Syndication: The Register Guard

Arizona State has hired Oregon offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham as its next football coach, the school announced on Sunday. Dillingham, an Arizona State alum, has overseen a Ducks offense that has fielded one of the most productive units in the country this season, averaging 511.2 yards per game (No. 3 in the FBS), 7.07 yards per play (No. 5 in the FBS) and 40.2 points per game (No. 4 in the FBS). 

Dillingham takes over the program after Arizona State fired Herm Edwards earlier this season amid a 1-2 start and ongoing NCAA investigation into illegal recruiting practices during the COVID-19 dead period. 

"It is an honor and a privilege to be named the head coach at Arizona State University," Dillingham said. "This is a special place to myself and my wife who is also a graduate. I truly believe the team we will build here is one that the state of Arizona and all Sun Devils can rally behind and be proud of as it will take everyone in the valley to help this program achieve the level of success it is due. I am excited to get to work and promise no one will work harder than the staff we will put together."

Though just 32 years old, Dillingham is a Scottsdale native and has risen through the coaching ranks quickly thanks to getting started in the Arizona high school ranks at a young age. He graduated from Arizona State in 2012, and was hired by then-offensive coordinator Mike Norvell to be an offensive staffer for the Sun Devils in 2014. The Norvell relationship continued with assistant stints at Memphis (2016-18) and Florida State (2020-21) with a one-year stop at Auburn in between. 

When Oregon coach Dan Lanning arrived as Ducks coach in December 2021, he moved quickly to bring Dillingham on board, knowing his expertise as a former co-worker from their time together at Memphis. The same reasons that Dillingham was such an attractive candidate for the Ducks to pull back out to the Pac-12 as an offensive coordinator also apply to the Sun Devils, who will now turn their program over to a native son in the midst of a much-needed reboot.  

"We are proud to announce Kenny Dillingham as our new head football coach," athletic director Ray Anderson said. "He brings the energy, knowledge and appreciation of our state and university that is valued by all of us," Anderson said.  "His knowledge of the current college football landscape, learned by coaching across the nation, is needed and wanted at ASU. He will care at the highest level about our state, our alumni, our former players and every single group that is important to help us win. We look forward to working with him and all Sun Devils in making his staff successful and helping our program reach our goals."

Youth movement in Tempe 

Dillingham becomes the youngest active Power Five coach. Interestingly enough, he's taking that title from Lanning, who was the youngest power conference coach in 2022 at the age of 36. But beyond the notability of his youth, Dillingham's age also represents a departure in the recent hires by Arizona State for its football program. 

He is the fifth head coaching hire since 2001 for the Sun Devils, and in both age and experience, he's an outlier compared to the previous four. Dennis Erickson (2007-11) and Edwards (2018-22) brought extensive coaching track records and also years of experience. Though both Dirk Koetter (2001-06) and Todd Graham (2012-17) were only in their 40s when they arrived, the resume had a few more references. 

But where Dillingham makes up ground for that apparent lack of experience is in the support he carries within the ASU community. Coaching high school football in Scottsdale for more than a half decade has given Dillingham connections that have helped secure this opportunity, and Sun Devils fans are hoping that it will provide a spark to help power the program forward. 

NCAA investigation lingering 

The NCAA is still investigating the Arizona State football program for alleged violations that occurred during the 2020 offseason. Even before Edwards' dismissal, the program saw multiple assistants either fired or resign as a result of the program's illegal recruiting practices during the COVID-19 dead period. The ongoing investigation has been a cloud over the program's future, and Dillingham and his staff may have to weather some of the fallout. 

By investing in someone like Dillingham, who is taking their first job but also has extensive experience in the area, Arizona State would be playing the long game and hoping a native son can lead the program out of the storm to a brighter future. 

Opportunity to move up in the Pac-12 

With USC and UCLA departing for the Big Ten, the Pac-12 is about to see a shakeup in the supposed pecking order within the conference. These kind of realignment moves can provide an opportunity for programs to jump up and obtain a new status within the conference hierarchy, and though divisions will be gone, it's very possible that Arizona State can become the strongest presence in the south. 

The demographics of Arizona and the Sun Devils' recruiting base has seen the state's high school football improve, and Dillingham's experience from that circuit should allow the program to win some of those battles even against their new Big Ten-based competition. While Oregon and Washington are fighting for supremacy in the Northwest, the door is open for Arizona State, a program with only three Pac-12 championships to its name, to become one of the regular contenders in the conference.