ASU’s Kenny Dillingham focused on building sustainable culture to attract local talent
Arizona State head football coach Kenny Dillingham has a clear idea of what his football program should look like, and that starts with building a culture that lasts and draws in top talent from the state.
Culture wins, he told Arizona Sports’ Burns & Gambo on Wednesday, and his goal is to develop one through brutal honesty, fun and discipline.
“I think how you create the culture is consistency and being genuine,” Dillingham said.
“I walk into that building and I literally am living the dream,” Dillingham added. “The people, the coaches I’m bringing into this building, walk into that wanting to build this place, they’re fired up. I want kids to walk into this building that are proud to walk into the building, that are excited to walk into the building, that have a passion about walking in the building.”
A priority of his after getting introduced was meeting the players, and he asked them simply if they wanted to be a part of the program under his leadership.
The roster next season will look a bit different than what Dillingham has in mind for the future, as the team has added talent and will continue picking up players through the transfer portal. ASU has not nabbed highly touted recruiting classes over the past two offseasons and has seen several players transfer after Dillingham’s hiring, standard for a new coaching regime.
Dillingham has had a focus on local talent with messages of having the Valley rally behind the program.
The Sun Devils have added several former top local recruits who have transferred from other schools this week, such as former BYU and Chandler quarterback Jacob Conover, who played for running backs coach Shaun Aguano in high school.
But down the line, Dillingham does not want to rely on the transfer portal, instead leaning on a strong culture to keep athletes enrolled. His goal is for the five-star and high four-star talents to make ASU their own and help the program grow into a perennial conference contender and ranked squad.
“I think your culture is going to determine how much you have to use the portal,” Dillingham said. “If your culture over a three-year span keeps kids at home, keeps kids in your program, develops kids, you’re gonna lose less kids, and you’ll go to the portal less.”
“I think the city has been growing at such a rapid rate that the kids in this state, there’s now 45 kids that go play Division 1 football in this state,” he added. “That’s something that’s changed over time here. If we can keep the core of the players home, if we can get the players in this state to say, ‘Hey, I’m going to be the change. I want to be the change.'”
Dillingham said his staff has spent a lot of time already watching and making character evaluations on players, as it takes one player or group of elite talents to stay in the Valley and change the outlook of ASU football.
The head coach even teased that he has his eyes on a group of players who could be just what the program needs.
“I feel like there’s a group of kids in this valley who are thinking, ‘Why not?'” Dillingham said.
“He knows who he is.”@KennyDillingham says he has his eyes on a recruit who can help change the direction of the Sun Devils football team. 👀@BurnsAndGambo @Gambo987 @Burnsy987 pic.twitter.com/SYfAqQaB2v
— Arizona Sports (@AZSports) December 8, 2022
The program has already taken steps to build rapport with Arizona recruits, as Dillingham has hosted multiple high school teams on tours around ASU’s facility, attended games and jumped on a Zoom call with high school coaches after his introduction.
The 32-year-old coach even pitched to potential recruits how they can become local legends by staying home and becoming stars for ASU football, which could benefit them financially going forward.
Dillingham’s first memories of ASU football as a Valley native was going to tailgates when Jake Plummer and Pat Tillman led the maroon and gold during its Rose Bowl run in 1996. A goal of his is to become a top-30 team, then a top-20 team, then a top-15 squad and keep building to reach the heights of the squads he watched as a kid.