As No. 13 Utah comes to town, Arizona State interim head coach out to prove he’s the right man for the job
Former Chandler High coach Shaun Aguano is suddenly in charge of a Power Five program, having replaced Herm Edwards. His first game to make a good impression is Saturday night.
It was a crazy 24 hours in Tempe last weekend.
On Saturday, Arizona State was embarrassed by Eastern Michigan 30-21 at Sun Devil Stadium.
On Sunday, coach Herm Edwards was fired, three games into his fifth season at the helm.
Later Sunday, running backs coach Shaun Aguano was promoted to interim head coach. On Monday, he addressed the media.
The former Chandler High School coach is suddenly in charge of a Power Five program. His first game in his new position is Saturday (8:30 p.m. MDT, ESPN) when the Sun Devils host No. 13 Utah.
“My focus now is the next nine games in conference games. How do I inspire these kids to play fast, physical football? That’s my No. 1, making sure I take care of the kids, that’s the most important thing for me,” Aguano said. “I gave them 24 hours to grieve and then we’ve got to get back to business, so that’s hard for some individuals. They had a player-led meeting that went very, very well and we are all in.”
When Edwards was hired, he was determined to run the program modeled after an NFL franchise. The man that hired him, ASU athletic director, Ray Anderson, had been Edwards’ agent years earlier. But Edwards hadn’t been a part of college football since 1989. He posted a mediocre 26-20 record.
Meanwhile, the program has been the subject of a major NCAA investigation.
Come to think of it, it’s been a crazy five years for ASU’s program.
And now, the Sun Devils are turning to a former high school coach — Aguano — to lead the program. At the same time, he’s auditioning for the head coaching job, hoping to remove the “interim” tag.
It’s been a bittersweet transition for Aguano, because Edwards was the one who brought him onto the ASU staff in 2019 as the running backs coach.
Before that, Aguano spent years as the head football coach at Chandler High, compiling a record of 88-19.
“This opportunity on the grand scale of things is a dream for me as well and all I can ask for is opportunities,” he said. “So what I do with that opportunity in the next nine games is to try to put a product on the field that Sun Devil Nation is proud of and I’m gonna do my best and you’ll get every effort that I have — heart and soul into this program.”
The reality is, Arizona State has been falling short of expectations for years. At the same time, the Sun Devils lost 14 players to the transfer portal this year, including quarterback Jayden Daniels, who bolted for LSU; top receivers LV Bunkley-Shelton and Ricky Pearsall; linebacker Eric Gentry and defensive lineman Jermayne Lole.
There’s also been plenty of turnover on the staff.
But Aguano believes he’s the right man to lead ASU.
“I don’t take this lightly, I’m an Arizona guy. I’ve been here for 20 some years. I understand the landscape and what it means. My kids are born in Arizona, there’s not one coach that I think in the nation that loves Arizona and is in place at Arizona State that will think (he) can do a better job than I can,” he said. “That’s just the way I always bet on myself. But just to let you understand, my kids are Arizona kids, so this means a lot for me, this means a lot for my family.
“I get emotional. I think this means a lot for the coaches of Arizona and their dreams and inspirations for them, so I got a lot on my back but hopefully to prove to them that my success is achievable.”
But in the short term, how will his players bounce back from a tough weekend?
“It’s for us to push forward, here’s how I see this whole season. The last three games were preseason. This is where it all counts now, these next nine games and so we’re at 0-0,” Aguano said. “We’re ready to play Arizona State football and I’m here to inspire these kids to play that. I think we’re ready.
“Looking back at those three games will do us no good, we’re going to look forward. This transition has been hard … but in reality, we’ve got to get ready to go. I’m excited and if you look in the coaching world there’s maybe less than 1% of people that have the opportunity that I have. What you do with that opportunity is what counts. I look for that challenge and I’m excited and I’m ready to go.”
Aguano vowed to instill a “family environment” in the locker room and draw upon the skills he used as a high school coach to bring out the best in his players.
While Edwards is gone, Aguano can rely on experienced voices, including Brian Billick, who was hired in January as an offensive analyst and adviser to the head coach. Billick led the Baltimore Ravens to victory in Super Bowl XXXV in 2001.
Also on staff is Marvin Lewis, the former Cincinnati Bengals coach. They’ve helped Aguano make the change from high school football to college football.
“I was in charge of 300 kids (at Chandler High) and when I came here I was in charge of six,” he said. “There were some days I walked the hall and I didn’t know what to do. But that transition of learning from coach Herm and learning from coach Marvin and learning from coach Billick and learning from all the predecessors on what to do and sometimes what not to do. That has set me in a place that I feel comfortable to take the lead at Arizona State as I think I will be successful.”
As the Utes come to town this weekend, Aguano is soliciting support from the fan base.
“This opportunity on the grand scale of things is a dream for me as well and all I can ask for is opportunities.” — ASU interim head coach Shaun Aguano
“I am going to ask them to help us in the hard times. I understand the last game we played deflated them. It’s a chance for us in a new season with conference coming about that we can prove a lot of nay-sayers wrong,” he said. “You’ve got an Arizona coach who loves Arizona in this spot, now let’s come and help an Arizona guy stay here. I am going to ask for that.
“There are going to be subtle changes so I can engage with the fan base a little bit and get their support and for our kids as well. I understand they’re deflated and only winning solves it. I wanna put a team on the field that plays hard every single play and we’ll see what the outcome comes at the end of the game.”
Last Sunday, Aguano was called into the school president’s office, where he was asked just one question — would he accept the job?
After saying yes, he walked out, and into his office, and “kinda did a dance a little bit. A sad dance because of coach (Edwards). I called him and texted him last night. He’s in a good place now which makes me happy.”
Will the Sun Devils be doing a happy dance Saturday night after the game against Utah? Or at any point this season?
That remains to be seen.
Utes on the air
No. 13 Utah (2-1) at Arizona State (1-2)
Saturday, 8:30 p.m. MDT
Sun Devil Stadium
Radio: ESPN 700