The first two entries in the New Coach Profile series were Deion Sanders and Troy Taylor. The new coaches at Colorado and Stanford could hardly have followed more divergent paths to their first head coaching jobs, but they are both distinctive and interesting. Today’s entry, Kenny Dillingham, followed a more straightforward path: the offensive boy genius who scored enough points to take over his own program in his early 30s. After the comedy of errors that was the Herm Edwards experiment, it probably makes sense for ASU to follow a more predictable path. But just because it’s more familiar does not mean it’s risk free.
How He Got Here
Dillingham did not play college football. He was the QB cat Chaparral HS in Scottsdale and he blew out his ACL as a senior. He attended ASU and immediately started coaching at Chaparral. He became the school’s OC immediately after graduating from ASU and subsequently took on an OA role with the Sun Devils.
Dillingham used this head start on his coaching career to become a GA with Mike Norvell at Memphis, who he met when Norvell as an assistant at ASU. After a year as a GA, Dillingham became the QB coach the following season and the OC the next year. Not only did Memphis score points on the field (top 5 in the country), the young Dillingham (27 at the time) was ranked as the top recruiter in the conference by 247 sports. He continued his string of one-year gigs with a step up to Auburn’s OC before his 30th birthday and then followed Norvell to FSU. He spent a staggering two years with Norvell in Tallahassee before he landed in Eugene a year ago.
The work Dillingham did with Bo Nix at Oregon was one of the key factors that distinguished him as a head coaching candidate. He had previously worked with Nix briefly at Auburn, but finally unlocked the previously erratic QBs athleticism in 2022. The Ducks went from 42nd to 10th nationally in PPG under Dillingham. Nix improved his completion percentage from 61% to 72% with a simultaneous jump in Y/A from 7.1 to 8.8. His QB rating sat between 124-130 for his first three seasons and leapt up to 166 last year. As much as I hate to compliment the Ducks, their offensive attack was creative and adaptable. Five different players caught at least 30 passes and another five carried the ball at least 30 times. They ran the ball, passed it, avoided turnovers, created big plays, earned tough yards, and finished drives in the red zone.
What to Expect
The ASU job opening up when Dillingham’s stock was hitting an all-time high was a perfect convergence. It’s not easy for a 33-year-old to get a Power 5 coaching job, but these circumstances were ideal. Also, Dillingham’s coaching head start means that he has already nine years as an assistant with major college programs and another six with a significant high school team. As an ASU alum and Phoenix-area native, the results, experience, and fit all lined up extremely well.
It’s a good thing ASU seems to at least have its head coaching position filled for several years because everything else is in flux. ASU was at the center of the Big 12 “will they or won’t they” drama that ended with ASU, Arizona, and Utah joining Colorado as 2024 exits. The new conference might provide stability relative to the rocky road ahead for the Pac, but it’s also brand new slate of opponents and a very different football culture than even the one Dillingham learned as a student and assistant in Tempe.
Arizona State’s roster is also going through the type of upheaval you would expect from a messy divorce from the previous staff. There are some interesting incoming players through the transfer portal- including Notre Dame QB Drew Pyne, Sacramento St RB Cameron Skattebo, and Nevada OT Aaron Frost-, but there are enough departures at key positions that it’s hard to say whether the talent level is in a better place than where it ended last season.
The high point of Shaun Aguano’s tenure as ASU interim HC last season was undoubtedly the 25-38 win over UW in Tempe. Many Dawg fans thought the game would be a walkover when QB Emory Jones got hurt and Trenton Bourguet replaced him. Instead, Bourguet proved to be a more efficient passer than Jones, which allowed the offense to rely more on star RB Xzavian Valladay. While the record didn’t get much better, the move to Bourguet allowed ASU to at least keep it close against better teams like UCLA and Arizona.
The personnel might look different for Dillingham. He has a QB decision to make between Bourguet, Pyne, and freshman Jaden Rashada. Valladay is gone and the Devils will break in at least three new starters on the O-Line. Nonetheless, the second half of last season showed that ASU had enough talent to at least compete in the conference when the offense could get on track. If nothing else, Dillingham will be able to build on that offensive momentum. Dilingham brought with him Brian Ward as his DC who helped Jake Dickert build a solid WSU defense in recent seasons. Ward’s unit might have even more new bodies than the offense, so continuity will be difficult.
In addition to the roster turnover, Dillingham has to build a sustainable culture at ASU. Amidst so much change, he will have to make his staff and players feel comfortable. He has no head coaching experience and is still exceptionally young for the job. It’s natural to wonder if he will develop these skills that will make or break his long-term future as a HC. Even so, ASU will score more points than they did a year ago and those points will translate to an overall higher level of competitiveness.
How long will Kenny Dillingham remain the HC at ASU?
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