(Featured Photo: Phil Sears / AP)
For Signing Day Sports, our team’s goal is to get everybody signed to play college sports. Wherever or whenever the opportunity arises, we encourage everybody to jump on it. However, the power that local recruiting holds for a recruit and for the school itself, is unparalleled.
For Arizona State University and its recently hired head coach, Kenny Dillingham, this notion couldn’t be truer. As things shake out, we are seeing a commitment to Arizona State’s local area; both in coaching hires and a focus on local recruits.
There is a myriad of ways that this commitment can help boost a program, especially one of Arizona State’s stature. But how does this local commitment help recruits? As well, how can a coaching staff composed primarily of locally grown talent contribute to this commitment?
Today, on The Wire, we will dive into this ongoing development, what it has done for Arizona State’s outlook, and how it can affect others in similar positions.
Benefits to Recruiting Locally
In layman’s terms, focusing on recruiting student-athletes from a program’s general area builds a strong connection with the community and the local fan base. This, in turn, leads to increased support and a boosted image for the school.
Local prospective student-athletes are already familiar with the area, and they usually have their family and friends nearby, so the transition from high school to college is typically easier for them. This can correlate with improved performance on the field and a better overall experience for the student-athlete.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, recruiting local talent ensures that a program has a high-caliber, consistent pipeline of athletes to choose from. This is very important in the development of long-term success as it makes recruiting easy – in a sense.
Benefits to Hiring Locally
Just as recruiting local student-athletes can help a college football program achieve long-term success, local coaching staff are just as imperative. In today’s college football landscape, it is not as common to see coaches working in the same geographical area that they are from, but when it does happen, it usually would ensure that they stick around for a while.
Local staffers are more familiar and comfortable with the area. The transitional period that might ail non-locals is no worry for locals.
Along with the student-athletes themselves, local coaches and other staff members go a long way in building a program’s connection with its community. Often, when a program hires a local coach, boosters aren’t far behind. Overall, there’s a greater relation between local coaches, and the support that the community offers back to the program.
Arizona State’s Background
When Edwards came into town, there were heightened expectations in Tempe, as there normally are with new coaches, especially those of Edwards’ status. As a former NFL coach, player, and analyst, he brought a certain pedigree that seemed to be missing in previous regimes.
His mantra seemed to be that of an NFL coach from the get-go; treating his players like professionals and commanding a team that seemed unwilling to make a wrong decision. While all is fair in college football, this coaching style seemed to fall out of favor with the Sun Devil faithful after a handful of seemingly winnable games went awry.
Add on to that the impending NCAA investigation, and Edwards’ tenure in Tempe wound up ending rather unceremoniously.
Kenny Dillingham’s Impact
On November 27th, days removed from a season-ending loss to its rival, Arizona State announced its intention to hire Kenny Dillingham.
Immediately, media outlets were applauding the job done by Ray Anderson and co. for grabbing one of the hot commodities from the coaching market.
In an ESPN+ article regarding college football coaching hires, Adam Rittenberg wrote, “He’s incredibly well-connected in the state recruiting scene, where Arizona State hasn’t done nearly as well as it could, especially with quarterbacks. Dillingham will hire a staff with similar roots and connections, and ASU soon should keep more of the best prospects at home. His age and lack of head-coaching experience are understandable concerns, but he’s a “young old guy” in a sense, given how many prominent places he has coached.”
What he’s done well to this point is focused on The Valley. He has voiced his intention to reinvigorate The Valley’s passion for Sun Devil football.
Activating The Valley
“We need this entire valley to come together. You want to win at the highest level? You want to maximize this place? We need everybody in this room to get involved,” said Dillingham. “We need the Valley behind us. We need the state behind us. We need butts in seats. We need everything that this valley has all in because I am all in.”
This can be done in a variety of ways. First, there needs to be a more competitive product on the field. Of course, lots goes into being competitive, but that’s the primary concern.
Second, he is focused on recruiting staff and athletes from the area. Arizona has become a
hotbed for football recruits. However, few end up plying their craft in Tempe – especially of late.
Dillingham has taken notice of this trend, and plans on making it a sticking point for his staff during his tenure.
“How do you build a roster?” he asked. “You can’t just hop in and recruit a kid when he’s a junior. Are we going out to Pop Warner games? That’s the reality. Are we building relationships in the community? Are we hosting youth clinics? It’s everything. It takes a village, is the saying.”
Dillingham made note that his staff will be focusing primarily on Arizona recruits.
“Nobody (on the staff) wants to go anywhere,” said Charlie Ragle, one of many Arizona State hires with Arizona ties. “This is home. This is it, man. When we walk around here, the pride, the specialness of this place, we feel it. It’s in us. When you spend time with us, the genuineness of it, I think you can feel it.
Shane Aguano, Arizona State’s interim head coach for a portion of last season, echoes a similar sentiment regarding the new outlook within the program.
“Putting a stamp on Arizona, of former Arizona high school coaches that have relationships around the Valley, I think is huge,” Aguano told Sun Devil Source. “I think the head coach, being an Arizona guy, and him making the last decision on a kid, he’s always going to probably move towards the Arizona kid.”
Already, it’s clear to see the evolving culture, and what a focus on local recruitment can do for a program. For student-athletes and coaches, there isn’t anything quite like working alongside peers who grew up with you. Aguano actually talked about this very concept being a dream of his and his colleagues for years.
“Our staff is going to be people who will build relationships in this Valley because they love this Valley, they love the Phoenix metropolitan area, they love this state, and they’re going to do everything they can to make this place one of the best schools in college football,” said Dillingham.
From an outsider’s perspective, this program sounds like one that recruits – local specifically – will be enamored with.
Stability is fleeting in college football. However, with a staff of reputable coaches working in their home states where some of them have spent decades, it seems like a promisingly stable environment.
Soon enough, with a newly invigorated fan base and booster coalition, Arizona State will turn its fortunes around. And for our readers out there who are on the precipice of making a commitment, consider these aspects.
We are already seeing the power of this recommitment and reinvigoration. Recruits will be well off if they are to pick up on these circumstances in their own local areas.