Elyjah Doyle — a three-star member of Arizona State's 2018 recruiting class — was surprised head coach Todd Graham was fired hours after completing a 7-5 season with a win over Arizona. He doesn't believe Graham deserved it.
"I was not expecting Coach Graham to get fired," he told HERO Sports this week. "He has changed the program around a lot and also won the Territorial Cup . . . so i don’t think it was right for this to happen like this."
While Doyle, a 6-foot, 188-pound safety from Mission Hills, Calif., who picked Arizona State in June over Northwestern, UCLA and others, does not stand alone in the Sun Devils' recruiting class with that opinion, he does have confidence in Graham's replacement, Herm Edwards, and doesn't care about outside opinions of the hire.
"He’s a good coach," he said, adding there's no wavering on his commitment, "and I think he’s going to do a good job coaching us student-athletes at ASU."
All six 2018 commits I spoke with said they were caught off guard by the university's decision to fire Graham after six seasons. Linebacker Jacoby Simpson was "very surprised," JUCO linebacker Kendrick Catis said "things happen for a reason" and offensive tackle Hunter Mayginnes said he didn't think the "the record really showed what he did on the field."
Three-star offensive tackle Jarrett Patterson, the Sun Devils' second-highest-rated commit, went a step further. He noted the close games (two one-score losses and two more by 10 points in 2017), saying those "were easy to fix, so not sure what the big deal was."
All six players cited good relationships with the coaching staff as big reasons for their pledges, which may bode well for Edwards after the program announced on Tuesday that the entire offensive staff would return. That includes receivers coach Rob Sale and offensive coordinator Billy Napier, who was promoted to associate head coach.
"Napier and Sale are a big reason as to why I committed so early," said Mayginnes. "They really work a well constructed relationships with players."
Catis added the staff made him feel at home, Simpson said "they showed me a lot of love" and Patterson called the retained coaches "a great group" and he understands why they were kept.
What about Edwards?
As of Tuesday afternoon, five of the players didn't yet have plans to speak with him. Only Mayginnes — who chuckled at Edwards' comments to Devils Digest during his introductory press conference and said his new head coach seemed "inspirational and motivated" — said he will speak with him later this week.
"If you look at it from my view, Coach Edwards wasn’t the coach that recruited me so I don’t know how he feels about me," Catis said. "To be honest I don’t even know if he knows that I exist. He just got the job, so I don’t hold that against him. Maybe he’ll contact me sooner or later but it would be an honor to play for a great coach."
Simpson also remains firmly committed to Arizona State but admits the last couple weeks have been difficult. He is anxious to meet Edwards and believes talking to him would ease some frustration.
"Well to be honest, it pretty scary. It seemed like just a month ago ASU was the perfect fit for me but the thought of new coaches makes this process frustrating."
Patterson wasn't as committal. The 6-foot-5, 285-pounder from Mission Viejo, Calif., said the coaching change may cause him rethink his pledge. The nation's 42nd-ranked tackle picked Arizona State over Michigan, UCLA and others in August. His high school teammate, three-star linebacker commit Christian LaValle, said the change initially made him think but "not anymore because they want to keep most of the staff."
LaValle also doesn't care about the optics of athletics director Ray Anderson hiring his friend and former client who hasn't coached at any level in nearly a decade and hasn't been in college football since 1989.
"Well I wouldn’t call being head coach in the NFL a lack of experience," he said, politely pushing back when asked if Edwards' lack of experience matters. "Yes I see where there is confusion but [Anderson] has hired some pretty amazing coaches in other sports so there has to be a method for his madness . . . I trust in the process so I’m not worried."
To the same question, Simpson said, "No sir. I know that whoever ASU hires will do their best to win."
"I would say everyone has their opinions," Patterson responded. "I can understand the negativity because he has never coached in college and didn’t have much success in the NFL. He also has not coached in over a decade. Who knows, maybe it will work great."
Maybe it will. Maybe Ray Anderson and Herm Edwards will put a revolutionary stamp on college football. Or maybe it won't and the pair will be unemployed in the near future.
Whatever the case is, these six recruits — if they remain committed — and current and future Sun Devils will have a front-row seat to one of the most fascinating coaching experiments in college football history.