ASU's coaching search has gone from woeful to a complete disaster, and the repercussions from their botched efforts could set the program back for years.
As a columnist covering the Arizona State Sun Devils, journalistic objectivity is a necessity to provide accurate analysis on the news and events surrounding the team, even if it comes in a decidedly negative light. As a second-generation alumus of ASU, I hope for the best for the school and the team that has been a big part of my life.
There are distinct times and a places for each of those parts to be brought forward, and rarely do they intersect. Now is one of those few times where they are in total alignment.
This coaching search is an unmitigated disaster for the Sun Devils, and could very well set the program back for years.
The extent of the damage has gone beyond simply striking out thus far in an attempt to replace the fired Dennis Erickson. It has now cost the program two key assistants, likely several key recruits, the faith of a fanbase, a good portion of their upcoming dollars, as well as local and national respect.
But other than that, things are great.
ASU began this search a little over two weeks ago with one thing on their mind: Kevin Sumlin. The administration had identified the Houston head coach as their top target to replace Erickson and were prepared to meet with him after the Conference USA title game. However, when Texas A&M fired Mike Sherman and also made Sumlin their priority, the Sun Devils chose not to engage in a fight over Sumlin and canceled their trip.
Surely, ASU had a Plan B in place, as most well-run enterprises would have in a situation this important.
Nope, not at all. Let the panic moves begin.
Due to ties to SMU through major boosters and their hired search firm, ASU then approached SMU head coach June Jones over the same weekend they were originally due to talk with Sumlin. By all accounts, it went well, but the backlash from other boosters and nearly all of the fanbase was swift and decisive--no Jones. By that Sunday, it appeared ASU had made a crowed appeasing decision and planned to move forward with speaking with the still unsigned Sumlin, Southern Mississippi's Larry Fedora and Baylor's Art Briles.
Yet, the school then rekindled their talks with Jones again, this time appearing very close to consummating the deal. As before, the deal was ultimately pulled off the table. On the surface, it was seemingly due to the same fan and booster outrage, although the underlying reason behind the move was heavily steeped in Jones' character issues and concerns. For a university in as much NCAA hot water as ASU, the risk was not worth the potential reward.
However, Jones' agent Leigh Steinberg and the national media made efforts to paint ASU as having pulled the offer without explanation. ASU was not just without a coach, but in the eyes of many they were also the mean ol' university that got poor June's hopes up only to dash them without so much as a cruel laugh.
The transition from bad to worse was moving along in full force.
After the second Jones fiasco, ASU issued a statement urging people not to believe what they hear and to trust they were running a "broad, thorough and highly professional search for a new football coach". That also happened to coincide with a conflicting report from ArizonaSports.com that ASU's search would not consider young up-and-coming coaches who did not have prior head coaching experience.
The days began to drag on. Each passing day was one less chance for a new regime to begin assembling a staff or to try to keep Erickson's touted 2012 recruiting class intact. By the end of last week, all of ASU's preliminary and heralded targets had seemingly been taken off the list, either because they had been hired elsewhere or that they didn't meet certain criteria (Paul Chryst and Jim Leavitt).
All the while, the other schools around the nation were filling their open coaching vacancies, and this doesn't factor in the swift and decisive hirings that Washington State and Arizona made weeks ago. Fedora went to North Carolina, Sumlin to Texas A&M and UCLA finally made their hire with their--at best--fourth choice in Jim Mora Jr.
Still, ASU silently waited.
Talk then emerged that Tennessee defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox was now the favorite remaining prospect of ASU.
Hey, would you look at that? Progress! Awesome. Wilcox has an impressive resume and would seemingly make a great fit at Arizona State. He also would seem inclined to keep current offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone and wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator Steve Broussard, something very important to ASU.
Surely, ASU has already contacted Wilcox' camp and begun negotiations.
As of Monday afternoon, they had not.
Really, ASU? Logic would dictate that the purported Triumverate of power in this search--university president Michael Crow, Athletic Director Lisa Love and Chief Operation Office of Athletics Steve Patterson--had been diligently working on rectify this increasing bizarre and damning situation posthaste. But as has been proven time and time again during the last 16 days, logic has no place in this search.
Through that time, the damage to program had been largely external. Yes, the fanbase, boosters and media all expressed their dismay, disapproval and disbelief in how this search was playing out, but for the most part, that all occurred outside the protective walls of ASU.
But no longer. The final straw has snapped. After their national reputation and local goodwill had fallen by the wayside, ASU is now dealt a blow that many feared would come if the Sun Devils did not take swift action.
Monday afternoon, reports surfaced that UCLA was preparing to poach Broussard and Mazzone from ASU. Early Tuesday morning, that appears to have happened, as Broussard has reportedly punched his ticket to join Mora's staff in Westwood. Mazzone has also been reported as heavily leaning towards following Broussard out the door, either to UCLA or he could find his way onto Sumlin's staff at Texas A&M.
It doesn't end there.
With so many of ASU's coveted recruiting class tied to those two men, the outreach to transition the recruit's commitments to UCLA has already begun, and the damage there can not be undersold. This recruiting class was the one that would help ASU turn the corner from sleeping giant to Pac-12 power; the one that would lay the foundation for another golden era of Sun Devils football.
It very well could prove to be the catalyst in turning around a once proud program, but it will be the Bruins of UCLA instead of the sleeping Devils of ASU.
HouseOfSparky.com recently posted an article in which fans proposed songs of the soundtrack of the coaching search. While clever, those are now rendered irrelevant, as only a funeral dirge may be able to fully capture the essence of what has happened to ASU in the last six weeks.
On November 5th, the Sun Devils were 6-2 and the titans of the South division. Six weeks later, they are the punchlines of the sport. Even the most supportive and staunch Sun Devil supporters have already begun expressing their serious doubts, and many have taken actions such as stopping donations or canceling season tickets.
Whenever a hire is made, the Triumverate will undoubtedly polish the situation up in fancy rhetoric, and the coach may, just may, turn out to be a good fit. But at what price? The answer is clear: "far too steep". There is simply no excuse for the powers that be behind this debacle to remain in a position where they can continue to make such damaging decisions.
Change--in a form both swift and decisive--must be made. Again.
Until that time, there are but two things to do.
The alum in me shakes a disbelieving head to cover up a broken heart, while the columnist can do nothing more than type what could very well be an obituary.
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