Two weeks into the season, Herm Edwards seemed well on his way to proving the doubters wrong.
The new head coach of the Arizona State Sun Devils football team was 2-0 and coming off an upset victory over a ranked Michigan State team on national television. The victory moved the Devils into the top 25 and was discussed for days on every sports channel, including on ESPN, where Edwards had worked for the previous nine years.
But fortunes can change quickly in college football. Edwards' Sun Devils have lost four of their past five games -- although they have been competitive in all of them, as all four losses have come by exactly seven points.
"If I was, I guess, in Vegas or gambling, boy, I’d be betting on seven all the time and we’d be winning," Edwards joked during his Monday press conference.
But despite his team's recent struggles, Edwards knows the importance of staying the course -- and at age 64, he's certainly not planning on changing that philosophy.
"I think the thing you have to realize is you have to stick to your plan. You can’t panic. You cannot panic, and I won’t," Edwards said Monday as the Sun Devils prepare to face USC on the road Saturday afternoon.
"Look: You guys have watched me coach seven games. You see any panic in me? You won’t. You just won’t. I have a great view and vision of what we’re trying to do here, and I think the players understand that, the coaching staff understands that, the administration understands that. We’re all on the same page."
Despite being tucked away in the southwest and playing most of their games after a majority of football fans go to bed, Edwards knows he's under a microscope in Tempe. Experts questioned ASU athletic director and former pro sports agent Ray Anderson's decision to hire Edwards, his former client who went 54-74 as an NFL head coach and had never served as a head coach in the collegiate ranks.
But there's no doubting Edwards' abilities as a motivator, and Sun Devil players have spoken at length about how much they love playing for him. Edwards works them hard, though; with rare exception, he required his team to practice outside during the summer heat, rather than in the climate-controlled Dickey Dome.
"It’s hard because I feel bad for the players. I really do, because of the effort and everything they put into it," Edwards said about his team's struggles.
But Edwards is confident that the scoreboard will eventually begin to reflect the amount of work and preparation his team puts in every week.
"I said this when I took this job: When those players walk into that stadium, especially our stadium, and they walk by that Tillman statue -- whatever they have, they’ll leave on the grass. Now, we haven’t won enough games. But their effort? You will not question that. And that has never been a question," he said.
"Now, we’ve got to win more games. I want to win games. I mean, this is too hard (not to). Waking up at 4 o’clock in the morning every day and coming over here, and spending 13, 14 hours a day, that’s not fun. But there’s a process, and anytime I can get a player better and I see players getting better, I’m OK with that, because we’re getting better."
Edwards acknowledged that losing can sometimes become a mental barrier, especially for less experienced players, of which ASU has plenty. But he knows there's still time to turn things around, beginning with Saturday's matchup against the Trojans.
"Eventually, those things — you get closer and closer and closer, and all of a sudden you start winning those games, and then it becomes a little bit of your DNA, and you know, OK, this is what we do now," he said.
"We’ve gotten close; we’ve just got to go win a couple of those. We’ll have some chances. We’ve got five more. We’ve got chances still. We’ve got a chance this week, but we’ve got to play really, really good, and we know that. And we’ve got to get them ready to play good."