Gold: Dealt a bad hand, now it's up to Kenny Dillingham to pick up the cards
My first reaction to Arizona State’s self-imposed bowl ban: That’s like me self-imposing a Boston Marathon ban. Wasn’t going to happen anyway.
My second reaction: ASU sure found the right guy in Kenny Dillingham.
I was a little taken aback by the first-year Sun Devils head coach’s emotional response to his players’ less-than-enthusiastic practice after they were told Sunday morning that the postseason would not be in their immediate future.
ASU AD Ray Anderson's statement:
Arizona State University has informed the NCAA and Pac-12 conference that it will self-impose a one-year postseason ban on its football program for the upcoming season. In light of the ongoing investigation and our membership obligation to…
— DevilsDigest.com (@DevilsDigest) August 27, 2023
The timing, of course, is cowardly, even if perhaps a bit calculated. Coming off a 3-9 season with a brand new 33-year-old head coach in his first gig and a true freshman at starting quarterback, Arizona State president Michael Crow and athletic director Ray Anderson chose to fold a 7-2 off suit before the flop.
But to do it on the eve of the season, long after the transfer portal had closed, locking in nearly two dozen seniors who now have any remote postseason dreams dashed? Cold-blooded.
Long accused of cronyism because of his cozy relationship with Herm Edwards, the chief architect of this calamity, this feels like the ol’ boys club at its worst.
Ray Anderson should lose his job for this alone. It was very apparent more than a year ago that this was a likely outcome.
ASU’s leadership has simply failed in some of the most important ways. There is no other way to logically view this. https://t.co/oHV9BE0OFJ
— Chris Karpman (@ChrisKarpman) August 27, 2023
Sure, Edwards was fired after just 3 games last year, but instead of penalizing him for the misdeeds of nearly a half-dozen coaches under his watch, Anderson passed the buck to Dillingham. Oh, and in the process passes more bucks, as this decision adds a year extension to his contract.
But that is hardly a consolation prize for him.
His Devils are hurting, and he knows it.
“To me, the adversity is behind us,” Dillingham said. “It’s like I told our team. I said we’re going to give everybody one day. Get your feelings out. Including me. Get it off your chest. Get it out there. Let’s move on. Because that’s what it’s about. We’re not just going to say something and then get over it instantly.
“That’s not real. We can act like that’s real, but it’s not. So to Sun Devil nation, it’s move on. Let’s move on. Let’s show support for the team because that’s what this is about. … Support them. Come out. Support them. Cheer. Be loud. Show that it matters. Show that you care. Show that we’re working in the right direction to get this place where everybody wants to go to.”
There’s being set up to fail and then there’s being not even giving the chance to succeed, and I’m not sure which is worse. For a competitor like Dillingham, I have an idea.
We see it in his play-calling and hear it in his words, see it in his eyes and feel it in his energy. This is a man who is all-in on everything.
“I couldn’t even begin to process going into a game without the full intent of putting everything to win the game,” Dillingham said Monday. “I couldn’t even process that. So, no. That part does suck. That’s part of it.”
If there is a silver lining, it is that Dillingham can double down on discipline and preach process. This season is officially now not about winning. There is some freedom in that.
I remember sitting with former UCLA head coach Ben Howland a little after his third consecutive Final Four appearance and talking about what that first day is like after the season.
His answer surprised me.
“Yeah. For the fans, maybe even for the players, it feels like the end of something. But for coaches, it’s 365. It’s my life. It doesn’t just end when there are no more games.”
That’s when I realized that these guys think differently than we do. At least the good ones do.
And Dillingham is one of the good ones.
He’ll find a way to spin this forward. The spin has already started.
Still, you feel for guys like redshirt senior defensive back Jordan Clark. His previous coaches failed him, yet he stuck with the program. He could have chased the white rabbit to a more successful program. But he stayed.
And now the dangling carrot has been taken away. Just 2 years removed from an 8-5 season and a Las Vegas Bowl appearance, the ASU’s fate has been sealed by the hubris of a coaching staff run amok, lacking foresight, direction and leadership.
Yet, somehow, the youngest people in the room are the most mature.
“For those of us that were on the team last year, this season has enough meaning,” Clark said. “There’s a lot of people we’ve got to play, a lot of people we’ve got to get back. So I’m not necessarily worried about a bowl game or a championship. We play all those same teams this year. I’m just ready to play football and compete.”
That is a remarkably mature perspective, but one that never needed to happen.
And certainly not in this way.
Sons shouldn’t have to pay for the sins of the father, and neither should the Sun Devils.