TEMPE – Shaun Aguano has attended the annual Arizona football coaches conference for 15 years. The first year, Aguano sat about 40 rows from the stage, listening to speeches from successful high school and college coaches. He went home inspired by what he heard.
“I think I can be that guy,” he told his wife, Kristin, later that evening.
Every conference after that, Aguano sat closer to the stage. Eventually, he had a front-row seat.
On Sunday, Aguano was named ASU’s interim head football coach after the program agreed to a “mutual relinquishment of duties” with former coach Herm Edwards. The news that was well received by those who have worked with Aguano.
“He lets his coaches coach, and that’s the only way you’re ever going to have success,” Chandler High School football coach Rick Garretson said. “It’s not a one-man show, and Shaun understands that, and he’s going to lead.”
Garretson would know. He was Aguano’s offensive coordinator at Chandler, where Aguano turned the Wolves into a football powerhouse. Aguano took over as head coach in 2011, after 10 years as an assistant.
From the second Aguano oversaw program, he instilled a culture of “ohana” and “makoa,” words that mean “family” and “fearless,” respectively, in Hawaii, where he was born and raised on the island of Kauai.
“That ‘ohana,’ that is a huge meaning for me,” Aguano said Monday in his introductory press conference, tearing up as he discussed connecting his family and his football team.
With Aguano as its coach, Chandler won four state championships and became a national football power, flying across the country to take on the nation’s best in preseason and postseason contests. They ranked 12th in the MaxPreps National Top 25 in 2015 and 2016.
He finished with a record of 88-19 through eight seasons with the Wolves. He coached athletes like N’Keal Harry, Chase Lucas and Bryce Perkins, all of whom are on NFL rosters.
Garretson said he witnessed Aguano’s leadership style firsthand. In 2016, Chandler started the season 2-2, with a close loss to Centennial High in Corona, California, and a 52-7 defeat at the hands of Mountain Pointe.
Aguano, an offensive-minded coach, approached his coordinators and recognized a change was needed. He passed the offense’s reins to his assistants, and Garretson said, “The rest is history.”
The team finished the season on an 11-game win streak, and beat Mountain Pointe 36-17 in the 6A state championship.
Although Aguano proved his leadership and play-calling abilities at Chandler, recruiting will be something new for him at the collegiate level. He said recruiting in the state will be a priority, and he plans to handle local recruiting visits himself.
He tweeted Thursday that he will be watching two high school games Friday night, including Chandler’s high-profile game against Saguaro.
— Shaun Aguano ? ????? (@aguanos) September 22, 2022
Scooter Molander, the football coach at Eastmark High School in Queen Creek, used to coach at Brophy Prep, where he and Aguano dueled four times. Molander said he can see why Aguano’s vision for local recruiting could pay dividends.
“I believe they’re going to recruit hard,” Molander said. “If ASU can keep the best players in-state, boy, Arizona has great high school football.”
Aguano is embracing his new opportunity. He heard the news of his promotion in a meeting with ASU athletic director Ray Anderson and deputy athletic director Jean Boyd. The news was bittersweet for Aguano, who called Edwards a “dear friend,” but acknowledged holding this position is a dream come true.
“I don’t take this lightly,” he said. “There’s not one coach that, I think, in the nation that loves Arizona, and is in place at Arizona State, that I think can do a better job than I can.”
Aguano has lived in the Valley for more than 20 years, and has been ASU’s running backs coach since 2019. With the Sun Devils, he led a position group that has sent two players – Eno Benjamin and Rachaad White – to the NFL, and led the FBS in yards per carry in 2020.
At the first practice with Aguano as head coach, there was a change in atmosphere. Music played from start to finish, while at other practices this season it only played during team stretching exercises.
Aguano also brought new routines. Defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson said walking wouldn’t be allowed at practice, and tight end Case Hatch said he could hear teammates bickering about the conditioning on the sideline.
“It was a lot of energy,” Henderson said. “The players found themselves doing things they hadn’t done in years.”
Aguano will have nine games to prove himself as the Sun Devils’ long-term answer. Anderson said the search for a permanent head coach will be “exhaustive” and “national.” He also noted that Aguano will be considered, and his performance in the interim role will be scrutinized.
His coaching tenure starts with a gauntlet. ASU’s next three games are all against teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25, but Aguano isn’t concerned. Coming off a bad home loss against Eastern Michigan, the Sun Devils host No. 13 Utah this Saturday.
“I think we can compete with anybody in the country,” he said. “If I came in, and we challenged a team that was mediocre, and we got a win, so what? Let’s go and win these next three games.”
On Sunday night, Aguano was excited to hear a buzz in his house. He has four kids, two of which have already left home, and Aguano said the energy in the kitchen was similar to when he told his family he was promoted to head coach at Chandler.
It’s a feeling he’s missed.
“It was loud, like it should be,” Aguano said. “The excitement in their voices, and just (my kids) understanding that dreams can come true.”
That night, he didn’t sleep much. Aguano tossed and turned, jotting down thoughts in a notebook he keeps at his bedside.
In the morning, it was full of ideas.