Possible Dennis Erickson Ouster Another ASU-UA Parallel


Arizona and Arizona State football fans are unlikely to admit, but they are something of kindred spirits. In the summer, I wrote that 2011 needed to be the year each program shakes past ghosts, lest structural changes be made. It became quickly evident UA wouldn’t, and Mike Stoops was ousted. Now ASU’s Dennis Erickson finds himself where Stoops was a year ago, but he may not be afforded the extra 11 months Stoops receievd.

Even prior to 2-win rival Arizona coming into Sun Devil Stadium and extending Arizona State’s losing skid to three games, speculation swirled about Erickson’s coaching future. Add a third loss to a team drowning, and one your fan base hates and it makes for a most combustible situation. And bust it has, as speculation has turned into rumor.

There’s nothing yet substantiating Erickson’s supposed resignation, which Doug Haller of The Arizona Republic pointed out

So as of this writing, Dennis Erickson is going nowhere. But where’s there’s smoke there’s fire — fire, or resign. Could gamblers wager on who coaches a team a season from now, Las Vegas would take Erickson’s name off ASU’s board.

Arizona State’s season began with promise. The Sun Devils were a popular choice for the Pac-12 South title, and while they could very well still win it, circumstances are not exactly how envisioned. ASU’s title game shot is predicated on an awful division in which the best team is ineligible to win it. Oddly enough though, ASU beat the division’s “best” team — handily, at that.


September was a great month for the Sun Devils. ASU routed USC, its first defeat of the Trojans in nearly 15 years. The Sun Devils bested Missouri in the kind of national stage game ASU had previously been unable to win. ASU was a top 25 team at the end of the month. The promise of ASU’s immense potential was seen.

A year earlier, rival Arizona had a similar start. The Wildcats beat a top 25 Iowa team, won seven of their first eight, and were a top 15 selection. Then came November.

Much of football is psychological. Like the UA team that started 7-1 was the same players and schemes as the version that finished 0-5 last year, the ASU with no wins since the month started is the same crew that handed USC its most lopsided defeat. A coach’s job can be as much psychiatrist as tactician, particularly in trying times. The Sun Devils’ inability to get over the hump, losing three straight by a combined 15 points suggests that facet of Erickson’s ability to have his team’s heads as ready as their hearts was lacking.

Such has been the knock on him throughout his five years at ASU. The Sun Devils are more noteworthy for their penalties than plays on the field. Unsportsmanlike conducts come easier than touchdowns, and losses have been more frequent than wins. This season will be just the program’s second in the Erickson era. For a university that fashions itself a football school, that is vastly unacceptable.

Should Erickson be let go, either through his own choosing or athletic director Lisa Love officially lowering the hammer, it will be the second time in a decade both Grand Canyon State schools have sought a football coach simultaneously. In 2001, ASU went young and hired Boise State’s Dirk Koetter, who was mildly successfully but not enough to placate the fan base. UA hired retread John Mackovic, which is among the worst hires in college football history.

When each was replaced, roles were reserved. UA hired young, and Mike Stoops had moderate success — just not enough to placate the fan base. Tenured Erickson was no John Mackovic, I’ll make that abundantly clear. Erickson recruited well, had a great season and two decent, but his inability to sustain greatness is his undoing. He, like Stoops, is likely to be the victim of expectations. The victim of promise.

A coaching search yields new promise for a football program. Recent history has shown that the unfulfilled promise the Arizona teams experience on the field begins in the coaching search.