‘Impatient' Erickson Ready to Elevate ASU

Maybe it's the fact that he's nearing his 60's, or maybe it's just that the cupboard is too full to claim the Sun Devils as a rebuilding project. Either way, newly appointed head football coach Dennis Erickson, is anxious to propel his new team to a Pac-10 and BCS contender level starting next season.

"We have to elevate the program," said Erickson is his introductory press conference on Monday afternoon. "It has been done very well here. Now we have to elevate it and take it to the next level. That takes a little time, but I'm impatient. I believe that they are good football players and we want to take it to the next level. I don't know that there is a time table on it, but starting with spring football we want to start getting to that level."

To go that proverbial next level, Erickson left the University of Idaho after being hired there just ten months ago. This was a move that was naturally not well received on the Moscow campus. It even went a step further today, when an Idaho news reporter attended the press conference in Tempe and asked Erickson pointed questions, one of them being about his definition of commitment and loyalty. "In my profession and in what I want to do, I just wanted to be the best that I could be," Erickson replied. "Commitment to me is doing things that you ask people to do. Commitment and loyalty are different things depending and where you are at and what you want to do with your life. The bottom line for me, leaving Idaho to get here, was the opportunity to be the coach here."

Erickson has gained a reputation for not staying more than five years in any of his coaching stops. He explained it each coaching move as wanting to meet another challenge. While he didn't put a timetable on how long he expects to remain in Tempe, he did clearly state what his goals were for his Sun Devil tenure. "I'm here to build a program," he said. "And to build a program that the people here at Arizona State can be proud of. If I do leave because I'm retiring, that might be 20 years down the road, I don't know. But it is a program that will be very solid for a long time."

Arizona State University Vice President for University Athletics Lisa Love knows that it's unrealistic to hold down Erickson or any other coach to a time commitment. Yet she was confident that the years he will be with ASU, will time well spent. "My conversation with him was along the lines of program build and how you do that and how to sustain a program if he coaches for 10 years, eight years," Love explained. "I don't go in naïvely saying that there is some kind of predicted outcome or timeline or anything like that. I think that's a naïve approach to people in this business and to careers. What we focused on is what he can contribute to this program and that it's for the long haul. And if it's not, we'll go hire another great football coach. But in this stint right now, I believe Dennis Erickson will lead our `troops' for a really long time. "

Love mentioned three driving forces that helped her settle on Erickson: "Who is the best fit to lead the Sun Devil football program in regards to our standards? Who fits us, `us' being a commitment to the scholarship and academic standards and the success of student athletes and Arizona State. `Us' means a commitment to following the rules, the Pac-10 rules, the rules of college football, the rules and policy of Arizona State University and certainly those of the NCAA. `Us' means winning championships. We participate in the Pac-10 conference and there is no other goal for us annually than winning the conference and positioning ourselves for the Rose Bowl. It is our standard that that is our goal. But all three of those components and inextricably linked and unyielding. So through the past ten days, the search has been, who is the best person that can fit with in `us'? That is Arizona State University, surrounded by those three tenants."

Erickson, who's known for his wide spread passing offense and exciting brand of football, has obviously made a strong impression, in regards to his philosophy on Love. "When Dennis Erickson looks across the table at me and talks about practice, and he says, `Lisa, we practice very intently as we prepare for a high level of play and we practice at a very high rate of speed.' Well, when Coach Erickson looks at you and says, `We practice at a high rate of speed.' I immediately think, `I could sell tickets to his practice.' That is the way we will be prepared. He is not only a big game coach; he is a big season coach."

On the other hand, the newly appointed Arizona State University Head Coach has always been an admirer of the maroon and gold, during his two stints in the Pac-10 as Washington State's and Oregon State's skipper. "To me it's a great place. I'm looking forward to elevating the program, like the University is being elevated with President Crow, to elevate the program with everyone in the athletic department, with Lisa," he stated. "It is exciting to me to have an opportunity to come to Arizona State and to compete for the BCS Championship, the Pac-10 Championship, to compete for the things I look forward to competing for in college football."

Erickson has been labeled by some as settling for talented players with questionable characters, as well as having programs which lack discipline. He was quick to dismiss both claims. "I believe we bring in talent," he explained. "When I talk to our players we talk about what it takes to win. They play with a tremendous passion for the game. Obviously there are times when we've had penalties. But basically they play the game they way it should be played. Undisciplined, I don't see that as something that happens regularly in Dennis Erickson football at all. We play hard, we play with a passion, we play the game the way I think it should be played, and there are times we get some penalties. And sometimes that happens. Do I condone them? No, not at all. Our players will play hard and with a passion for the game."

He added the Academic Progress Rate (APR) requirements, are "one of the greatest things to happen in college athletics and the reason being, everyone is held accountable as far as graduation. The way that it is structured is that these athletes have to take certain units towards graduation and requirements, so that when they are done playing they've graduated or they're really close. Does it affect your recruiting? No, not really, because you have to evaluate regardless of that rule or any rule. You have to evaluate guys that can be successful not just on the football field but also academically."

NCAA violations, such as the ones he endured during and after his tenure at the University of Miami, is another point that detractors often bring up. Erickson claimed that NCAA records show that he wasn't involved in Pell Grant violations at Miami, nor was he tied into any other NCAA infractions.

Furthermore, Love noted that she did her due diligence in researching Erickson's background in this aspect. "I read the transcripts and findings and consultations with the compliance officials with regards to the Miami affair to get down the crux of it, "she said. "Not just what is perceived but to get to the facts and I found that indeed, Dennis Erickson was not involved in those issues and that is what was found to be true. Also, in interview the compliance officers that worked with him and his staff, we found that they gave him excellent marks at being very much involved and very committed to rules compliance and abiding by structure. So I went right to the source and right to the key people who were responsible for those areas and departments. The more I heard the more confident I was in what I believed to be true and what other athletics directors have shared with me in who he is."

Erickson remarked that the Pac-10 conference is a part of him, and described it as a "fun" league to coach in. "It's a conference that players play in. It has a high rate speed. It has a lot of national recognition, and it's a great opportunity to be back in it," he said. "The conference has a lot more equity. If you look at the programs and how much better a lot of them have gotten. Obviously the emergence of USC now over the last four or five years has made a difference. But they've all improved. Oregon is better, Cal, Oregon State, they keep getting better and better all the time. The competition and the closeness of the teams is the biggest change."

So how does Erickson plan to be among the Pac-10's elite year in and year out? Physical seems to be the popular adjective. "Offensively, we are going to be somewhat similar to what you have seen. Although we would probably try to run the football," he said. "A lot of it depends on personnel. As you know if you've watched my teams, we will spread them out. We will probably be a one-back, two tight ends and those types of things. I really believe you have to throw it and get it down the field, but you have to be a physical running football team and a physical team on defense. To win consistently the word `physical' is such a key. If there is one thing I can say offensively or defensively, we are going to run a 4-3 and we are going to blitz, but we are hopefully going to be physical on both sides of the football."

In terms of recruiting, the new ASU head coach priority is to sign as many junior college players as he can by the mid-year Letter of Intent day on December 20. Signing high school players will take priority after that date.

Prior to his press conference, Erickson spoke to the Sun Devil team and stressed a couple of priorities for the squad. " The two biggest things for them right now which are finals, which they are in right now and preparation for the (Hawai'i Bowl) game and go and play for Coach (Dirk) Koetter and his staff, which is a great staff and get ready to play that football game. The other stuff can wait until they get back."

Erickson stated that former ASU offensive coordinator Dan Cozzetto, who coached with Erickson this past season at Idaho will be part of the staff, as well current ASU cornerbacks coach Al Simmons, who was on Erickson's staff at both the San Francisco 49ers and Oregon State. Later in a radio interview he revealed that his long time offensive assistant Gregg Smith will be heading to Tempe as well. The lion share of his staff is expected to be announced later this week.

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