(Photo: Nicholas Badders/WCSN)
The first big move of the Herm Edwards era at ASU was announced on Tuesday. Offensive coordinator Billy Napier, receivers coach Rob Likens, running backs coach John Simon, and offensive line coach Rob Sale will all be returning to ASU next season.
In addition, Napier has been promoted to associate head coach.
All the moves came as expected after athletic director Ray Anderson made clear at the outset of the coaching search that he wanted the Sun Devils’ assistant coaching staff to stay.
According to DevilsDigest.com, the future of ASU’s defensive staff will be determined in the coming day, once Edwards has a chance to meet with defensive coordinator Phil Bennett and others.
Due to logistics and conflicting schedules Herm Edwards hasn't met yet in-person with defensive coordinator Phil Bennett, and that is the only reason why there isn't any announcement yet on the defensive staff's future.
— DevilsDigest.com (@DevilsDigest) December 5, 2017
But, with the confirmation that the offensive coaches will be back, the first big objective of ASU’s offseason has been checked.
They are keeping their up-and-coming offensive coordinator for at least one more season.
“I’m thankful for the opportunity to work with Coach Herm Edwards as the Associate Head Coach and Offensive Coordinator,” Napier said via a university-issued press release. “The leadership challenge ahead is one I look forward to, especially considering the character of the young men on our roster. We’re going to work diligently to elevate this program.”
Added Edwards: “Billy’s experiences while working on some of the top coaching staffs in college football will be invaluable as we move Sun Devil Football forward.
Three Sun Devils Make All-Conference Teams
ASU sophomore receiver N’Keal Harry was named to the Pac-12’s all-conference first team on Tuesday, while defensive duo JoJo Wicker and Chase Lucas were tabbed for the all-conference second team.
Harry was ASU’s top target this season, hauling in exactly 1,000 yards in 73 catches, becoming the first Sun Devil to hit that yardage milestone since Devin Lucien in 2015 and just the third player to do so during coach Todd Graham’s tenure. The Chandler product also snagged 7 touchdown grabs, and chipped in a passing touchdown on a trick play against Stanford.
This is the second straight year Wicker, a defensive lineman, was placed on the all-Pac-12 second team. The junior led the Sun Devils with 12 tackles-for-loss and was second on the team with 6 sacks. Lucas, another Chandler native, was impressive enough during his first full season of college football to earn the honor. The redshirt freshman defensive back was called into action after opening day cornerback starter Joey Bryant torn his ACL in late September.
ASU also had a lengthy list of honorable mentions for the all-conference awards: Chad Adams (defensive back), DJ Calhoun (linebacker), Sam Jones (offensive lineman), Demario Richard (running back), Christian Sam (linebacker), Tashon Smallwood (defensive line), and Manny Wilkins (quarterback).
Sam might be the biggest snub, after he led the conference with 127 tackles, while also accounting for 9.5 TFLs, 3 sacks, and an interception.
Graham Looking Forward to Sun Bowl
Todd Graham will receive a fitting end to his time as ASU coach, as his last game in charge of the Sun Devils — the Sun Bowl later this month — will take place in his home state of Texas.
“I’m a native Texas, we have over 20 players on our team who are from Texas, got a huge alumni base in Texas. It’s a great place for us to be,” Graham said during a media conference call on Sunday. “I’m fired up. The Sun Bowl is going to be where I cap off a great six-year period for us and one that’s been one of the best six-year periods in the history of our school.”
It is the second time ASU is headed to the West Texas bowl game during Graham’s tenure (the Sun Devils won the 2014 Sun Bowl over Duke, 36-31).
“I was born and raised playing Texas high school football, and then became a Texas high school football coach because of the influence of playing football in high school in that great state,” he added. “I wouldn’t be where I’m at today if not for Texas high school football and what that state has meant to me.”
The Sun Devils will face No. 24 North Carolina State in the December 29 game, a team led by Arizona-native quarterback Ryan Finley.
“We just preliminary started looking into them a little bit. We thought there was a good chance we would end up playing each other. But we haven’t got into it extensively,” Graham said. “Their quarterback does a good job. As a matter of fact, he was a young man I recruited when he was here.”
While Finley, who originally played at Boise State before transferring to the Wolfpack, has been good this year (3,196 passing yards, 16 TD – 6 INT), NC State senior defensive end Bradley Chubb has been their best player on either side of the ball. Chubb was named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year and won the Nagurski Award as the country’s best defensive player after recording 23.5 TFLs this season.
“He is something special. He is a guy that you’ve got to know where he’s at, he’s very difficult to block,” Graham said of the potential first-round NFL draft pick. “They’ve got a bunch of great players and we are looking forward to the challenge. He is a catalyst no doubt on the defense.”
However, Chubb might follow the path of other top NFL prospects in recent years and skip the bowl game to instead prepare for the NFL combine and bypass a chance for injury.
“Nothing has been completely communicated yet,” NC State coach Dave Doeren said on the same conference call. “They are the kind of family that really talks things through and whatever they decide, we’ll sit down and talk through it and do whatever they feel is best for their son. He’s done everything he can for this football program and we understand he’s got a tough decision to make.”
Doeren also commented on what it will be like to face a coach in Graham who will be coaching his final game at a school. He said it is a situation he has never been apart of before.
“I don’t see it being different,” he added. “In this case, because he’s coached the last (six) seasons down there and this entire season and his staff is all the same.”
Doeren was dealing with his own job speculation over the past week, as rumors swirled that he might be ditching Raleigh to accept the head coaching position at Tennessee. But, what ever interest their was faded and Doeren will be returning to the ACC school for his seventh season next fall, and to coach the Wolfpack in their first ever Sun Bowl appearance.
“We had something going on here with job interest; not a lot of sleep, but it all worked out and ended up where we wanted it to be and excited about the results of it all,” he said.
He also said he and his players are on the same page heading into their slate of postseason practices.
“I met with our players after it was all resolved and told them how excited I was that it was over and excited about the security I have and the opportunity to continue to be with them,” Doeren said. “…It was just a big relief to have it over with on both sides. They were happy for me and I know those were a tough 48 hours on them. They were tough on us as well and I’m just glad to have them behind.”