Kenny Dillingham excited to finally focus on football after Arizona State’s noisy offseason

Aug 30, 2023, 8:22 AM | Updated: 10:24 am

Record roster turnover at least made Kenny Dillingham’s initial offseason rebuild controllable.

While that recruiting work made him busy, he at least could target the right players to join the Arizona State football program during a hard reset. But changing that culture once the players were on the ground in Tempe was a deeper challenge.

A decision for ASU to leave the Pac-12 for the Big 12 after this season might’ve been nothing more than outside noise, but a bowl ban placed on the team on Sunday, just before a Thursday opener, hit the Sun Devils hard. Dillingham gave his team a day to flush the emotions and a poor practice, didn’t yell and scream, then asked his players to move on.

The offseason has not been without non-football-related news.

But finally, it’s back to the basic football things with Southern Utah visiting Mountain America Stadium Thursday night to begin the 2023 season.

“I was joking with my wife. I go, ‘Hey, after our practice tomorrow, we go into a team meeting around 5:30, 6 o’clock,” Dillingham told Arizona Sports’ Bickley & Marotta on Wednesday. “I said, ‘Once that hits, all my responsibilities to everything but football goes out the window. I am a football coach only.’ All the other CEO hats and things are gone for the next 36 hours or 30 hours or whatever.’

“It’s football time and I cannot wait.”

Dillingham spent the front end of the week managing player emotions after the school announced a bowl ban stemming from the ongoing NCAA investigation of recruiting violations under former head coach Herm Edwards and his staff.

After a bad day of practice, Dillingham saw a turnaround on the field.

He credited his veterans for leading by example. It’s likely related to the culture he began building in Tempe following a one-year run at Oregon as offensive coordinator.

“I think our guys feel connected with one another, feel connected to this place,” he said. “They all had to learn the fight song this offseason. We had five kids on our team that knew the fight song and now every kid on our team at least had to stand up and sing it correctly. I think little stuff like that matters.”

Dillingham’s football duties worth mentioning obviously begin with the first game opportunity to mentor freshman Jaden Rashada, who came from behind late to win the starting quarterback job.

“I think you can expect to see a kid who cares, plays the game passionately, a kid who’s probably going to make a mistake or two. You know, he’s young,” Dillingham said.

“Maybe it’s not the right way to do it but I tell him all the time, ‘Hey, I’m just waiting until you mess up, bud. I joke about it. That’s what I want to see. I want to see the resilience when that happens ’cause you’re talented enough (that) you’re going to get enough cheers.'”

Dillingham himself has a learning curve.

The 32-year-old has been an offensive coordinator at Memphis, Auburn, Florida State and Oregon dating back to 2018. That’s a few reps in a decision-making chair, but he’s spent all of those moments in the booth and not directing both sides of the ball on the field.

Dillingham admitted that communication through crowd noise will be a new experience to him, as will the basic ability to think through pressure situations at the bottom of an arena bowl.

That is the type of noise he’s at least comfortable with.

Dillingham can enjoy that his worries are back to football minutiae, finally.

“I’m a math guy so I can do numbers in my head. We’ll be able to see if I can think — we’ll call a spade a spade — as quickly on the field as I could in the box,” Dillingham said.

“It’s 2 minutes, 20 seconds left, it’s first down, well, they have no timeouts. Well, that means 40 seconds, 40 seconds, 40 seconds. That’s how much you can waste (on downs). That’s two minutes of time. That means (the opponent would) need four plays (in) the last 20 seconds. If you do that, the game’s over. Going through those things in your mind quickly, right, am I going to have the tempo … or am I going to have to get my pen out and do math?”

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