With speculation of Erickson's release from coaching duties at ASU having recently to confirmation of his firing-to-be, the emotional reactions include a mixture of relief, disbelief and frustration.
Though the general fan impression is primarily negative, many around the football program—players, media and department employees—will legitimately miss Erickson due to his affable personality and generally approachable nature.
However, the unavoidable reality is that the game Erickson's in is evaluated by recruiting, revenue and most importantly wins—all areas that have been below expectations.
Upon his arrival to ASU in December of 2006, Erickson brought an impressive résumé but certain shares of controversy, both qualities predominately based on his tenure at the University of Miami nearly two decades earlier.
One of the greatest compliments paid to Erickson during his career is his reputation as a "players' coach" as he undoubtedly shows legitimate concern for his athletes' well-being and prosperity. Unfortunately, the past five years that relationship in retrospect can be likened to parents that let their teenage kids throw keggers at their house—they'll be forever remembered as the "cool" parents, but when discipline is necessary it falls upon deaf ears.
The retrospective journey to evaluate what went wrong at ASU under Erickson generally is guided by deficiencies in team focus and discipline.
Early in Erickson's tenure, offensive line play began to be major liability and the unfortunate standard of ASU being one of the nation's most highly penalized teams started—recurring areas of concern from day one through the end for Erickson.
When the honeymoon after a 10-3 debut season came to a screeching halt week three of 2008 against UNLV, the critics increasingly surfaced.
The Sun Devil offense—a powerhouse under previous coach Dirk Koetter just a few years earlier—began to quickly degrade in 2008 and most notably 2009 prompting widespread "cronyism" allegations as offensive coordinator Rich Olson was not replaced until after the staff's third season in Tempe.
Compared to the previous coaching staff, recruiting made some improvements—most notably its acquisitions from prominent Southern California high schools—but in-state recruiting became an abomination, as ASU was only able to sign three of the 22 local four and five-star prospects (Corey Adams, Gerell Robinson and Zach Schlink) over the four full classes Erickson pursued.
Perhaps most disappointing and disturbing has been the tremendous lack of development of players throughout the entire roster, especially those predicted to be leaders and surefire superstars. A multitude of players over the past five years have come to Tempe with immense athletic potential, but far too often those skills did not fully materialize.
In 2007 ASU placed four on the All-Pac-10 first team and three on the second team; however, from 2008-10 a total of only five players would receive first or second-team recognition.
Also, with the exception of Erickson's first season in Tempe, only seven players were drafted into the NFL over three years, with only Shawn Lauvao (third round) being selected higher than the sixth round.
Admittedly, players such as Cameron Marshall, Jamal Miles and Gerell Robinson seem likely to earn postseason accolades this year and the Devils' draft class should be the highest since after the 2007 season, but the inability for ASU's perceived stars to meet their absolute potential has been frustratingly striking.
No player embodies this concern more than linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who came to Tempe as the school's most highly rated recruit of all time only to have his play regress over his three years which symbolically ended with him sitting on the bench for the final quarter of the 2011 regular season. Burfict's predicted early departure likely will be addition by subtraction for the next Sun Devil skipper, as his career has been marred by penalties and attitude issues and generally devoid of the dominant play all fans expected.
Other marks of unfocused teams—including ASU's 8-18 record away from Sun Devil Stadium—are clear points that a change is necessary. In general, issues plagued the program years one through five and though a handful of highly talented players made their way to Tempe, the total combination was never put in place on the field.
The final straw ended up being the misery over the past four weeks—losses to UCLA, Washington State, Arizona and California that plummeted ASU from the no-brainer Pac-12 South champion to barely a low-tier bowl participant.
Since early in the 2008 season fan patience in the Dennis Erickson regime hit some peaks but many valleys, and the 6-6 record in 2011 season that was viewed as a last-ditch effort for the staff has created no doubt that the program must shift in a new direction.