Erickson Era: Boom to Bust

With the Dennis Erickson era finished at ASU, we can look back at the positives and negatives of his time in Tempe.

When Dirk Koetter was fired after the 2006 Duel in the Desert, the list of potential candidates being discussed by Sun Devil fans was long and mostly unimpressive. The fans longed for a "proven winner in a BCS conference" but it seemed that the choices that fit that description were slim.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Dennis Erickson's name entered the discussion and it was announced he was officially hired a few days later. While having some reservations, the general tone of the Sun Devil Nation was one of excitement.

Of course, there were instant detractors and lots of reasons to be cautious, but Erickson's two national championship rings and the thumping his 2001 Oregon State team gave Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl undoubtedly qualified him as fitting the description so many fans demanded.

Fast forward to 2011 and Erickson is now out as ASU's head coach, despite winning Pac 10 Coach of the Year in 2007. So what happened? The Erickson story at ASU is one of rebuilding, opportunity, and – in the end – frustration.

Let's recap his stay.

The 2007 year was tailor made for a successful season. There was a strong offensive line, good skill players, and a favorable schedule. The 2007 Sun Devils didn't earn any major upset wins, but won every game they should have won and every "toss up" game to end with double digit wins for the first time since 1996.

Fans were excited about the newfound passion the Devils played with, citing the many come from behind wins as proof that the Erickson-led Sun Devils gave great effort and had a "never say die" attitude.

But 2008 was a completely different outcome. The team struggled, didn't win hardly any "toss up" games, and sputtered to a bowless season. Senior QB Rudy Carpenter was beat up and knocked around all season. The offensive line was a mess. But the defense showed some spark and featured some young talent, which gave Sun Devil fans some hope for the future.

That hope was tested in 2009. Inconsistent QB play and a stagnant offense squandered a solid effort from the defense all season. There was debate amongst ASU fans on which QB should lead the team, without any of them stepping up to take the reins of the offense permanently. The team showed glimpses of solid play and the athleticism needed to compete with the best teams in the country. Still, the close losses piled up and the Devils were once again home for the holidays.

A new offense was featured in 2010, under new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. Also, middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict was now a sophomore and poised to make a huge impact on the defensive side of the ball.

But the wins didn't materialize.

The Devils fought hard and stood toe-to-toe win BCS bowl-level teams, but always came up a little short in the end. Because of a scheduling issue, six wins was not enough to get ASU to a bowl game. It was another holiday season at home for the Devils and their fans.

All factions – fans, coaches, administrators – pointed at 2011 as the year ASU had been building toward.

Erickson finally had a team full of his recruits. The new offense was in its second season. And the defense had been solid-to-good for the past couple seasons.

Senior leaders showed up all over the depth chart. But defections and injuries began piling up – T.J. Simpson, Omar Bolden, Lawrence Guy, James Brooks, Deantre Lewis, and Brandon Magee would all miss the 2011 season.

The season started well, with the Devils only dropping two of their initial eight contests, with both losses on the road. The schedule was going to be much lighter down the stretch and it appeared the Sun Devils were finally ready to take that big step forward under Coach Erickson's tutelage.

But then UCLA happened. And Washington State. Then, the unthinkable – the Devils lost to a terrible Arizona Wildcats squad at home.

And they ended the season with a whimper by losing to Cal at home, too.

What was once a promising season turned into one of frustration and agony, costing the head coach and his staff their jobs. The Dennis Erickson era was over. What had started on such a great note ended with a complete thud.

Not everything from the Erickson era was negative. Coach Erickson was very good with the media and boosters, which was a welcome change from Dirk Koetter's time in Tempe. He was also good at spotting under-recruited speed and getting them to ASU.

Finally, despite multiple warnings about Erickson running a "thug program," he graduated players and there were very few "off the field" incidents. For these things, Erickson should be thanked and I believe most Sun Devil fans believe the next coach will inherit a program in much better shape that the one Erickson inherited in 2007.

But, in the end, the lack of discipline, focus, and accountability cut Erickson's time in Tempe short.

The team was consistently almost over the proverbial hump, only to shoot itself in the foot time and time again. A combination of inattention to detail, loyalty to underperforming coaches, and a lack of any disciplinarians on either side of the ball resulted in a bunch of "almost, but no cigar" situations.

In many ways, it's sad that Erickson did not succeed in Tempe. He seemed to genuinely care about winning "the right way" during his time here and his personality and demeanor were good for the external forces involved with the program.

But it's a results-oriented business and Erickson was fired for the first time in his collegiate coaching career. Hopefully, both he and ASU land on their feet and have more success in the near future.


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