By Zach Alvira
Kenny Dillingham became emotional after his two-word initial statement Sunday, Nov. 27 at Sun Devil Stadium.
“I’m home. This is literally home. Home,” Dillingham said before taking a brief pause to gather himself. “So, I say that because this place is special. This state is special. The people in this room are special.
“Pretty emotional. That’s just who I am … I’m fired up to be here. Fired up to be a Sun Devil.”
Dillingham, an alum of Chaparral High School in Scottsdale, was introduced as the next head football coach at Arizona State. It was a search school Athletic Director Ray Anderson said months to perform.
It began in September when former coach Herm Edwards and the schools agreed to mutually part ways and opened the door for Anderson and university President Michael Crow to search for a candidate that they believed would truly love leading the Sun Devil program.
They believe they found that in Dillingham.
“This was a coast-to-coast extensive search,” Anderson said. “We looked at multiple candidates at various points of their career of all varieties … This new head coach had to be in tune with and relatable to the new era student-athlete. Energetic, flexible, adaptable, collaborative, innovative, great partner, great personality, great listener, great experiences winning and learning from others, strong, passionate about this place.
“As young as he is, the multitude of accomplishments and successes Kenny Dillingham brought to the table was undeniable.”
Dillingham’s coaching career began as a senior in high school at Chaparral. An injury derailed his playing career, but he stuck around under former coach and current Idaho State head coach Charlie Ragle.
He quickly moved up through the ranks at Chaparral and eventually became offensive coordinator before he graduated from Arizona State in 2013. He then joined former ASU coach Todd Graham’s staff as a graduate assistant, where he remained until 2015.
Dillingham’s coaching career then took him to several schools. He went to Memphis with Mike Norvell where he remained until 2018, where he eventually became the offensive coordinator. In 2019 he joined Gus Malzahn’s staff at Auburn before reconnecting with Norvell at Florida State.
He spent this past season as the offensive coordinator at Oregon.
“I knew the best way to get this dream opportunity was to be the very best I could be every day,” Dillingham said. “That’s who I am. You wake up every single day and try to be the best version of yourself. It motivated me more to work.”
Dillingham’s ties to the Valley and state of Arizona run deep. He spent the last season actively recruiting the state for Oregon and emphasized Sunday during his introductory press conference how important it is to keep talent in-state at Arizona State.
Part of that, Dillingham said, will have to do with who he has on staff.
He announced former Chandler coach and running backs coach Shaun Aguano, who served as the interim head coach after Edwards’ departure and re-energized the program, would remain on staff. He said some of the rest of his staff would be put in place quickly while others will take time.
Dillingham said he aims to have a staff that is dedicated to Arizona and knows how important it is for Arizona State to be successful. He didn’t go into further detail about who he is targeting for his staff, but rumors have swirled that it would involve current Arizona high school football coaches and some athletic directors.
“Our staff is going to be people who will build relationships in this Valley because they love this Valley,” Dillingham said. “We’re going to hire a staff that has roots and connections here in Arizona.”
Dillingham showed passion, humility and an overall love for Arizona State during his press conference. He said coaching the Sun Devils is his “dream job,” and became emotional and animated on several occasions.
The 32-year-old is the youngest coach among Power Five schools. And while he comes in with no prior head coaching experience, he understands along with recruiting the state and hitting the transfer portal that Name, Image and Likeness has to become a priority moving forward.
The Sun Angel Collective was established by Sun Devil Athletics to assist athletes in NIL deals. It came with an initial million-dollar donation from boosters. But on Sunday during Dillingham’s introduction, booster and ASU alum Nap Lawrence pledged another million to the 501 (c) (3) public charity.
Dillingham stood and applauded.
“We’re ready when everybody is ready,” Dillingham said of Arizona State’s readiness level to compete from an NIL perspective. “We need everybody. We just got a million dollars. That’s unbelievable. He did that to inspire everybody else.”
Dillingham said his first initiative as head coach will be to meet the players and become involved within the Arizona State community.
His energy was infectious within the room. The overall reaction from the crowd was similar to the way Aguano won over media in September when he took over head coaching duties. From media to his family and friends he played Little League baseball with as a kid growing up in Scottsdale, many were pleased with Dillingham’s initial message.
Not only does he want to make Arizona State into a championship contender, he wants to do it with the support from those across the Valley and state.
“We need the Valley behind us. We need the state behind us,” Dillingham said. “We need butts in seats. We need everything this Valley has, all in. Because I am. All in.”