The Anatomy of Two Firings

I listened to the Eastern Michigan/Arizona State game on the radio this past Saturday. Why radio? Because I've been trying in general to listen to more sports on the radio in general lately, and specifically when it's late and I'm trying to prepare for sleep, to try to allow the words to paint a bit of a picture in my head as I head to dreamland.

I was quite pleased with the result, a 9-point Eastern Michigan victory, for a number of reasons. One, you know I love me some upsets. Two, I lamented the paucity of upsets in my Week 1 column, but Weeks 2 and 3 have more than made up for that. Three, I like Eastern Michigan. They are my second favorite MAC team behind my hometown Akron Zips. I feel bad for them, because they don't really get to claim any geographical purview of their own, sharing a county with the University of Michigan.

I was quite surprised, however, to learn that after the game, Herm Edwards was relieved of his duties as ASU head coach.

I still remember hearing about Edwards' hiring five years ago, and, like a lot of people, I found it to be a real head-scratcher. American football fans, even semi-casual ones, are familiar with Edwards. Perhaps most of us knew him first as the beneficiary of the most famously boneheaded error in NFL history. Then, we knew him as the head coach of the Chiefs and Jets, the latter of whom he guided to three playoff berths in five years.

Still, most of us know him from his viral clip where he took great offense to a suggestion that the Jets might punt on a season that started irredeemably poorly..

Edwards can count himself lucky that his viral moment is one where he comes off well: passionate and with deep convictions.

So what I'm saying is, he's a likable guy, but when ASU hired him as head coach, he had been off the sidelines for 9 years, had finished 19-46 in his last four seasons coaching in the NFL, and had virtually no college coaching experience. It didn't seem like a good move.

But it kind of worked! Kind of. He went 26-20 as the Sun Devils head coach, including 17-14 in Pac 12 play.

No fan base is clamoring for 17-14 in conference games, but 1) it does keep you ahead of the median, and 2) not every school can have the expectations of an Alabama or an Ohio State. At those schools, 17-14 is fireable. In the Pac-12, it's probably fireable for Oregon, USC, and maybe UCLA and Utah.

Other schools need to take whatever success they can get. If that sounds harsh, understand that what I mean by that is if you aspire to be a perennial contender, or at least better than making a bowl every other year, you need to start with stability. Impulsive firings, especially ones that take place mid-season, is the breeding ground of instability.

And make no mistake, this was an impulsive firing. Proponents of Edwards' ouster might point to the NCAA looking into recruiting violations and misdeeds by the Edwards' regime, and I'm not defending those. I am saying, however, if you want to can a guy for not running a clean program, the offseason is the time to do it. By allowing him to start the season, you are sending a clear message of support for that coach.

Bottom line: I'm just having a real hard time buying any argument that Edwards wasn't chiefly fired for losing to Eastern Michigan, and I think his on-field results warranted surviving that loss, especially since he want undefeated against rival Arizona in his tenure.

Then there's the case of the other mid-season firing of note, Scott Frost. I don't think I've ever seen a hot seat as hot as the one Scott Frost came out of last season with. My heart bled for him, because I was certain that he was going to get fired, which after that record number of close losses just made him seem incredibly unlucky. I grant that if you never win close games, as seemed to be the case with Frost, the problem might be larger, and more resolvable, than luck.

Still, I thought keeping him on by the powers that be at Nebraska, and allowing him the chance to redeem himself, was the right move. Then he lost a close loss again to Northwestern. Ouch!

Then, two weeks later, you know what happened: another close loss not to a ruddy-cheeked, stout Big Ten West foe, but Georgia Southern. Major, major upset, as Georgia Southern was +22.5 underdogs and Nebraska is just in another league, figuratively and literally, in terms of resources, support, and money.

Mid-season firings, as I stated, engenders instability, and should only be done in drastic cases. This was one of those. Frost survived the offseason by the skin of his teeth, and then doubled down in the most horrific of ways on the reason his job was in jeopardy to begin with.

But what made this an especially savvy move by Nebraska is that they fired them when they did. They could have waited until October 1st or after, and saved themselves $7.5 million by so doing; October 1st was the prescribed date in Frost's contract that states his buyout drops from $15 million to $7.5 million (approximately) if he is still head coach.

Nebraska's season is already shot, so why not just wait a few weeks and save yourself some money? The only reason is to send a message to your legion of supporters and fans: this isn't acceptable to us, either. It was an expensive, but warranted and important gesture to Nebraska fans.

Frost was a Husker hero from his playing days who achieved nigh unimaginable success coaching Central Florida. He was hired as Nebraska's head coach on December 3, 2017. Edwards was hired by Arizona State the day before. In terms of their tenures at their most recent schools, they are almost exact contemporaries.

Put another way: Frost was the right hire, and was fired at the exact right time. Edwards, at least on paper, was the wrong hire, exceeded expectations, earned more of a leash than he got, and was fired at the exact wrong time. Expect Nebraska to succeed on the field again sooner than Arizona State.

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