The College Football Playoff semifinals were only boring to those who tuned in having successfully suspended their disbelief about the inevitability of Alabama and Clemson's title game rematch. Those who tuned in looking for subplots other than the final score were treated to transcendent quarterback play, existential mini-crises for two proud programs in the wake of nationally televised blowouts, a loose bald eagle and a broken headset. If they were lucky, they were also treated to Herm Edwards.
If you have never watched the Coaches Film Room channel on ESPN's college football Megacasts, you're missing out on the wonkiest way to consume the sport's biggest games. For the past few years, ESPN has brought in a rotating cast of current (or recently unemployed) college head coaches to sit in the same room and watch the same game everyone else is, armed with a rewindable remote and a telestrator to draw up plays. The result is often meandering but always candid analysis from coaches we rarely get to see in such an informal setting, with the broader takeaway being that football coaches are more comfortable watching tape and talking ball than they are doing anything else in their lives. There have been multiple breakout stars in the short history of the Film Room format, but even a few minutes of watching Saturday's Orange Bowl Film Room simulcast on ESPNNews confirm that there has never been anyone like Herm.
The Arizona State coach went 7–6 in his first season as a college head coach, after being lured away from nearly a decade of analyst work for ESPN and a colorful but inconsistent NFL coaching career. He announced his arrival in Tempe with one of the most bizarre introductory press conferences you'll ever see, led a Week 2 upset of a (inaccurately in hindsight) ranked Michigan State team and kept the Sun Devils surprisingly in Pac-12 South contention into November, all the while drawing from famously endless reserves of personality and energy. In the first year that ESPN placed four coaches on camera without the aid of a studio analyst to direct traffic, Edwards and new North Carolina coach Mack Brown were the easy choices to lead each team, manning the remote and driving discussion.
The problem—to be clear, this is the best kind of problem—was that Edwards was so individually compelling that everyone else in the studio quickly fell into his orbit. Take, for example, his first airtime of the day, during a brief segment during the first half of Clemson–Notre Dame in which Brown's crew of coaches (newly retired Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson, Wake Forest's Dave Clawson and Memphis's Mike Norvell) checked in on Edwards's crew of coaches (Boston College's Steve Addazio, TCU's Gary Patterson and Boise State's Bryan Harsin) backstage, watching the Cotton Bowl for fun and preparing to call the Orange Bowl. Seated on the couch, Edwards & Co. broke down Justyn Ross's second touchdown catch of the day with approximately 10 times the enthusiasm of the four coaches who were actually assigned to the game. That only whet Film Room fans' appetite for what was to come.
Here is a short and woefully incomplete list of things Herm Edwards got really excited about over the course of the Orange Bowl broadcast:
— The first 15 seconds of the show, which he opened with the genuinely gracious tone-setter, "All right, men, guess what? We get to talk about this Alabama-Oklahoma game." He also promptly called Boise State's Harsin "Gary" (which admittedly is one of the first five guesses I'd have for Bryan Harsin's name if I didn't know who he was).
• The first play from scrimmage for both offenses: He called out "Touchdown, first play" on Jerry Jeudy's long catch-and-run before Jeudy was brought down deep in Oklahoma territory, then let out a reflexive "Ohhhh, Kyler Murray—" as the Sooners' QB scrambled in vain on first down.
• Blitzes that leave the defense without a deep player in the middle of the field, which he calls Casino blitzes "because when you hit, you hit, and when it's bad, it's bad."
• A defensive coverage dubbed Cat coverage that he signals by pantomiming a cat's paws, hilariously translated as "go find your cat and cover him."
• A press coverage technique for defensive backs that Edwards calls "the Chili/Chilly Choke" (spelling undetermined because, as was the case with Casino blitzes and Cat coverages, none of the other three longtime coaches in the room acted like they had ever heard this term before).
• Deion Sanders.
• The delay of game penalty that Oklahoma committed on the first play of the second half, which brought him back to his You play to win the game! peak: "How can you have a delay, how does that work, Coach? You can't have a delay! You've been in the locker room for 15 minutes! You eating sandwiches, eating hot dogs, what are you doing?"
• Nick Saban's headset throw, which Edwards reveled in predicting before the ESPN broadcast had even cut to Saban.
When he wasn't demonstrating the nuances of the chilly/chili choke, Edwards was doing the legwork to foster some of the best chemistry in Film Room history. Addazio and Patterson have earned rave reviews for their contributions to past Film Rooms, and their combination of genuine bewilderment and good humor each time Edwards went off kept the broadcast from turning into a sideshow. In return, Edwards sat in rapt attention after setting up a conversation in which Addazio and Patterson compared knee replacements in the second half.
And this exchange on "dirty eyes" (it should be no surprise that Edwards, who spent 10 years as an NFL defensive back, kept bringing the discussion back to DB play) set the tone for a fourth quarter that was just the right amount of off the rails:
Edwards's style isn't for everyone, but his unfiltered love of football shone through in a way that made you forget you were watching eight hours of games that ended in winning margins of 27 and 11 points. He seems to be on his way to a successful stint at Arizona State, but if things don't work out in Tempe, someone should back up trucks of money to get him to do this every weekend in the fall. But if there was one thing Saturday night made clear, it was that he doesn't need a monetary incentive to fire up the tape.