Arizona State first-year coach Kenny Dillingham was spoken very highly of by his former team, Oregon, at yesterday’s Pac-12 Football Media Day.
Oregon coach Dan Lanning
Dillingham’s first time on staff with Ducks’ head coach Dan Lanning was when he got a graduate assistant job at Memphis in 2016 and Lanning was the Tigers’ inside linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator.
In 2018, Dillingham was promoted to the Tigers’ offensive coordinator and Lanning was hired as an outside linebacker coach at Georgia. Dillingham would stay at Memphis until 2020 when he was hired for the same position at Florida State. Lanning was promoted to Georgia’s defensive coordinator in 2019 and would go onto win the national championship with the Bulldogs in 2021.
Lanning would get hired as the Ducks’ head coach on Dec. 11, 2022 and bring Dillingham over with him as his offensive coordinator.
Before all of this, Lanning’s and Dillingham’s relationship started way back in the day. Dillingham explained the whole evolution of them knowing each other, which began when Lanning was a defensive graduate assistant (2012) and on-campus recruiting coordinator (2013) at Arizona State.
“He was at Arizona State when I was a high school coach,” Dillingham said. “I used to come over and see him on the ground floor working.”
Then, the relationship blossomed at Memphis.
“We joined up in Memphis,” Dillingham said. “He was my guy that I would throw all the crazy ideas off of. I’d go, if we put the tackle over and then get an unbalance and then shift, what’s the defense going to do? He would tell me his opinion (and) he would ask me the same thing on defense. He was like my whiteboard enemy at Memphis. We go back and forth on the whiteboard. Whoever had the pen last before our meeting won. It grew me as a coach to learn the defensive side of the ball.”
Dillingham learned even more from Lanning when he was at Oregon.
“In terms of what I learned at Oregon, how to play the NIL space. That’s a cutting-edge thing in today’s day and age. I think Phil Knight almost created the space. That’s how we built an entire company. To be there and to learn how they navigate, what they did to navigate it, be cutting edge with one of the biggest things in college football that’s changing, I think I learned a lot.”
Now, the two’s football journeys have taken them to be opposing head coaches in the same conference after Dillingham was hired by ASU in November of 2022.
Lanning said that he doesn’t “get a lot of wiggle room” to talk to opposing head coaches, as he feels the time would be better spent talking to a recruit. However, he said he has a lot of admiration and respect for Dillingham and the relationship they created.
“We’re talking more about each other’s families than football,” Lanning said. “He’s a great student of the game. He’s going to be a phenomenal coach for Arizona State and excited to see what he does there.”
Oregon and Lanning will face off against ASU on November 18, and Lanning expressed how it is going to feel to play Dillingham.
“When you play him, it’s like playing your brother,” Lanning said. “If I was playing my brother in basketball right now, I’d want to whoop his ass. That’s the goal. But Kenny is a competitor too. And he’s a great coach, and he’s familiar with that area. That’s home for him. I think he’ll do great things for the Sun Devils.”
So how will Dillingham play against a coach that is so familiar with his scheme?
“It’s about players,” Dillingham said. “He can know my schemes, I can know his schemes. It’s about the players. Can you put your players in the best position for them to be successful? If you’re going to look at what we did last year at Oregon offensively and compare it to what we do this year at Arizona State offensively, you’re going to see 50, 60% similarity. You’re going to see a lot of change. Why? We have different players. I think in this league alone, you look at a guy like Chip Kelly, that’s something he’s done better than almost anybody in the country. He’s adapted his style of play to the personnel he has. I think I would hope that’s something that we do well, is a change and adapt our schemes to our players.”
Dillingham on playing against Oregon: it's about the players when you actually play. Can you put the players in the best position to be successful?
— Burn City Sports (@BurnCitySports) July 21, 2023
Dillingham also talked about what he is going to bring over from Oregon after learning how to be a successful head coach from Lanning. He said the Ducks had meetings every Wednesday where they would just talk about the hard stuff in life.
“I think taking that mantra and putting my own spin on it, making sure that you as a team are building relationships year-round,” Dillingham said. “You don’t just flip a switch and say, ‘It’s fall camp; get to know each other.’ It’s a year-round process to get to know each other and build that ‘family.'”
Oregon QB Bo Nix
Nix transferred over to the Ducks from Auburn before last season, where he revived his career in just one year of Dillingham’s offense and led the Ducks to a 10-3 record.
In 2022, Nix had career-highs in completions (294), completion percentage (71.9%), passing yards (3,593), passing touchdowns (29) and passer rating (165.7). He also rushed for a career-high 510 yards and 14 touchdowns.
“This guy’s story is unreal,” Dillingham said of Nix. “I mean, he goes from the top guy to somebody that people don’t believe in and then back to one of the top guys again. It’s just a testament to how he was raised by his parents, who he is as a person and his passion for the game of football. I think he has a chance to live out all of his childhood dreams, and I couldn’t be more happy for him.”
After just one transformative season with the quarterback, Dillingham actually stepped out from backstage to watch Nix’s interview on the main stage.
— Cameron Derby (Blue Check) (@CamDerbyTV) July 21, 2023
“It’s just cool to see him,” Dillingham said. “I’m used to talking to him all the time. So it’s cool to see him talking, see his awesome jacket. He’s always been a good dresser, so he’s over there all dressed nice. So it’s just, it’s great to see him so happy. And it’s great to see him. You can tell he’s just relaxed. And he’s really excited and really comfortable.”
Nix said he is very grateful for all that Dillingham has done for him.
“Yeah, first of all, he was one of the biggest reasons I came to Oregon to begin with,” Nix said. “He taught me so much throughout the season, about life, about football, coverages, offense, scheme.”
It wasn’t a surprise to Nix that Dilllingham landed his “dream job” with ASU.
“As soon as the job was open, I knew he was going to get the job, what kind of person he is, what kind of coach he is,” Nix said. “I knew his determination. He was going to go out and get it because that’s his dream. We always go after our dreams or goals.”
Despite losing his offensive coordinator, Nix was happy for Dillingham.
“I was thrilled when he told me,” Nix said. “I couldn’t have been happier. Probably the same excitement he had for me. I can’t wait to beat his tail in November, though (smiling). I’m excited about that. Great relationship we’ll have for the rest of our lives.”
Stay tuned for even more stories from yesterday’s Pac-12 Football Media Day and be sure to check out all of our videos on our YouTube for behind-the-scenes content, interviews and more.