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Full-court press: Five hires that define AD Ray Anderson's tenure

Anthony Totri Avatar
April 17, 2022

Arizona State Vice President for University Athletics Ray Anderson has taken some heat over the last few years. The demands for Anderson’s firing stem largely from the Sun Devil football team’s lack of success since Anderson hired coach Herm Edwards, his friend and former client while Anderson was an agent. 

ADs are largely judged on their football and men’s basketball hires because those are the two sports that most often generate revenue for the athletic department. Anderson was hired in January 2014. For the most part, the Sun Devils’ revenue sports have not met competitive standards or expectations, but the full picture of Anderson’s performance is more nuanced when weighing other hires.

Anderson has hired a handful of coaches that have brought programs back to life, and others who have enjoyed success from the jump such as women’s triathlon coach Cliff English, whose team just won its fifth straight USA Triathlon women’s collegiate national championship.

So do a handful of successful hires outweigh some key, unsuccessful ones?

Arizona State’s Cohlton Schultz gets a high-five from coach Zeke Jones after scoring a fall against Cornell’s Lewis Fernandes at 285 pounds during the second session of the 2022 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit. (USA TODAY NETWORK)

Zeke Jones, wrestling (hired in 2014)

University president Michael Crow was clear with Anderson before the hiring of wrestling coach Zeke Jones. 

“I said to Ray, either we’re going to have a wrestling team that’s going to compete for national championships or we’re not going to have a wrestling team,” Crow said back in 2015.

Both Anderson and Jones have delivered. Since the Jones’ hire, ASU wrestling has back-to-back NCAA team trophies, two individual national titles, four Pac-12 team titles, four top-10 NCAA finishes and 25 All-America honors. 

Outside of the triathlon team, Sun Devil wrestling has been the most dominant sport in Tempe for the past eight years. Not only was Anderson able to find a former Sun Devil to put at the helm of the program, but he hired one of the world’s best wrestling coaches. 

Jones was an Olympic silver medalist in 1992, USA Wrestling’s Olympic coach in 2012, and he has translated that high-level success to the mats in Tempe. Through his eight seasons, Jones has collected the title of Pac-12 Coach of the Year on three occasions (2017, 2018, 2020).

With no signs of the program declining, it’s safe to say that the Jones’ hire may be Anderson’s best to date. It’s the hire that keeps on giving. 

ASU swimming coach Bob Bowman, Michael Phelps and his son Boomer watch the finals of the men’s 400 meter individual medley on day two of the 2017 Arena Pro Swim Series at Skyline Aquatic Center in Mesa. (Getty Images)

Bob Bowman, men’s & women’s swimming (hired in 2015)

The ASU record books look nothing like they did before Bob Bowman took hold of the ASU swimming and diving deck. Bowman, formerly the head coach for Team USA and Michael Phelps’ coach, has transformed the Sun Devils swim program into a national behemoth. 

Despite the program redshirting the entire 2020-2021 season due to the pandemic, the Sun Devils didn’t miss a beat the past couple of seasons. 

“This gives us a longer time to rebuild the training they’ve lost during the pandemic, and it’s been substantial,” Bowman told Channel 12 in 2020. “It gives us a focus on next summer’s meets, particularly our Olympic trials and hopefully Olympic games.”

Following the redshirted season, the men’s swimming team finished third in the Pac-12 postseason and sixth at nationals in 2022. The women’s team finished sixth in the Pac-12 postseason and 26th at nationals. 

Anderson was able to kill two birds with one stone with this hire. Not only did Bowman resurrect a relatively average swimming and diving program, but he managed to do so by making Bowman just the third coach in program history to lead both the men’s and women’s squads. 

As Bowman’s recruiting skills continue to develop, Sun Devil swimming is headed up the national ranks. 

ASU coach Bobby Hurley pictured in a game against Stanford at Desert Financial Arena this season. (USA TODAY Sports)

Bobby Hurley, men’s basketball (hired in 2015)

The most animated coach in recent Sun Devils history has had a mercurial tenure. He coached the men’s basketball team to three 20-win seasons from 2017-2020, and the 2017-2018 team that earned the title of Guard U for the outstanding play of Tra Holder, Shannon Evans and Kodi Justice. That’s a team that featured former Sun Devil Remy Martin, who just won a national championship at Kansas, coming off the bench. 

In the years that Bobby Hurley has paced the Sun Devil hardwood, the ASU men’s basketball program has achieved national status as the No. 3 team in the country (in 2017). The Sun Devils also knocked off No. 2 Kansas that season. ASU cut down the same Jayhawks program a year later when Kansas was No. 1 in the country. 

“He makes you want to run through a wall for him,” Martin said of his then-coach in 2019.

There’s something to be said for the culture that Hurley has constructed in the ASU locker room. It’s been evident over the years that some players love Hurley and some top-tier recruits are committed to playing for him. 

On the flip side, Hurley’s teams have yet to really make a consistent name for themselves in the NCAA Tournament, the past two teams have managed just 11 and 14 wins, respectively, and a rash of transfers has some fans and analysts wondering what is happening on the inside.

Playing in antiquated Desert Financial Arena doesn’t help, but Hurley may not survive if ASU is unable to bounce back in 2022-23. The name recognition that Hurley brought to the program was notable and the recruits to whom he has access are on a level that ASU has not seen, but Hurley needs to get back to that level to prove that his hiring was one of Anderson’s best. 

Trisha Ford has ASU softball back in its usual perch as a national power. (Photo courtesy of Sun Devil Athletics)

Trisha Ford, softball (hired in 2016)

“She has elite expectations and recognized the innovative direction that Arizona State is heading,” Anderson said of the Ford hire in 2016. “She has great energy and I believe our student-athletes will buy into her vision for the program.” 

Hype aside, Ford has over-delivered to this point

You can say what you’d like about some of the other coaches on this list, but Ford has made a name as one of the best current softball coaches in the conference. What her team accomplished in 2020 during the pandemic was nothing short of remarkable. 

The Sun Devils went 22-7 in their 29 games played. ASU hosted several tournaments in the midst of the shortened season and went 19-4. If that’s not enough of a case for this Anderson hire, then take a look at what the Sun Devils did back in 2018.

Ford’s team made its 12th NCAA Women’s College World Series. She also won Pac-12 Coach of the Year on the back of the Sun Devils’ 48-13 record. 

All of that brings us to 2022. ASU softball is the most dominant in-season team in the desert. The Sun Devils have won 19 straight games. As the No. 13 ranked team in the nation, Ford’s squad has yet to lose in Pac-12 play and looks destined for a deep run in the postseason.

Herm Edwards is 25-18 in four seasons at ASU with three bowl-game appearances and one bowl win. (Getty Images)

Herm Edwards, football (hired in 2017)

Unfortunately for Anderson, this is the red-headed stepchild of his tenure at ASU. When Anderson first hired his longtime friend he said Herm Edwards would be a “central leader with a collaborative staff around him that will elevate the performance of players and coaches on the field, in the classroom and in our community.”

You could argue that since Edwards’ hire, ASU football has declined rapidly. The “central leader” has placed Sun Devil football in the middle of an NCAA investigation. Edwards and the program are accused of violating various recruiting rules, including meeting with recruits during NCAA dead periods. 

Those are just some of the off-the-field issues that the program has faced of late. The problems facing the team on the field are just as bad.

At the time of the hire, Anderson said Edwards “will be a dynamic and tireless recruiter. ASU’s latest recruiting class is ranked one of the worst in the nation (No. 105), and it’s ranked the worst in the Pac-12 (No. 12) by 247 Sports. 

With the team not drastically improving year over year, the product at Sun Devil Stadium continues to produce lackluster results. ASU is 1-2 in bowl games with Edwards at the helm. On top of that, Edwards’ teams haven’t finished a season ranked in the AP Top 25. 

His predecessor, Todd Graham, had two such teams. Edwards has been unable to coach his teams to more than eight wins in a season. Graham brought two 10-win seasons to Tempe. 

The expectation among media members is that Edwards will retire at the end of the 2022 season. If that’s the case, he will have failed to outproduce Graham in just about every category.

For Anderson, the only real thing that he could be credited for in terms of football is sinking the program into the mire of potential NCAA punishment, depending on the outcome of the investigation.

For better or for worse, Anderson’s tenure will largely be judged by the performance, or lack of performance by Edwards.

Follow Anthony Totri on Twitter

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