The Arizona State Sun Devils’ 2021 football season was played under a dark, looming cloud.
That cloud was an NCAA investigation into recruiting violations that surfaced in June 2021.
Arizona State got through the year with an 8-4 record in regular-season play before falling to Wisconsin in the Las Vegas Bowl, albeit with a lot of key pieces missing.
But it appears that looming cloud has since turned into a full-blown storm, as five coaches have either resigned or been fired since the New Year.
Two of the resignations include assistant head coach, recruiting coordinator and defensive coordinator Antonio Pierce, as well as offensive coordinator Zak Hill, which have both come in the last week.
However, Herm Edwards remain in line to be the head coach for the 2022 season.
Here is a timeline from June 2021 to February 2022 of the NCAA’s investigation of alleged recruiting violations by Arizona State:
“ASU can confirm the NCAA is conducting an investigation regarding allegations related to our football program,” Arizona State vice president of media relations and strategic communications Katie Paquet said in a statement to Arizona Sports. “In accordance with NCAA bylaws, the university cannot provide further comment at this time.”
The investigation looked into whether or not Arizona State hosted high school recruits during the COVID-19 dead period, and the news broke with a report from The Athletic’s Doug Haller.
Yahoo! Sports’ Pete Thamel reported in detail that Pierce allegedly led the charge in pushing the boundaries of allowing recruits to visit Arizona State’s campus during the dead period.
How he pushed other coaches to do the same, Thamel adds, led to disgruntled current and former employees. An anonymous ex-Sun Devil staffer submitted pages of evidence of recruiting violations, which sparked the investigation.
One of the allegations even included starting quarterback Jayden Daniels’ mom, Regina Jackson, who reportedly helped arrange and pay for recruits’ and their plane tickets.
Jackson denied the allegations, telling Thamel that the Google email address associated with the account that was purchasing the plane tickets had been compromised.
That includes screenshots of emails that show Regina Jackson, the mother of star quarterback Jayden Daniels, allegedly helping book more than $1,100 in flights for recruits and the adults accompanying them on a recruiting trip from Florida, according to the documents.
She added that she canceled the charges after it was discovered she had been charged for the airfare, while Daniels was not accused of any wrongdoing.
Then-tight ends coach Adam Breneman, defensive backs coach Chris Hawkins and receivers coach Prentice Gill were also connected to the details in the story.
Breneman was placed on paid administrative leave before the start of the season, marking the first of three coaches who would be placed to do so.
A little more than two weeks after Breneman was sidelined, Gill and Hawkins were also placed on paid administrative leave, marking the second and third assistant coaches to be placed on paid leave ahead of the season-opener on Sept. 9.
ASU filled the absences in-house by elevating consultant Donnie Henderson (DBs), grad assistant Bobby Wade (WRs) and offensive analyst Trey Anderson (QBs) as the responsibilities were reshuffled.
Six weeks into the regular season, social media caught wind that Pierce removed any affiliation with Arizona State from his Twitter bio.
SunDevilSource.com’s Chris Karpman reported that the team asked him for the time being to not recruit on the road.
Arizona State DC Antonio Pierce has removed reference to ASU in his twitter bio. Pierce was called the “mastermind” behind ASU’s recruiting violations pic.twitter.com/5sKZvxUDig
— WestCoastCFB.com (@WestCoastCFB) October 21, 2021
Weeks ago, Antonio Pierce scrubbed his Twitter bio of any ASU reference after it was requested he not recruit off campus due to the NCAA review.
Pierce is still recruiting in other ways and discussing plans for next year’s roster with ASU staff. More:https://t.co/e8Ll5jiSFX pic.twitter.com/aWfSkDI8Dl
— Chris Karpman (@ChrisKarpman) October 22, 2021
Immediately after the Sun Devils’ 38-15 Territorial Cup win over the Arizona Wildcats, ASU cornerback Chase Lucas said vice president of university athletics Ray Anderson told the team that Edwards would be returning as head coach in 2022.
Later in the postgame press conference, Edwards confirms himself that he will be returning next season.
“I’m the coach, I’m going to be the coach,” Edwards said. “There’s an elevator near the stairs I take and I told myself the day I don’t have the energy to take those stairs, I won’t coach anymore. I’ll be taking the stairs tonight.”
Offensive coordinator Zak Hill resigned due to his role in the NCAA’s investigation of ASU regarding recruiting violations.
It’s also reported by SunDevilSource.com that Gill and Hawkins were fired in January, while Breneman resigned.
An Arizona State University spokesperson confirmed to Arizona Sports that Antonio Pierce is no longer employed by the school.
ESPN’s Pete Thamel was first to report the news of his decision to resign on Wednesday (National Signing Day) and added that Pierce was eyeing NFL coaching opportunities.
The timing was significant.
Though the Sun Devils leaned on the transfer portal with 11 commits coming in from other schools, ASU’s 2022 recruiting class at the end of the day is ranked No. 105 nationally and last in the Pac-12 by 247 Sports.
However, that does not include transfers, where the Sun Devils rank 17th in the country and No. 3 in the conference.