ASU fired Herm Edwards as its football coach after a horrifying loss to Eastern Michigan at home on Sept. 17. Now, with a full season still ahead, ASU must start the process of finding and hiring a new football coach.
There are plenty of names circulating, with some of them being less legitimate than others.
Michelle Gardner, an Arizona State beat writer for Arizona Republic, said any potential of ASU hiring Urban Meyer is a “pipe dream.” She also said that Deion Sanders isn’t an awful candidate, but that it would be unlikely that he would be at ASU for the long haul.
Each of the potential coach candidates would have to deal with the yet-to-be-seen ramifications of the ongoing NCAA investigation into ASU recruiting violations. That could prove to be too big of a scare for some of the bigger names the University will undoubtedly try to bring to the football program.
With those circumstances in mind, here are the names that ASU should pursue to be its next football coach.
1. Jonathan Smith
Jonathan Smith has taken what was once a Pac-12 bottom-feeder Oregon State football team to prominence. During Smith’s first season in Corvallis in 2018, OSU went 2-10, but the team steadily increased its win total each season (excluding the COVID-19 shortened 2020 season) before reaching 7-6 in 2021. The team is off to a great start in 2022, and led No. 7 USC heading into the fourth quarter in their week four matchup. The Beavers are 3-1 this season.
He has done a lot with a relatively small budget, at least compared to what ASU has done with a budget that spent over $10 million more in expenses for football. ASU should go out of its way to tempt Smith with the possibility of a higher budget. After all, if Smith can have the success that he has had at OSU with a much smaller budget, who is to say that he can’t do even more with more money?
Outside of his time at OSU, Smith has years of experience in the Pac-12 conference. He coached with Chris Peterson at the University of Washington as a co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. ASU could use a talented offensive mind such as Smith. He would be an excellent addition to the ASU football program and should be the priority target.
2. Justin Wilcox
While Jonathan Smith is more of an offensive mind, Justin Wilcox is better known for his defenses. Excluding Wilcox’s first season, his Cal defense has regularly been one of the top five best defenses in the Pac-12. Wilcox has gone 29-30 during his time at Cal. This isn’t a bad record given how, like Smith at OSU, Wilcox has received slightly less funding for his program than ASU spends on its own football program.
If ASU can continue to attract the strong offensive talent it has attracted in the past, and if Wilcox can pick a quality offensive coordinator, he could take ASU’s football program to the next level. Bringing a top-tier defense to Sun Devil Stadium is crucial to take the program to its highest potential.
3. Kalani Sitake
Sitake is a great coach and an excellent defensive strategist. He’s led BYU to three bowl wins and five winning seasons as coach, and they reached the top 10 in 2021 before losing to Boise State. Like Wilcox, Sitake would provide a defensive spark that ASU needs to handle the top offenses in the Pac-12.
However, Sitake isn’t as sure of a get as Wilcox or Smith may be, especially with BYU making the move to the Big-12 conference this upcoming season. But, if ASU can write a big enough check, there’s a chance Sitake would sign on.
4. Dirk Koetter
Koetter is a familiar name to many diehard ASU fans, as he coached the Sun Devils from 2001 to 2006. He notched multiple bowl wins for ASU before leaving for the NFL. After his stint as the offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons in the 2019-2021 season, it was thought that Koetter was calling it a career. However, he took a job at Boise State (where he was also a coach) as a senior analyst, and he ended up being hired as their interim offensive coordinator for the 2022 college football season.
If Koetter didn’t just take the job to fill in the gap Boise State had after they fired their previous offensive coordinator, ASU would be wise to reach out to Koetter to see if he wants to hop back on to the coaching carousel. Koetter knows how to run an offense, and his roots in the west and his NFL experience would certainly attract the recruits that ASU needs to compete for Pac-12 championships.
5. Shaun Aguano
After Herm Edwards was fired as coach, Aguano was quickly named the interim coach for ASU. His tough-love style stood out to many, as he quickly had the ASU football team doing things they hadn’t previously.
While some fans may not be happy with the on-the-field results under Aguano thus far, he was handed a sinking ship to float, and it remains to be seen what he can do for the rest of the season.
Aguano has deep roots in Arizona, winning four state titles as coach of the Chandler High School football team. ASU spotted him and brought him on as a running backs coach, where he oversaw prolific rushing attacks led by the likes of Eno Benjamin and Rachaad White.
However, what makes him stand out may also be his weakness.
“He was a high school coach four years ago, and he has never been a (college) coordinator,” Gardner said.
But, if Aguano’s limited experience in college football isn’t a problem, he could provide the roots and passion ASU football needs to reinvigorate the fan base and bring in Arizona’s best high school football players.
Gardner also said of Aguano, “I would love to see Aguano get a shot because of what he stands for.”
These five coaches should be who Ray Anderson and Michael Crow target as their coaching candidates. But, if none of them work out, there are a few other coaches to keep an eye on.
Danny Gonzales is the current coach at the University of New Mexico. The Lobos aren’t a strong program, but Gonzales was previously the defensive coordinator at ASU in 2018, and he would easily slide back into the program if ASU wanted to hire a familiar name.
Deion Sanders is one of the names that has been swirled around with the likes of Urban Meyer as more of a flashy hire. However, Sanders does not come with the baggage that Meyer does, and going from coach at Jackson State to coach at ASU would be an upgrade in every possible way. It would be a surprise if ASU hired Sanders. But if the administration wants to make a big splash and prioritize recruiting, Sanders could be the next ASU coach.
Norvell would be the perfect fit at ASU, if not for him turning around Florida State football after the program seemed to be treading water a year ago. Norvell served most notably as an offensive coordinator at ASU from 2012 to 2015. It may be difficult to drag him away from Florida State, but if it’s possible, there has never been a better time to bring Norvell back to Tempe.
Edited by Sadie Buggle, Logan Stanley, and Grace Copperthite.
Editor's note: The opinions presented in this column are the author's and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.
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Aaron Stigile is an opinion columnist at The State Press. He previously wrote for The Defiant Movement and is working toward a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communication. He is also working toward a minor in Spanish and a certificate in Cross-Sector Leadership.