LOS ANGELES — If you didn’t know better, you would have thought it was business as usual for Arizona State coach Herm Edwards at Pac-12 Media Day on Tuesday.
He smiled. He joked. He ranted about football matters. If it wasn’t the full-on Herm Experience, it was a close approximation.
But it isn’t business as usual for Edwards and ASU. The Sun Devils are under NCAA investigation — or “NCAA review,” as Edwards termed it — after multiple reports alleging that the program hosted recruits during the pandemic-prompted “dead period,” among other violations.
Edwards confirmed that tight ends coach Adam Breneman isn’t currently with the program. Breneman was placed on paid administrative leave by the school for undisclosed reasons earlier this month.
Edwards acknowledged the “review” during his brief opening remarks, adding: “We cannot comment on what’s taking place.”
He mostly stuck to that promise, saying the investigation isn’t a distraction and that he doesn’t expect it to become one.
“It hasn’t been a distraction at all, to be quite honest,” Edwards said. “If you watch our players work and our coaching staff, we’re excited about getting back in the building.
“We’re a focused football team. ... That’s kind of where our mindset is right now, as far as what I know, what I see and feel about the players.”
The initial stories about the ASU investigation were unusual in that employees of other schools commented on the allegations. Stanford coach David Shaw told Yahoo! Sports that hosting recruits during the pandemic was a “disrespectful thing to do.”
Edwards said he was unaware of what others were saying.
“I don’t really pay attention to that stuff. So I wouldn’t know,” Edwards said. “All I know is with all the coaches this week, the conversation is never brought up. It’s football season. Play football. That’s what we’re all here to do. That’s what you guys are here to do, to watch football, to cover football.”
Added cornerback Chase Lucas: “All this stuff that’s going on around us, that’s just the devil talking.”
ASU quarterback Jayden Daniels said the players held a meeting after the allegations surfaced. The team captains spoke to the squad.
“The main message was, ‘Focus on the things we can control. Keep the main thing the main thing,’” Daniels said. “That’s working hard, that’s getting to the season.”
Lucas said players were given the opportunity to walk out of the meeting and transfer if they didn’t like what was happening in the program. None did.
“Nobody stood up,” Lucas said. “Nobody flinched. So we’re just gonna keep rolling.”
Washington State’s Nick Rolovich was the only coach who didn’t attend Pac-12 Media Day in person. He was also the only coach who delivered a filibuster that lasted more than 10 minutes. It wasn’t a coincidence.
Rolovich couldn’t attend the event because he has declined to be vaccinated for COVID-19. Seemingly aware that he’d be questioned about his decision, Rolovich delivered extensive opening comments on multiple topics via videoconference. Finally, about eight minutes in, he addressed his absence.
“The reasons for my individual choice will remain private,” Rolovich said. ‘However, I want to make it clear I respect (and) support all the work being done by the state of Washington, who as a state has one of the highest percentages of vaccinations in the country. ... And Washington State University in navigating us all through this unprecedented pandemic.
“As I go forward, I plan on adhering to all policies that are implemented for the unvaccinated at the state, local, campus, conference level. I’m not against vaccinations. I wholeheartedly support those who choose to be vaccinated, including our players, staff, coaches.”
Rolovich said the Cougars have a vaccination rate of about 75%. Eight teams are at 80% or higher, Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff said, with half of those at 90% or above. Arizona is one of the four.
Rolovich was asked whether he was conveying a mixed message of sorts. He won’t get the vaccine, yet he is encouraging others to do so, including his own players.
“I hope everyone makes their own decision and listens to everybody they need to listen to,” Rolovich said. “That was not my intention at all.”
Rolovich appears to have the support of his players; linebacker Jahad Woods said they’re behind him “100%.”
“We have nothing but respect for Coach Rolovich,” tailback Max Borghi said. “Ever since he came in, he’s done nothing but prove to this team and to the community how much he cares about us.
“During the pandemic, he was helping small businesses. If a place was going out of business, he would go buy 140 meals for the team. He’s truly a good guy. He really cares.”
Lucas on this year’s Territorial Cup after last year’s 70-7 thrashing of Arizona: “I predict another ‘dub.’ ” Lucas added that he believes the Wildcats will be better coached this time. He also gave a shoutout to UA running backs coach Scottie Graham, who came to Tucson after working in the ASU athletic department.
Arizona placekicker Lucas Havrisik was the lone Wildcat to make the preseason All-Pac-12 Team. Havrisik earned second-team recognition behind Utah’s Jadon Redding. Havrisik made 6 of 7 field-goal attempts last season and regularly ranks among the national leaders in touchback rate. Cal was the only other team to place just one player on the first or second teams. That player, offensive lineman Michael Saffell, medically retired from football last week, after the voting had concluded.
UA coach Jedd Fisch said 93% of Arizona’s players have been vaccinated. He expects 118 players to be on the initial roster for training camp.
Fisch said receiver Jamarye Joiner won’t be 100% at the start of camp next Friday. Joiner had offseason foot surgery.
“Viper” Christian Young (offseason surgery) and receiver Jaden Mitchell (knee) are expected to be fully available, Fisch said.