How Shaun Aguano's message of "Ohana" has sparked Chandler's football dynasty
November 29, 2018 by Shaun Salehi, Arizona State University
When Chandler head coach Shaun Aguano took over the program in 2011, he inherited a team that had not won a state title since 1949, a decade before Aguano’s home state of Hawaii was added to the Union.
Since his arrival, Aguano has turned Chandler into a national powerhouse, dominating the state with a 33-3 record in the 6A Division and winning three titles in the last four years. The Wolves seek a three-peat Saturday in a rematch of last year’s title match against Perry.
How he did it can be traced back to Aguano’s island roots, where he learned two words that would stick with him forever: “Ohana” and “Makoa.”
Aguano was born and raised on the island of Kauai, the third largest in Hawaii with a population of over 65,000. Sports became a major part of Aguano’s life early on.
“In our culture, football is huge in Hawaii and everybody played football so I really enjoyed it,” Aguano said. “I had two brothers and two sisters and we all played four sports, we played football, basketball, baseball and ran track. So every season we played together. The culture of that family back home, it was a huge gathering on Friday and Saturday nights for the families.”
While the games provided a place of bonding for families, they also turned into battlefields for players to claim reign over the small island.
“It was very territorial,” Aguano said. “The school that you played for really didn’t like any of the other schools.”
After a successful collegiate career at Linfield College in Oregon, Aguano returned to Hawaii where he began his coaching career as an offensive coordinator before joining the Chandler coaching staff as a wide receivers coach in 1998.
Taking over as head coach 2011 following the retirement of Jim Ewan, Aguano wanted a fresh start and decided to rebrand the program with his own style and Hawaiian flavor.
“When I got hired, we were still the same staff so there had to be a branding change,” Aguano said. “I also felt very strong about the love for the kids and the love for the community of Chandler so I asked myself, ‘How could I bring that about in branding Chandler?’ Failure scares me the most, so I needed to do something to brand our program and to make everybody believe that it was different from what Jim Ewan was. He brought the program where it needed to be, but I needed to make it different and bring my own style and the only style that I knew was the values I learned back on the islands.”
The values Aguano decided to focus on were the ideas of “Ohana” and “Makoa,” with each becoming a pillar of the new culture that has turned Chandler from mediocrity into a dynasty.
“‘Makoa’ means no fear. When I first got the job, I put ‘Makoa’ on our shirts to say that I’m not afraid to play anybody in the country,” Aguano said. “We are going to get there, whether we fail or not, I’m going to play everyone in the country and make sure that everybody knows that we’re not afraid of anybody.”
Aguano has put his words into action as Chandler has played at least one out-of-state opponent each year since 2013, including national powerhouses Florida’s IMG Academy, California’s Centennial High School and Nevada’s Bishop Gorman High School.
Chandler’s tough schedule has given the Wolves national recognition and provided a path for Aguano to potentially reach his ultimate goal.
“Our goal is to win a national title and I’ll start playing anybody in the continental United States or wherever it is to make sure we get there.”
While tough scheduling and high expectations have elevated Chandler’s level of play, it is Aguano’s family culture that has allowed his team to reach new heights.
“Our other saying is ‘Ohana’ which means family,” Aguano said. “How do I bring everyone together and build a program that the community of Chandler would be proud of? It just so happens we’ve been lucky to get kids to come this way and buy in that has made us successful in the last several years.”
Aguano’s message of “Ohana” resonates with his players because it has created an environment in which players have over 100 brothers, rather than teammates. Players have an opportunity to form relationships that extend far beyond the playing field and for seniors like running back DeCarlos Brooks and tight end Brayden Liebrock, it has made playing at Chandler all that more special.
“To me ‘Ohana’ really means family, everyone together or one unit,” Brooks said. “At Chandler, it’s very family oriented so everybody is involved within the whole community which is something that I love about playing here.”
“Coach Aguano has instilled the mindset of doing the right things all the time and being there for one another through everything,” Liebrock said. “I can count on these guys for anything and can come to them for anything because of what coach has taught us about togetherness.”
For Aguano, his idea of “Ohana” isn’t just rooted in football. It also involves his effort to mold his players into respectable young men. Something that he values most as a coach.
For senior linebacker Javan Ah Quin, Aguano has been like a father figure and has helped him mature during his time at Chandler.
“Coach Aguano has been everything. I’ve been here for four years and I played with his son when I was little so I’ve known him for a long time,” Ah Quin said. “He’s been a great role model for us, taught us leadership skills and how to be men not only on the field but off the field too.”
Aguano’s relationship with his players doesn’t end when they cross the stage at graduation. Many of his former players have achieved success at the collegiate and professional level and still are in contact with their high school coach today.
“I stay in contact by texting them and calling them, but my fear of failure is more exaggerated when it comes to the character of my kids,” Aguano said. “I worry that after four years my kids aren’t ready to be good fathers, good husbands and members of society. I worry about that more than I do winning football games because the football games we can take care of. So whenever we talk about building the character of men, you can ask all of my guys, I am very hard and strict on those guys on doing the right things all the time. That’s choices that they have to make throughout their life so they might say that I’m too strict or whatever but they know that I’m looking out for them.”
Aguano’s culture of family has even extended to outside of the football program. As signs bearing “Ohana” can be found all over campus and the phrase has become synonymous with the Chandler High School community. While Aguano didn’t expect his message to gain such traction outside of his locker room, he is happy to see the community embrace it.
“The student body has their own shirts with ‘Ohana’ on it now. Everybody talks about it, the family part of it, the tradition of us doing the haka. Now I see the band doing the haka and that wasn’t on purpose for me to get that out there, but I’m glad that people are buying in to it,” Aguano said. “Especially for the diversity of our school, I think our diversity is our strength. The way people treat each other, the teachers and the students, it really is a family environment.”
Aguano has been able to use his unique coaching style and values to propel Chandler into one of the top high school programs in the nation and as he and his Wolves attempt to capture another title this weekend, one thing is certain.
Although the dynasty may one day end, the message of “Ohana” will last forever.