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ASU Football: Timeline and analysis of completed coaching staff

Take a peep at the new passengers aboard the Herm Edwards’ Express

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For any new head coach, putting a staff together can be one of their most laborious early duties. That task’s complexion and complication can grow tenfold, too, when both coordinators that were slotted to stay with Arizona State’s program didn’t.

As of Thursday, with the announcement that recruiting coordinator Donnie Yantis will be the team’s 10th on-field assistant (the maximum allowed), keeping his recruiting responsibilities, while working with the offense, Herm Edwards’ staff is set.

He endured a lot putting it together, too.

As alluded to earlier, the New Leadership Model, invoked by Athletic Director Ray Anderson to put the new football coach into a CEO role, largely revolved around the team keeping its coordinators: DC Phil Bennett and OC Billy Napier.

Edwards was not afforded the luxury of keeping them. But even so, he managed to keep a satisfactory amount of continuity on his offensive staff for a group that took major strides a year ago.

As for the defense that Edwards said needs to “upgrade,” he was able to bring in new coaches at every position — leaving the door open for Edwards, who has a background coaching defenses, to put his stamp on the unit.

There’s been a lot to digest from the moment Anderson announced Edwards the new head man at a bizarre and eccentric press conference on Dec. 4 to Edwards finalizing his staff on Thursday.

To help get refreshed on what went on how some slots opened up and who will be roaming the ASU sidelines next season, here is a timeline encompassing it all.

December 5 — Napier gets promoted, three assistants are retained

Edwards’ first act as the conductor of the ASU train was to promote offensive coordinator Napier to associate head coach and offensive coordinator. Spoiler alert: he leaves.

“Billy’s experiences while working on some of the top coaching staffs in college football will be invaluable as we move Sun Devil Football forward,” Edwards said in a press release from Sun Devil Athletics.

In that same release, Edwards also said that wide receivers coach Rob Likens, running backs coach John Simon and offensive line coach Rob Sale were all being retained.

December 12 — Bennett announces he’s leaving

Just eight days after Edwards was announced as the new coach, defensive coordinator Bennett turned down Edwards’ offer to stay on in the same role, citing family reasons as a determining factor.

December 15 — Napier takes the Louisiana head coaching job

Many believed that Napier would garner head coaching offers following a very productive season in his first go-around as an OC. But after Anderson explained how important keeping the assistants would be and Napier accepting the promotion, it didn’t feel like Napier was inclined to coach in a lower conference.

But that’s just what he did.

He accepted the head coaching job at Louisiana, a Sun Belt school, and left the ASU program immediately, as he did not coach a bowl practice.

December 15 — Rob Likens named offensive coordinator

In a swift move from Edwards, he promoted Likens to offensive coordinator just hours after it was announced Napier would be leaving.

Despite the fact that Likens does bring in plethora of experience, including two seasons as California’s assistant head coach and one as Kansas’ OC, this move seemed to be about keeping the continuity for quarterback Manny Wilkins and an offense that showed considerable promise.

Here’s a statement from Edwards regarding Likens: “There was no doubt in my mind that Rob Likens was the man we needed to step up and fill this role as offensive coordinator. Coach Likens provides much needed consistency and stability as we continue to build our staff.”

December 20 — Sale joins Napier at Louisiana

Although it seemed to be known that Sale was headed East by the fact that Edwards left his name out of the release which revealed Napier’s departure, Napier did not announce Sale would be his offensive coordinator at Louisiana until the 20th.

December 20 — Dave Christensen takes over for Sale as O-line coach

In another move that promotes continuity on the offensive side of the ball, Christensen was named as the new offensive line coach. Christensen wasn’t technically an assistant under Graham, but he did work with the Sun Devils as a staff consultant.

He last coached the offensive line at Texas A&M in 2015 and before that was the head coach at Wyoming from 2009-2013. But it was during his time as the OC of Missouri that Edwards once visited him.

“I knew then I wanted to someday work with him,” Edwards said. “He possesses a wealth of experience on offensive line play and will assist with game-planning.”

December 22 — Antonio Pierce leaves high school to become Devils’ linebackers coach

Before this hire, many didn’t know Pierce coached at all.

He won a Super Bowl with the Giants and he worked at ESPN (yes, with Edwards). Along with that, though, he was the head man of Long Beach Poly High School for the last four syears.

Pierce is obviously a name that many, including recruits, will know, but his coaching background is very limited. Long Beach Poly is a powerhouse, but it’s still not a university. It will be interesting to see how Pierce makes that transition.

December 24 — Danny Gonzales named defensive coordinator

It was an (almost) Christmas miracle — 12 days after Bennett announced he was leaving, Edwards and Co. named San Diego State defensive coordinator Gonzales to the same position in Tempe.

In his one year as the leader of the Aztecs’ defense, the unit was ranked 11th in country in total defense allowing just 303.5 yards and 18.4 points a game.

“Danny Gonzales has cut his teeth working with one of the top defensive schemes in the past decade of college football,” Edwards said. “In his first season as defensive coordinator, there was no drop-off in the production on the defensive end and he helped guide the Aztecs to a 10-win season.”

January 4 — Charlie Fischer takes over coaching the receivers

After getting named the offensive coordinator, former wide receivers coach Likens said of his group: “Those are my babies. Those guys are talented, couple guys need to mature a little bit, so it’s going to be very important who were putting in front of those guys.”

They decided that guy would be Fischer.

For the past two seasons, Fischer was the head man of Western Illinois, an FCS school. Prior to that, Fischer worked as an assistant at Penn State, Vanderbilt and N.C. State, among others.

January 5 — Tony White announced as cornerbacks coach and defensive passing game coordinator

The hiring of White addresses two major things.

First, with an entirely new defensive staff, Gonzales will likely lean on White early on. Why, you may ask? Well, White worked under and alongside ASU’s new DC for the past few seasons at San Diego State. He knows White, and maybe more importantly, has knowledge of the scheme he’ll run.

Second, White was also a recruiting coordinator at SDSU, getting named the Mountain West recruiter of the year twice. That’s an area ASU needs a major improvement in and one Edwards has put a huge emphasis on.

January 7 — Shawn Nua takes over as defensive line coach

Nua is taking over for Michael Slater (who wasn’t retained) as the captain of the defensive line.

And captain is a good word because for the last eight seasons Nua held the same position at the Naval Academy.

Nua played collegiately at Eastern Arizona Junior College before transferring to BYU, and now he seems happy to be back in the desert.

“This is literally a dream come true for me,” Nua said. “I am very familiar with the Sun Devil program and have experience in the state as Arizona is truly where I got my start in collegiate football.”

January 9 — Shawn Slocum retained as associate head coach and special teams coordinator

Following the firing of Graham, many believed that Slocum would make the jump back to the NFL, a place he had been for nine seasons previous to getting to Tempe, all with the Packers. Judging how long it took for this announcement to come out, it’s hard to think he didn’t test the waters.

Compared to his first two seasons in the desert, Slocum’s group faltered last season.

After having the second and first-highest graded special teams unit in the country in 2015 and 2016, respectively, according to Pro Football Focus, Slocum’s group regressed to 29th.

January 12 — Staff filled out, Donnie Yantis named assistant coach and recruiting coordinator

Through his first month, Yantis has probably spent more time with Edwards than anyone else. After Edwards finished up at ESPN, he and Yantis hit the recruiting trail together for about two weeks.

Being one of the most familiar faces to Edwards early probably influenced this decision.

Yantis has been ASU’s recruiting coordinator since 2016 and does bring in a coaching background. For 14 seasons he was the head coach of Paradise Valley High School in Phoenix before he took the head job at Arizona Christian University.

Yantis’ role is still a question. For now, it is only known that he will “contribute to the team’s offensive coaching staff.”