It’s been a bad month for Arizona State football.
The ASU athletic department opted for a change at the top, firing Dennis Erickson after the Sun Devils’ 0-4 regular season finish. Now paired with a top 10 and plenty irate Boise State in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas, it’s likely ASU will extend its stretch of .500 or worse seasons to four. Change was necessary, but with each passing day it appears there was little plan beyond releasing Erickson.
Since ASU vacated the head coaching position on Nov. 27, the following programs fill theirs:
- Florida Atlantic: Carl Pelini
- Illinois: Tim Beckman
- Kansas: Charlie Weis
- Memphis: Justin Fuente
- North Carolina: Larry Fedora
- Ole Miss: Hugh Freeze
- UAB: Garrick McGee
- UCLA: Jim Mora
- Washington State: Mike Leach
And of course, ASU released Erickson less than a week after rival Arizona hired Rich Rodriguez. UA had a month-and-a-half head start, but the excitement Rodriguez has generated in Tucson only compounds the anxiety of a brief, yet tenuous search in Tempe.
An impressive short list of candidates circulated even before Erickson was officially relieved of his duties, and last week it seemed a worthwhile successor at had been found. June Jones, architect of major reconstruction projects at Hawaii and SMU, was offered the job. Or he wasn’t. Seemingly no one knows for sure, but the offensive kick Jones would have brought to match Rodriguez and fellow new Pac-12 hire Mike Leach remains in Dallas. Rumor and speculation have since run rampant, a certainty in any coaching search, but fueled by the university’s lack of transparency.
ASU finally made official comment after the Jones debacle. And that comment was no comment. The university published the following on its athletic website this weekend:
ASU does not comment on searches for deans, faculty, administrators or coaches. When we hire a new football coach and a contract is signed, we will announce that selection and introduce the coach at a press conference and to groups of ASU alumni, staff and supporters. Rumors of all sorts – the vast majority of them completely unfounded – have been flying about. An extraordinary number of inaccurate news reports, usually attributed to unnamed sources, have been published. In some cases these sources have no knowledge of the situation and are making guesses; in others they may be deliberate misrepresentations by people who have or believe they have a stake in the negotiations. We caution all Sun Devil fans to read and listen to these reports with a healthy amount of skepticism and to rest assured that we are pursuing a broad, thorough and highly professional search for a new football coach.
In other words:
Meanwhile, other rumored Sun Devil candidates Kevin Sumlin and Larry Fedora are headed elsewhere and the pool of candidates gets increasingly shallow. Every day without a full-time head coach counts in the high stakes world of recruiting. The Sun Devils already lost Kenny Lawler, with a host of other 2012 signees accepting visits with other suitors. The athletic program needs decisiveness, and fast.
ASU has long been a sleeping giant, a program with unlimited potential waiting for the right leader to unlock it. The coach who assumes the reins will have a stocked cupboard with which to work, including quarterback Brock Osweiler and single season program rushing touchdown record holder Cameron Marshall. Finding a capable head coach shouldn’t be so difficult with a ceiling so high.
Yet, since Frank Kush was fired in 1979, the university has sought his replacement and every attempt has fallen short. ASU has reached a pair of Rose Bowls since joining the Pac three decades ago, but sustaining success has always been an uphill battle in Tempe. Perhaps those 32 years of unmet possibilities have become too insurmountable for would-be hires who have seen the short leashes coaches are on there. Dirk Koetter was fired despite reaching bowl games in four of six seasons. Bruce Snyder came a play from winning the 1996 national championship, and four years later was shown the door.
Even more difficult to overcome is the circumstances under which ASU ended the Erickson tenure on the field. The Sun Devils’ 0-4 slide bottomed out Nov. 25 against Cal, a game in which the team’s most pro-ready prospect, Vontaze Burfict, seemed to quit after earning two head-scratching personal foul penalties.
ASU’s construction project is one that goes beyond the structure itself. ASU may have a systemic problem that needs erection of a whole new foundation.