TEMPE — Shaun Aguano has attended the annual Arizona Football Coaches Conference for 15 years. The freshman year, Aguano sat about 40 rows from the stage, listening to speeches from successful high school and college coaches. He returned home inspired by what he heard.
“I think I can be that guy,” he told his wife, Kristin, later that evening.
After each lecture, 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 worked with Aguano.
“He lets his coaches coach, and that’s the only way to be successful,” Chandler High School football coach Rick Garretson said. “It’s not a one-man show, and Shaun understands that, and he’s going to direct.”
Garretson would know. He was Aguano’s offensive coordinator at Chandler, where Aguano turned Wolves into a footballing powerhouse. Aguano took over as head coach in 2011, after 10 years as an assistant.
From the second program supervised by Aguano, he instilled a culture of “ohana” and “makoa”, words which mean “family” and “fearless” respectively, in Hawaii, where he was born and raised on the island of Kauaï.
“That ‘ohana,’ that means a huge amount to me,” Aguano said Monday during his introductory press conference, in tears as he discussed connecting his family and football team.
Under Aguano as his coach, Chandler won four state championships and became a national soccer powerhouse, flying across the country to compete against the nation’s best in preseason and postseason competition. They ranked 12th in the MaxPreps National Top 25 in 2015 and 2016.
He finished with an 88-19 record in eight seasons with Wolves. He has coached athletes like N’Keal Harry, Chase Lucas, and Bryce Perkins, all of whom are on NFL rosters.
Garretson said he witnessed Aguano’s style of leadership. In 2016, Chandler started the season 2-2, with a narrow loss to Centennial High in Corona, Calif., and a 52-7 loss at the hands of Mountain Pointe.
Aguano, an attacking-minded coach, approached his coordinators and agreed that a change was needed. He passed the reins of the attack to his assistants and Garretson said: “The rest is history.”
The team finished the season on an 11-game winning streak and defeated Mountain Pointe 36-17 in the 6A State Championship.
Although Aguano has proven his leadership and playing abilities in Chandler, recruiting will be something new for him at the college level. He said in-state recruiting would be a priority and that he plans to handle local recruiting visits himself.
He tweeted Thursday that he would be watching two high school games on Friday night, including Chandler’s highly publicized game against Saguaro.
— Shaun Aguano 🔱 🏈🤙🏽🙏🏽 (@aguanos) September 22, 2022
Scooter Molander, the football coach at Eastmark High School in Queen Creek, coached at Brophy Prep, where he and Aguano dueled four times. Molander said he can see why Aguano’s vision for local recruiting could pay off.
“I believe they are going to recruit hard,” Molander said. “If ASU can keep the best players in the state, boy, Arizona has great high school football.”
Aguano seizes his new opportunity. He learned the news of his promotion during a meeting with ASU athletic director Ray Anderson and assistant athletic director Jean Boyd. The news was bittersweet for Aguano, who called Edwards a “dear friend” but acknowledged taking on the role was a dream come true.
“I don’t take this lightly,” he said. “There’s not a single coach that I think in the nation that loves Arizona and that’s in place at Arizona State that I think can do a better job than me.”
Aguano has lived in the Valley for more than 20 years and has served as ASU’s running backs coach since 2019. With the Sun Devils, he led a positional group that sent two players – Eno Benjamin and Rachaad White – in 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 of mood. The music played from start to finish, whereas in other practices this season it only played during team stretching exercises.
Aguano also brought new routines. Defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson said walking won’t be allowed in practice, and tight end Case Hatch said he could hear teammates bickering about sideline conditioning.
“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 “comprehensive” and “national.” He also noted that Aguano will be considered and his performance in the interim role will be reviewed.
His coaching tenure begins with a glove. ASU’s next three games are all against teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25, but Aguano isn’t concerned. After a bad home loss to Eastern Michigan, the Sun Devils host No. 13 Utah this Saturday.
“I think we can compete with anyone 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 win those next three games.
On Sunday evening, Aguano was delighted to hear a buzzing in his house. He has four children, two of whom have already left home, and Aguano said the energy in the kitchen was similar to the one he had when he told his family he had been promoted to head coach at Chandler.
It’s a feeling he misses.
“It was loud, as it should be,” Aguano said. “The excitement in their voices, and just (my kids) understand that dreams can come true.”
That night, he didn’t sleep much. Aguano tossed and turned, jotting down his thoughts in a notebook he kept by his bedside.
The morning was full of ideas.