Olson Comfortable in More Than One Way

When he was in high school, Rich Olson yearned to be part of the Sun Devils. His two-year stint with the Arizona Cardinals, created even more fondness in him to live in the Valley of the Sun. Thus, once his long time friend Dennis Erickson made the call to offer him the offensive coordinator position at ASU, Olson was more than willing to make the move.

Olson, a 30-year veteran coach in college football and the NFL, was the offensive coordinator at the University of Miami in 2006. When his assignment ended there, the opportunity to work at Arizona State presented itself fairly quickly. "Coach Erickson and I have known each other for a while," said Olson. "We're both GA's at Washington State (where Olson played quarterback) in 1970, and I worked for him in a couple of places. The situation went down in Miami (i.e. the firing of Head Coach Larry Coker) and I was available, so when he called I jumped on it."

"I was gonna come here anyway – this is where I wanted to live," continued Olson. "My daughter went to school here and lives here, so this all worked out very well. I loved it here when I was with the Cardinals (2001-02). There's a lot of familiarity here, I still have a lot of friends that live here and they're excited that I'm back and trust me I'm excited to be back."

Olson returns to Erickson's staff, where he has been during eight seasons of his career, including stops with the San Francisco 49ers (2004), the Seattle Seahawks (1995-98) and at the University of Miami (Fla.) (1992-94). Therefore, to say that he's familiar with Erickson's offensive philosophy would be an understatement. "We're gonna spread the field horizontally and vertically, both in the running game and the passing game and attack people," he explained. "He (Erickson) has a very aggressive philosophy and he's been very successful everywhere he has been. At the same time we know that great defenses win championships. We haven't had much time to look at the players that are here because most of our efforts have been dedicated to recruiting. The offense, like anything else, has to do with the personnel we have and what we're capable of doing. So that will be evaluated before we say this is exactly what we're gonna do (on offense)."

ASU's new offensive coordinator doesn't see the spread offense as being exclusive to certain conferences or regions of the country. Ironically, this pass-heavy scheme was actually derived from an alignment that is quite different in nature. "Everybody runs the same plays; they just call it by different names," noted Olson. "The difference in college football right now offensively, is the spread offense. But it's just a variation of option football, to give an edge to a team that doesn't have the true drop-back athlete to throw the ball. Defenses have caught up to that. The defense at Florida blew that up, and (Florida Head Coach) Urban Meyer had to change his philosophy. The philosophy that we had with Coach Erickson is that we don't want to expose the quarterback so that he will run the ball all the time and take those hits."

Olson's track record with developing good quarterbacks speaks for itself. In 1992 he was an integral part of Gino Torretta's success in Miami when the quarterback won the Heisman Trophy that year. In addition, Olson has coached quarterbacks such as former Sun Devil Jake Plummer, Daunte Culpepper and Warren Moon in the NFL, in addition to star players like Trent Dilfer and Craig James at the college level. With that in mind, what qualities does he want his signal caller to possess? "Number one you have to be smart," he replied. "You have to be mentally tough, accurate and a good decision maker. Those are the biggest areas…everybody talks about height, but guys like Rex Grossman or Drew Brees aren't 6-4, 6-5. That has been the classic style of quarterbacks and height is certainly an advantage. But at the same time, the qualities we look for are those that I mentioned. I'm not saying we want a 5-9 quarterback either, but if he's 6-1, 6-2 and can be accurate and a good decision maker we can play with him."

Other players that Olson had coached in college who weren't necessarily quarterbacks, but nonetheless accomplished players are Pro Football Hall of Fame members running back Eric Dickerson when he was at Southern Methodist, and offensive lineman Anthony Munoz who played at USC.

Erickson's offense will certainly be an adjustment that the Sun Devil squad will have to undertake. Yet, the foundation of this scheme is rather pragmatic. "Our philosophy is to put the ball in the hands of the playmakers," said Olson, "and we'll create ways to get that done when we identify who those playmakers are. If it's the running game or the passing game…everyone will be involved in this offense. It's not one-dimensional and the burden isn't all on the quarterback."

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