MCMINNVILLE, Ore. – Tucked in the evergreens of the Pacific Northwest and the shadows of Portland and Eugene is the most consistent college football program in the country.
The Linfield Wildcats have posted 66 consecutive winning seasons, the longest such streak across any level of college football. During that span, the ‘Cats have won four national titles, three in NAIA Division II and one in NCAA Division III.
ASU interim head coach Shaun Aguano was at Linfield from 1988-91, running for over 1,300 yards and 17 touchdowns in 35 games across four seasons.
Aguano played under Linfield legend Ad Rutschman, who posted a 182-49-3 record and won three of the program’s four national titles in 24 seasons leading the program. Ad is the grandfather of Baltimore Orioles star Adley, who just finished second in AL Rookie of the Year voting and grew up in nearby Sherwood, Oregon.
Aguano said that Rutschman was a big factor in his decision to go into coaching, and he hopes to instill a similar culture in Tempe.
“The way he prepared, the way he took care of his players and his coaches, it’s something that I try to do,” Aguano said. “The culture that they had there is something I absolutely, definitely want to instill here too.
“When you can go (66) years and not have a losing season, and that’s consecutively, I think you’re doing something right.”
Rutschman, 91, is still on the coaching staff at Linfield, coaching kickoff returns under head coach Joseph Smith.
Featured on GameDay this morning for their streak of 66 winning seasons, Oregon’s Linfield continues to dominate out west: https://t.co/20U43jDkSw— RedditCFB (@RedditCFB) October 23, 2022
When asked about Aguano, Rutschman smiled and chuckled, saying it would have been hard for him to predict that one of his players would go on to have a Division-I head coaching job.
“I think you got to have some things going for you,” he said while laughing.
“The Streak,” as it is referred to around the Linfield campus, began under Rutschman’s predecessor Paul Durham, who coached for 20 seasons.
Rutschman took the program over the top, however, winning three NAIA national titles in a five-season span from 1982-86. While winning meant a lot to Rutschman, he believes that his top priority is as an educator, making student-athletes better people and winning as a byproduct of how they handle themselves in all areas of life.
“I believed my number one job is developing people and my number two job is developing a program,” Rutschman said. “And if I accomplish those two things, to some degree winning takes care of itself.
“We’re making better people out of every one of these athletes. They come in here as a good person, but I like to see them graduate being a better person. And that, to me, is our number one job.”
Aguano is sprinkling his own zest onto this philosophy, emphasizing Ohana, meaning family in Hawaiian.
In a letter to Sun Devil fans in September, Aguano echoed a similar sentiment as Rutschman. In the letter, Aguano noted that all of Sun Devil nation is his Ohana, and he hopes to build up his players with the support of that family.
“And it is through your support that we will help these young men succeed, not only on the football field but in life, as husbands, fathers, and as members of society.
“Because it takes a village. And there’s no other village I would rather be in than this one, with you, my Sun Devil Family.”
Big day tomorrow for the Sun Devil Ohana! Family weekend, Salute to Service, and Maroon Monsoon. Clear your schedules and we’ll see you at 7:30pm! pic.twitter.com/LLlX9HAe2l— ASU Grounds Crew (@ASUGroundsCrew) November 4, 2022
Aguano and Smith were teammates for three seasons, playing together from 1989-91. Smith has fond memories of Aguano and said “it’s fun to see his coaching career take off.”
“I just had a lot of respect for Shaun. He’s a hard worker and (was) a powerful running back,” Smith said. “He exudes integrity and toughness and being a man of his word. I think his character is extremely high.”
Both Smith and Rutschman made sure to note that it wasn’t just Aguano’s former teammates and coaches that respect him.
In October, the Arizona Football Coaches Association wrote a letter to ASU to state their support of Aguano earning the full-time job, even ending the letter by stating that “he has the backing of every single football coach in the state.”
Aguano won four state championships at Chandler, including three straight before coming to Tempe.
“When other coaches speak highly of you, that speaks volumes, because usually, they don’t like it because you beat them,” Rutschman said. “So the fact that he has a lot of support, I think speaks quite highly for the manner in which he was winning.”
“When other coaches speak highly of you, that speaks volumes... So the fact that he has a lot of support, I think speaks quite highly for the manner in which he was winning, which I really respect.”
Aguano has one more game to make his case for the full-time gig, as ASU travels south to face an Arizona squad that just upset UCLA in Pasadena. Regardless of how ASU’s coaching search ends, Aguano has backing all over the west coast and possesses a coaching style that will likely lead him to success wherever he ends up.
The endorsements are there. How much weight will they hold?