Antonio Pierce brings intensity to new ASU football recruiting role

Antonio Pierce embraces organized chaos.

That’s what his life, coming up on one of those landmark birthdays – 40 on Oct. 26 – is now and really what he’s been used to for a long time.

“I played in New York City,” Pierce says. “There’s nothing anyone can do to me to match that pressure.”

For Pierce to add recruiting coordinator to his responsibilities as Arizona State linebacker coach, all in his first year at the college level, is to him a “great honor” instead of a massive burden. “I understand you can’t be a great coach without great players,” he says.

The recruiting coordinator announcement, in the works for a few months, was made last week ahead of a significant recruiting weekend (aren’t they all?) and the payoff with a 16-13 upset of nationally ranked Michigan State. Now, it’s on to San Diego State, the first game in California during the Herm Edwards head-coaching era. 

Outside of Arizona, it’s almost all about California in recruiting now, which is where Pierce plays such a vital role with his deep roots and ties to both states. He was born in Ontario (Calif.), played at Paramount High School and Mt. San Antonio College before three years at Arizona (one as a redshirt) that led to a nine-year NFL career.

Pierce became an NFL analyst for ESPN, where he worked alongside Edwards for seven years even after beginning his coaching career back in California at Long Beach Poly High School in 2014. Even then, organized chaos and juggling duties was his life.

“We spent a lot of time talking about football, life in that green room in Bristol,” Pierce says. “That led to the conversation of, ‘Hey coach I think I”m ready to take it to the next (coaching) level,’ ” not realizing it would come with Edwards at ASU.

“There was no debating,” when Edwards contacted Pierce on Dec. 3, the day Edwards’ hiring became official. “I didn’t need him to convince me and vice versa.”

Pierce was instrumental in ASU’s quickly formed February signing class that included two players from Long Beach Poly and now true freshman starting linebackers Merlin Robertson and Darien Butler. So it’s no surprise that Edwards would want him as a front man for recruiting, working in tandem with 71-year-old veteran Al Luginbill, who is ASU’s director of player personnel. 

Luginbill recruited California for decades including on ASU staffs headed by Frank Kush and Darryl Rogers. He also was head coach at San Diego State from 1989-93 when running back Marshall Faulk starred for the Aztecs.

“We have the same vision,” Pierce says of Luginbill. “We know the players we want to bring into this program from a mindset and physically. It’s all very transparent. … You can see that with our play and being 2-0.”

Luginbill says Pierce has the same high energy as a recruiter that he had as a player. “He has the enthusiasm and mindset we want to project as a program, and he enjoys that side of the business.”

Pierce knows southern California “like the back of his hand,” Luginbill says, which is important in an area that’s so large “you can get lost quick. You can’t be productive without having roots there.”

ASU has 13 known commitments in its 2019 recruiting class, currently ranked No. 53 nationally by 247 Sports. Edwards is ASU’s first black head coach and his staff is among the most diverse in school history, which Pierce considers a recruiting advantage.

“A lot of these inner-city kids are from single-parent homes,” Pierce says. “When you look at the person across the table and talk about taking care of their son, if you’re the same nationality or heritage or religion, there’s some trust factor.

“When you’re a good team is when you can battle with USC and UCLA in recruiting. When you can go in there and steal the third best guy and if you’re really good get the first or second-best guy. Then you’ve got a chance to be a really good program. That’s my heart and soul. Most of these kids, I went to school with their parents, I did a lot of camps throughout my years in the NFL and afterwards so a lot of connections there.”

Pierce, like Edwards after he finished his college career at San Diego State in 1976, was not selected in the NFL draft, primarily because at 6-1 he was viewed as undersized. But he caught on in 2001 with the Washington Redskins and was a full-time starter by 2004. He later became the New York Giants’ defensive captain, making a touchdown-saving tackle in the 2007 NFC Championship then, in Arizona fittingly enough, earning a Super Bowl ring for his 11-tackle contribution in a 17-14 upset of undefeated New England.

“I’m an open book,” Pierce says of a high-profile life that includes being the father of seven. His son Deandre Pierce is a junior safety at Boise State. 

 “It’s an internet world, there’s nothing I can hide. I was fortunate, made some good money in the NFL, became a businessman, owned car dealerships, working for ESPN. I’ve done well with my money,” and is willing to share his advice to current ASU players and those he’s out recruiting.

“Most of the time the reason athletes fail is they don’t know, and nobody wants to spread (information). I’ll tell them the worst things I’ve ever done and some of the best things I’ve done. I was with a guy (Plaxico Burress in 2008) who shot himself in the leg and was caught up in a little scandal. Use it for what it’s worth, as a life lesson. When these kids leave, I want them to say he gave me a lot of tools to be successful.”

He’s also made it something of a cause this season for ASU to have its first All Pac-12 first team linebacker since Robert James in 2007. Robertson is off to a good start in that pursuit as Walter Camp national defensive Player of the Week.

Of course at the end of the season, Pierce will feel the tug of war between his Arizona past and his ASU present.

“I remember playing those (Territorial Cup) games,” PIerce says. “It was pure hatred. It’s going to be interesting to get that vibe again. Now I’m on the other side. You go to school to get an education and better yourself, and I was given an opportunity here at ASU. 

“If it wasn’t for (Vice President for Athletics) Ray Anderson and Herm Edwards, I don’t know if AP would be sitting here. But the people that are in power positions here I respect, I look up to and I want to help them succeed.”

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