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ASU Football: Dillingham, Devils on track even after loss

Winning takes time

Oklahoma State v Arizona State Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Winning takes time, just ask Mike Gundy.

Gundy, has been at the helm for the Oklahoma State Cowboys for nearly two decades, becoming the face of the program during that span while leading the Cowboys to 17 straight bowl appearances behind a 157-75 all-time record. Before coaching, Gundy set program records as quarterback in Stillwater before transitioning to become an offensive coordinator. He then took over as head coach at the age of 37, but struggled to find success right away.

For first-year ASU coach Kenny Dillingham, he is at the other end of the spectrum. Although Dillingham didn’t play for the Sun Devil’s, he graduated from the Pac-12 school, putting him in similar territory with Gundy. He took on the role of offensive assistant before becoming the offensive coordinator for the Oregon Ducks. After ASU’s debacle with former coach Herm Edwards, Dillingham was hired to lead his alma mater.

The two coaches were brought together Saturday at Mountain America Stadium, and Gundy, 56, gave Dillingham, 33, some words of advice before kickoff.

“Don’t waiver, don’t worry about the results right now, worry about the process and if you stay true to the process, the results will happen.”

When Gundy took over, wins didn’t come easy. In his first season, Gundy started 3-0 but finished 4-7.

“He talked about how his first year,” Dillingham said. “He had a losing record and then he won seven games in two of his lower winning seasons in his career. And then it clicked in year 4 with his culture. That was kind of his message to me.”

Dillingham looked to notch the first big victory of his head coaching career and over a Power 5 program on Saturday, leading Oklahoma State 15-10 in the second half. However, questionable play calling and lack of offense in the second half left the Cowboys leaving the desert with a 27-15 win. Come 2024, this matchup will have conference implications.

Despite this, ASU deserved to be there. There were no disparities in talent, but coaching experience reared its head.

Arizona State (1-1) is already off to a rocky start after beating Southern Utah, 24-21, in Week 1 before getting shut out in the second half against the Cowboys. One thing Dillingham has stood by through his young coaching career is aggressive play calling. It’s won him games at Oregon while offensive coordinator, and lost him some.

It’s a double-edged sword.

Against Oklahoma State, questionable play calling doomed the Devils. ASU was 0-2 on fourth down conversions in the fourth quarter. Trailing by five points with six minutes remaining, Dillingham rolled the dice on a fourth-and-2 from ASU’s 33-yard line. The pass from freshman Jaden Rashada was off the mark and Oklahoma State extended its lead to 12 a few plays later.

Dillingham said teams convert third-and-1’s and fourth-and-1’s 75 percent of the time, but the Devil’s failed to convert. “That’s the story of the game.”

This is exactly who Dillingham is and what got him into the head position of his alma mater, and in a way, Dillingham followed the words of advice from Gundy and remained true to his style.

Like Gundy nearly two decades ago, Dillingham is still trying to figure out his team. What is the identity of the 2023 Sun Devils? That may take time, and time is what ASU faithful should give Dillingham. Unlike Gundy who inherited a program in “good position,” Dillingham is not so fortunate. ASU is under NCAA investigation for alleged recruiting violations and just days before kickoff for the season opener, ASU self-imposed a one year bowl ban.

Dillingham and ASU are figuring things out week by week.

The last piece of advice Gundy shared with Dillingham? Find balance.

‘Make sure you go to your kids’ events. That’s what this is about, and that’s the balance you need if you want to do this for a long time.’”

It’s worked for Gundy who saw Gunnar, his son and sophomore, take snaps on Saturday. Gunnar completed 5 of 7 for 32 yards and a score.

Dillingham has a son of his own, and if he follows Gundy’s advice, maybe he will find himself in the same shoes.