Canzano: New math of college football at play
Will Kenny Dillingham win big at ASU?
I don’t know if Kenny Dillingham is going to win a bunch of games at Arizona State. I don’t know if the guy has the first clue about what it takes to be the CEO of a football program. But I do know he’s very excited to be Arizona State’s football coach.
See for yourself:
Dillingham’s introductory news conference was an entertaining watch. It’s equal parts inspiring and cringy. I mean that in the best way. He’s genuinely excited to have his friends and family in the room and I think he’s channeling some genuine, down-home excitement. ASU reached for a youthful, local connection in the wake of 68-year-old Herm Edwards.
ASU went young: Dillingham is 32.
It went more offensive: He’s a fun play-caller.
It went with a recruiter: Dillingham knows where the talent is.
Great recruiters were always a valuable, coveted part of any coaching staff. But in the last few hiring cycles we’ve watched recruiters go from being a component on every staff to being put in charge and handed the keys.
Willie Taggart was hired at Oregon with a 40-45 record as a head coach. Then, the job went to Mario Cristobal, who was 27-47. Not because of proof of performance. They didn’t have much. Rather, because they were viewed as outstanding recruiters in an era where talent wins.
The Ducks previously built their football empire on the backs of coaches such as Rich Brooks and Mike Bellotti, who valued continuity, teaching, growth and retention. Not anymore. The Ducks were now more interested in winning games on National Signing Day. Oregon’s shift of philosophy includes a boosted salary pool for assistant coaches — more than $6 million a year for Dan Lanning, currently.
Hire a top recruiter, arm them with a private plane, an NIL collective, and back-fill with veteran position coaches and highly rated coordinators who can maximize the talent. Oregon picked a defensive-minded head coach in Lanning to replace Cristobal. It’s why Dillingham, an offensive coach, was such an important hire and why the Ducks must get his replacement right.
Here’s another thought — we’re in an era of college football dominated by quarterback play. Washington’s Kalen DeBoer + Michael Penix Jr. math equation is a wonderful example of how a new head coach + talented transfer quarterback = big-time success.
So is USC QB Caleb Williams + coach Lincoln Riley. Also, QB Cam Ward + offensive-coordinator Eric Morris at Washington State. I’m certain ASU was thinking about this when it hired Dillingham, who called the plays for an offense at Oregon that scored 34-plus points in 10 of 12 games.
The Sun Devils had a couple of 10-win seasons under Todd Graham (2013 and 2014), but have been mediocre (46-47) in the seven years since. I think Dillingham will give ASU an immediate uptick in performance on the field.
The Dillingham hire comes with risk, sure. But given that ASU is facing possible NCAA sanctions, it’s the move I’d have made. If the introductory news conference was an indicator, it’s evident at the very least that he won’t be boring.
Dillingham can talk all he’d like about being “home” but the love language of college football is “I’m home — oh, and I’ve brought a transfer QB with me.”
So, who is going with him?
TITLE-GAME TALK: Can I say how much I enjoy listening to Utah coach Kyle Whittingham speak? I conduct a lot of interviews on my radio show and for this column. I always leave my conversations with Whittingham feeling smarter than I arrived.
We talked about time management and keys to success in our last extended talk. It’s a good listen for anyone in a leadership role. This week, Utah’s coach is spending a lot of time crafting a clever “Us vs. The World” narrative.
Whittingham on reaching Friday’s Pac-12 title game:
“Some people say we back-doored our way into the championship. No, we won the games we needed to win to get there. I don't know what back-door means. We won seven games, and the right seven games, to get into the championship.”
Whittingham on being a 3-point underdog vs. USC:
“Pretty much everyone's got them winning already and going to the playoffs and Caleb winning the Heisman. That’s already kind of been talked about. We love that role. We love the chip on our shoulder and nobody giving us a chance. We seem to thrive in that capacity and in that world.”
I do give them a chance.
I’ll make my title-game prediction on Thursday.
OFFICIATING QUESTIONS: The Pac-12 announced that commissioner George Kliavkoff and football supervisor, Merton Hanks, will hold a video news conference on Thursday.
I don’t expect media rights news. But I do have a bunch of questions for them.
I’m interested in what the conference is going to do to fix the ongoing officiating issues. They can pretend all they’d like that the officiating is as good as anywhere else, but our eyes don’t lie.
I’ll have more on that subject in the coming days.
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