offseason. The Sun Devils lost another talented receiver, LV Bunkley-Shelton, to Oklahoma, starting quarterback Jayden Daniels to LSU and freshman All-American linebacker Eric Gentry to USC. Clearly something wasn’t working under Edwards.

Related: Inside the 20-year relationship between Florida Gators’ Billy Napier and USF’s Jeff Scott

College football is filled with coaching hires that don’t work out, and every program has its issues. But the predictable ones that befell Arizona State under Herm Edwards ended up helping two programs on the other side of the country.

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