Q&A with Head Coach Dennis Erickson

Dennis Erickson is the first coach to ever lead three different Pac-10 football programs. Arizona State is probably not only his last Pac-10 stop, but also the last head coaching job he will ever assume. He plans to end his illustrious career with a blaze of glory laying a solid foundation in Tempe. In this exclusive interview Erickson talked about that topic and others surrounding the Sun Devils.

DevilsDigest: Coach, the football off-season is an oxymoron, with all the various activities you and your staff engage in. Yet, does this time of year give you more ample time to settle in and get to know your surroundings?

Dennis Erickson: "I'm not really settled in yet, but I'm getting there. Right now I'm in the process of visiting with every player on the team, talking about how their spring went, what I expect from them, and then the position coaches visit with them too. I want to give them an idea what I want them to get done in the summer preparation…so that's been keeping me busy. I've been on the road busy with spring recruiting. In the meantime, I'm trying to buy a house, sell a house…it's getting closer (to settling in). I've done it before unfortunately…all my coaches have already bought homes here, so they're settled and that's important."

DD: How much has the familiarity you have with your staff help ease the transition on and off the field?

DE: "It's like getting on a bicycle after not being on it for a while…it's very simple. We've all been together and the offensive and defensive philosophy hasn't changed much through out the years. There have been additions and deletions here and there, but the philosophy of what we want to get done football wise, has always been pretty much the same. We're not ignorant enough not to add or delete things, because football changes all the time but the basis of it doesn't. It (having a familiar staff) has really made a difference, we don't have to sit around and meet forever just to get to know each other."

"Our friendships and philosophies off the field make a big difference too because we trust each other and have the same goals. In that sense it has been an easy transition and there's no learning curve. I've been in a situations before where I had to bring in a lot of new guys, like at Idaho, and that was a financial situation because we couldn't hire everybody we wanted…Coach Cozzetto has been showing me all the good golf courses and restaurants in Ahwatukee. He knows that part of town real well."

DD: What are the biggest surprises, both good and bad, that you've encountered since you've arrived in Tempe?

DE: "I don't know that there have been any bad things at all. The people have been very cordial to us. Their expectations are very high – they want to win, and so are my expectations. That's why I took the job. We have a chance to be successful here. We have outstanding facilities that give us a chance to win. It was a little surprising to me where we were fundraising wise…we need to get out and need get some things done here. I think it's a very good situation here, but we need to go out and continue to raise money, upgrade our facilities – the indoor football facility and the basketball facility are two huge things that need to be done here for us to continue on. So we have to go out and raise some money to get all that stuff done. We have great facilities compared to most of the Pac-10, but we have to continue and improve them."

DD: You coached in the some of the biggest and smallest markets in the country. What suits you personally better?

DE: "I think the college market suits me better (smile). You're dealing with your own community when you coach at a college. You're dealing with the university and the people at it, plus those people that are interested in the university in terms of fans. If you're in a smaller venue population wise it's a little bit harder, because of the number of people you can touch. I still think it boils down to alumni strength and how much the people care about the university. Regardless if you're in Pullman or Corvallis, you may be in a small town but you have alumni all around the country. Here it's the same thing, but the difference is that you can reach out to people that aren't alumni as far as getting them to support and so forth."

"To me, this is a place where we can really do a lot of things that I don't think have ever been touched as far as dealing with the alumni and the people of Phoenix."

DD: When you coached in the Pac-10 in past years, what was your perception then of ASU?

DE: "What your perception is and what the reality is are two different things. You come here and play at this the stadium, the weather…those are the pluses that you see. But anytime you're on the outside looking in, you don't see negatives. When you're inside looking out…everyone has negatives. My perception was that because of the stadium, the population, the university itself - that this would be a place where you can compete and win national championships. That's what I always saw from the outside looking in."

"Now this is a perception that hasn't been done. Why is that? There's always that question out there. Maybe the cover of the book is a little different than what's inside of it. The way I perceived ASU before I came here isn't a lot different than the way I perceive it right now."

DD: This year you have the benefit of a full recruiting cycle. How do would you assess the early feedback that you're getting?

DE: "The feedback is really good. We're talking with players who are supposedly elite players in the country. I'm not a huge early sign guy. If there's a guy that jumps at you, obviously you offer him early and we've done that. There's just a lot of guys there… there's a difference between their junior and senior year of high school. That just shocks me about recruiting how basketball teams get commitments from 9th graders. I don't see how you can do that because of physical growth…"

"As far as how we are received – we are received very well. We have a lot of contacts around the country. We know a lot of coaches and they know that players that play for us have been treated well. The biggest thing for us is recruiting Arizona, California, the west…that's where we gonna spend a lot of our time. But we'll go into Texas and Florida. They're not the number one areas that we'll recruit, but we would like to get a couple of players from each area. So recruiting is going real well, and obviously now that we have a chance to start now (with a full recruiting cycle) makes a huge difference. We have to keep the players here that we can keep. We're gonna lose some, but they are a lot of good players in this area and they're more and more of then every year."

DD: A lot of offers were made to Florida kids. Is this in large part because of your days coaching at the University of Miami days and do you feel that luring a recruit cross country is a big recruiting gamble?

DE: "I think Florida is an area that you go recruit, but for a Pac-10 school you have to pick and choose the players that are interested out of that area. Once you established that they're not afraid to come…the kids from Florida – the weather doesn't bother them, because here it's good and that's not necessarily true in all areas of the Pac-10. For example, when I was at Oregon State, we got two guys that we didn't even recruit – Sabby Piscateli and Yvenson Bernard. They weren't recruited by anybody and they were two All Pac-10 players. We're obviously not gonna go in there and beat Miami, Florida and Florida State but there are so many players in the state of Florida. Same in Texas. We do have connections in Florida that make us a little different than the other Pac-10 schools."

DD: Now that you've had a chance to watch some film on Arizona high school players, what are your thoughts about the in-state talent level?

DE: "I saw a lot of talent when I was at Oregon State and we recruited some good players here. The state has grown bigger, the high school football here is very good and the coaches do a heck of a job. There are a lot more good players here and we have to do a good job of watching those kids and develop a relationship with them. Hopefully they'll help us get this thing turned around and stay close to home. Arizona is where we need to look first and go from there."

DD: What are your thoughts on the possible ban on text messaging recruits?

DE: "To think that they will have control over it – it will never happen. If they decide to ban it, they need to totally ban text messaging. Period. End of story. I really don't have an opinion one way or another. I use it and it's a way to communicate, but some overuse it and it costs kids a lot of money. Obviously the people that have looked at this thing, have looked at all aspects, and if they decide to ban it that's fine. We've recruited for many many years without text messaging."

DD: Do you plan to heavily tap into the ASU heritage ASU heritage? Would you like former players to get involved more with the program?

DE: "That's our goal. The former players are welcomed here and we want them here at games, feeling comfortable to come to my office at any time and feel that they're more than just a part of Arizona State football. They spilled a lot of blood and have done a lot of things for this university. Anybody that has done that for the university is welcomed with open arms and we want to make sure that they know that."

DD: Have you had a chance to spend much time with Coach Kush? What are your thoughts on him, his success, and his place in ASU football history?

DE: "I grew up admiring Frank Kush. The things that he did here, when he first started the program…I have talked to him a lot about many different things, the area, about the people that I want to get to know…he knows a lot about the university and the ex-players and that's important. I try to run a lot of things by him."

DD: With your vast experience are you set in your ways or do you find yourself still wanting to learn from others?

DE: "You always want to earn. When you want to quit learning it's time to get out of the game. You always learn things in football. Sometimes they change or go around in a circle. When you've been around the game as long as I have, you see the spread (offense) with the quarterback running the football and that's a single-wing. It's come full circle. You always want to pay attention. If somebody does something good – copy it. No one has invented anything; you always take something from somebody."

DD: With spring practice in the books, what are some of the priorities that the team needs to address going into fall camp?

DE: "We got to develop depth in certain areas. When I look at our team I feel good with where we are at. Offensively, particularly on the offensive line and running back, we have depth. Rudy (Carpenter) and his experience make a difference. Sullivan or whoever the backup is has to develop. We have to grow at wide receiver, but we have some talent there. We had guys there that were hurt, like Rudy (Burgess)…Mike Jones not being around…we have some guys that have a lot of skill like Kyle Williams."

"Defensively is a little bit different story. I feel good about where we're at with the safeties. Troy Nolan has really emerged and we'll get Josh (Barrett) back. We have to decide who's the second corner so we can put the best four players (defensive backs) on the field. If that means moving Jeremy Payton to corner full time, then that's what we'll end up doing. Our linebacker core is getting better all the time. Moving Ryan McFoy was a good move for us. Morris Wooten is playing pretty good. We do have good depth there, but we just need to continue and get faster at that position."

DD: What player that was off the radar going into the spring do you think will surprise Sun Devil fans and make a big impact this season?

DE: "I think Troy Nolan is one of them. We didn't know how good he was because he was out hurt last year. He came in and jumped out and became a starter. Offensively, Kyle Williams – nobody knew that he was that explosive. He just had a great spring. Luis Vasquez and Morris Wooten are really helping us. Moving Saia Falahola from offensive line to the defensive line was huge. As he played more he got better and better, which added some depth and we don't have much depth upfront."

DD: Through out the years you've been criticized for your style of coaching and the supposed reneged nature of your players. In light of that, do you find yourself coaching with a chip on your shoulder wanting strongly to silence critics?

DE: "I don't know what the critics are critical of. I guess they're critical because we win. My passion that I have for the game and the passion that I demand from my players to play hard and enjoy the game…if that's what they're critical of, then let them be critical – I don't care. As long as we don't have penalties, and we're not making fools of ourselves, then let them play and have fun. I don't think that has happened and that goes back to Miami. That was totally overrated back then, because we weren't as bad as a lot of the teams. We just had a reputation from way before I got there."

"With Oregon State and the Fiesta Bowl game, everybody is upset because we beat the heck out of Notre Dame. Everybody loves Notre Dame, and we come in as a football team that doesn't have a chance and we beat them pretty good and had fun doing it. Maybe we got carried away a little bit, but if you had to be around what we were through the two weeks we were here before the bowl game, with Notre Dame being this and being that and we're just this little team…"

"So, has the criticism put a chip on my shoulder? Not really. I don't have anything to prove. I just want to win games and let my players have fun playing."

DD: You indicated in other interviews that ASU will be your last stop as a head coach. Is there a sense of urgency in you? Are you taking a different approach because this is the last stop?

DE: "I'll never do things differently. Why would you change? I just want to have fun and my goal is to get this program turned around, compete for the Pac-10 championship, and get some day in the race for the national championship. But it will take some time and it hasn't happened here. We've been pretty much in the middle of the Pac-10 most of the time, which isn't what people want here and I don't want it either. There's no magic wand as far as those things happening. The good thing is that the coaches here know how to get there and how to stay there. When I'm done coaching here, hopefully a long time from now, I hope I'm leaving a legacy so the program can really stay at a high level. That's my goal and the coaching staff's goal."

"It's about recruiting and getting the right players. I don't care about stars in recruiting and I think they're totally overrated. So many people get caught up in that stuff, worry about being in the top 20 recruiting and the reality of it is what happens in September to November…you have to have the right players that fit in with what you want to do. A lot of times, they're not five or four-star players."

DD: Do you believe in the sleeping giant theory and does ASU fit that bill?

DE: "I don't like to use that word. I like to look at ASU as a program that has a chance to be very successful. It has a great president in President Crow, (Vice President for Athletics) Lisa Love has tremendous energy and I love working for both of them. This university has a chance to be good at everything including football. We just have to take the attributes we have right now and go. With the things that we have going here, we have a chance to be as good as anybody if not better than anybody in the Pac-10. But we have to get moving in that direction. Our goals have to be high. We have to go out and compete against the SC's of the world in all aspects, including recruiting. Are we gonna win all the time? Probably not. But we have things to sell here that other people don't."

*Special thanks to Eric Menkhus who assisted with the questions for this interview

Sun Devil Source Top Stories