Still waiting…ASU whiffs again on new football coach hire

The ASU search for a new head football coach is rolling across the Texas plains like a cyclone. Not just for the speed it’s moving, but the destruction it is leaving behind.

It has been just 10 days since Arizona State fired its coach of five years, Dennis Erickson.  But already the media has reported that the Sun Devils had made their hire – twice.  Both coaches were currently employed at Texas colleges.

First, it was the University of Houston head coach, Kevin Sumlin (see 12/03 Phxfan article).  Media outlets from here to the panhandle, including our own Arizona Republic, were reporting his impending hire.

The latest installment of the reports had ASU Vice President of Athletics Lisa Love leading a delegation that included the school president that was scheduled to board a flight Saturday morning to fly to Texas to seal the deal.

But the day before the scheduled departure, an ASU administrator told the media the school was no longer interested in Sumlin, perhaps the hottest prospect on the coaching carousel at this point in time.  One report indicated ASU President Michael Crow was the one that pulled the plug.

A couple of days later, June Jones, the Southern Methodist head coach, moved to the top of the list.  Again, the media reported he had been selected as the new head coach and would be formally announced at a press conference right about now.

Jones had even called in the other coaches who were out on the recruiting trail for SMU because he had something important to tell them.  It all pointed to his leaving that program and heading for the desert.

Then, ASU ended the speculation yesterday when, once again, Chief Operating Officer Steve Patterson announced the school had “made a decision to go in a different direction.”

That came after June had reportedly told his coaches at SMU that the deal with ASU was “95 percent complete.”  The contract was supposedly being finalized, with only a few final details left.

Junes’ agent, Leigh Steinberg, also had a comment about the situation.  In a post on his blog, the high-powered, high-profile agent called the abrupt cancellation of negotiations “bizarre”.

Steinberg appears to have laid the blame once again at Crow’s feet, saying “the principal decision-maker yanks the deal with no real explanation.”

So the bottom line:  ASU is still looking for a replacement for Dennis Erickson, who was fired after four straight years that failed to produce a winning season.

But what else has come from a couple of whirlwind courtships that ended in disappointment – and confusion?

There are the players that were affected at both Houston and SMU.  They read the media reports, too, and had to be upset about (supposedly) losing their coach.

And what about the high school recruits that had put their faith in the program, believing the head coach would still be there when they arrived?

Right when the speculation was at its peak and Sumlin appeared headed for the door, Houston lost the Conference USA championship game Saturday to Southern Mississippi, getting beat by 21 points.

How distracted were the Houston players in that game – a game so important that it ruined an undefeated season and destroyed the team’s chances to play in a BCS bowl?

And how does Jones handle his return to the SMU campus, where he has to face both his coaching staff and his players, who know he was within a first-and-goal of leaving the program?  That assumes he even has a job to which he can return.

And don’t underestimate the damage being done to ASU’s image, not just among the public and fan base, but to other future coaching prospects.  What coach wants to step into a situation that appears unstable, unpredictable, and just downright chaotic?

There’s still a relatively long list of prospects out there.  Let’s hope the third time is a charm.

But maybe it would be a good idea to go a little slower this time.  And keep things a little closer to the vest.