ASU, Kenny Dillingham reportedly hire defensive coordinator

Michelle Gardner
Arizona Republic
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One coordinator position has been filled. Now so has the other as Brian Ward, defensive coordinator at Washington State, is set to join the Sun Devils in the same capacity under new head coach Kenny Dillingham according to ESPN's Pete Thamel.

The Cougars, 7-5 overall and 4-5 in the Pac-12 the past season, had always been known for their offense but the improvement on the defensive side of the ball has been a key in the school's resurgence. Washington State led the Pac-12 in scoring defense, allowing only 19.8 points per game, and ranked third in yardage at 366 given up per game which trailed only Utah and Oregon State. The Cougars were also third in fumble recoveries (8), fourth in sacks (29) and tied for second in defensive touchdowns.

Ward, 49, spent just one season in Pullman working under Jake Dickert whom he had a previous relationship with as the two were on the same staff at North Dakota State in 2010.

Before coming to the Pac-12 Ward served as defensive coordinator at Nevada for two seasons, the second of which ended with an 8-4 record and an appearance in the Quick Lane Bowl against Western Michigan. He helped that program improve in most defensive categories over the showing the year before he arrived.

His Nevada defense allowed 24.4 points per game, an improvement of 7.5 points and went from 48th in turnovers forced to eighth. In 2020 he worked with the linebacking unit, then focused on the defensive line in 2021. 

Before heading West Ward spent four years at Syracuse, where he coached two-time All-ACC selection and current Indianapolis Colts linebacker Zaire Franklin. He was hired as defensive coordinator in 2016 and added the role of linebackers coach in 2017.  Ward’s defenses at Syracuse were nationally relevant, including back-to-back seasons (2017 and 2018) in which the Orange led the nation in turnovers forced in 2018, forced more turnovers in 2017 and 2018 than any other FBS team in the nation, and finished in the top 15 in third-down defense. Syracuse was also top-six nationally in 2018 in turnovers gained, interceptions, fumbles recovered and sacks, while also setting the school record for sacks.

In 2017 Ward was a nominee for the Broyles Award, given annually to the nation’s top assistant coach. Before joining the Orange, Ward served as the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach for Bowling Green in 2015. He also served as Bowling Green’s head coach for the 2015 GoDaddy Bowl versus Georgia Southern and was one of three FBS finalists for Linebackers Coach of the Year from

Other stops were at Western Illinois (defensive coordinator 2012-14) and Drake (defensive coordinator 2011).

The defense is an area in which the Sun Devils underachieved. ASU was ninth in scoring defense (31.4 ppg), ninth in rushing defense (188.7 ypg), eighth in sacks (17) and eighth in overall defense (422.1 ypg). It recovered only one fumble.

Ward, also a native of Arizona, will be the fourth appointment to the new staff for Dillingham, who was named ASU head coach a week ago. Others are offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin, defensive line coach Vince Amey and special teams coordinator and associate head coach Charlie Ragle.

At a press conference to announce his position as Sun Devils football coach, Kenny Dillingham points towards friends in attendance on Nov. 27, 2022, in Tempe, AZ. Dillingham is an Arizona native and made note of his personal connections across the valley.
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