Erickson Faces Familiar Coaching Foe

It is indeed a new chapter in the extensive coaching resume of Dennis Erickson, who will coach his inaugural game with the Sun Devils on Saturday. Ironically enough, Erickson will feel that much hasn't changed when across the field will be a very familiar friend and foe - Dick Tomey, San Jose State's skipper.

"It is kind of amazing. We played against him when I was at Miami a couple of times, and then when I was at Wyoming we played him at Hawaii, and of course in the Pac-10 when I was at Washington State and Oregon State, so it's really weird, but that's how it goes," said Erickson in his weekly press conference. "We're looking forward to this game against him, but like I said, I have nothing but great respect. His football team is going to come in, and this is huge for them, and I've been it that situation…I told our players yesterday that you better have you-know-what ready to play because it's going to be a hard-fought football game."

The Spartans finished with a 9-4 overall record and a 2006 New Mexico Bowl championship. Consequently, San Jose State posted its finest season since 1990 and snapped a 16-year bowl draught. Count Erickson as someone that isn't surprised by Tomey's success. "We've known each other for years and years and years. And years. And years," said Erickson with a smile referring to his vast coaching experience and numerous games coaching against Tomey. "He was with me at San Francisco (49ers), but decided that he didn't like the NFL and went to Texas. When the athletic director, who had also worked with the 49ers when I was there, asked me about Dick, I thought he was the ideal guy to get that program going. He's done it at a lot of different places. He did it at Hawaii. He did it at Arizona."

"Now at San Jose State, what he's done is that he's gone out in that area, and really was involved in raising money and was involved in just making the program better, so a lot of the players, high school and junior college players, in that area are staying there. But where it was and where it is right now, I watched them play in my year's sabbatical that I had, I was in San Jose, so I watched his team play a couple of times, and that team from the team this last year as really a great deal of improvement…I've always thought he was one of the great coaches in the country."

In the head-to-head battles Tomey has a slight 5-4 advantage versus Erickson. ASU's head coach stated that he doesn't have one particular match-up that stands out over the rest, but is quite certain that Tomey would list Arizona's shutout win, 29-0 against Miami in the 1994 Fiesta Bowl, as the most memorable game between both of them.

"They seem to think that was the biggest game that we played against each other. I think the ones that I won were more important than the ones he won," Erickson commented. "Unfortunately, that does stick out. I don't know the battles we've had at a lot of different places. I'll never forget the first time we played him; we played them over in Hawaii when I was at Wyoming. We came over there and they had a heck of a team, and we jumped on them early and we were ahead of them. He called timeout and brought the whole team to the sidelines. I'll never forget that. I said `uh-oh, watch out.' They started doing those dances. That stood out, and then we had good battles when I was at Oregon State. We've had a lot of fun. I've had fun four times and he had fun five times, I guess is what the match-up is."

Erickson has seen the progression of his Sun Devils from the first day of spring practice through out fall camp. Specifically, he's seen the growth of the team in "X's and O's", practice intensity, and just overall play. "Now we'll see what happens when we play," Erickson remarked. "All that practicing and all that stuff is great, but will they play at the tempo that the coaches want them to play on Saturday night? To me that's the biggest thing…that's why it's so exciting to see what happens on Saturday night, because I don't know. I really don't, so it's going to be fun to see. I do know we have good team chemistry; we have great senior leadership that wants to win football games and that have not had quite the success that they wanted in their careers here."

ASU's head coach admitted that he has concerns at every position going into the season, and that it's a natural feeling for a coach working his first year with a squad. "Defensively I thought we really improved in camp. Now let's see how we play against a different offense and something we haven't seen every day," Erickson noted. "Are we going to run to the football? How is our front four going to play? What kind of depth are we going to develop there? How are our junior college players going to play, that haven't played yet?"

"And then offensively, can we run the football? Are they going to put seven guys in the box or eight in the box and force us to throw it? How are our receivers going to react to this? Because really we are inexperienced at receiver, when you look at it, Mike [Jones] played some, Kyle [Williams] played some, Chris [McGaha] played some, but they are an inexperienced crew, so how are they going to react? Are we going to be able to make big plays? We all have a pretty good idea what Ryan Torain is going to be like and Keegan [Herring], so I really believe we'll be able to run the football. Now when they do things to us defensively to take that away, how are we going to react in the passing game? To me, that's a real concern."

Erickson does have a good feeling about his special teams units, and was extremely pleased with several players in the squad's last fall camp scrimmage a few days ago. "I thought Friday night, which was a big night for us special-teams-wise, we faced a lot of different things," he said. "I thought Jonathan Johnson was punting the ball really well. Our snapping, [Jason] Perkins is snapping the football really well. And we're protecting. To me, that's the most important aspect of special teams is punt protection. We've spent a lot of time, and it seems like we're doing a good job. It's like anything else, you don't know until you play a game."

"As far as field goals, you talk about Tom Weber; he's getting better all the time. He's kicked pretty darn well. I put a little too much pressure on him the other night, guys we running in his lanes. But he kicked really well Sunday night. He's got a huge leg, and the thing that's really impressed me about him is his kickoffs. We're kicking from the 30-yard-line and he's still knocking it into the end zone, so that's a heck of an advantage when you talk about field position change. So I look for him to have a good year. He's just got to get more consistent as far as accuracy is concerned, and he'll do that. He's only a freshman, so he just hasn't done it. In our return game, Kyle Williams will return punts for us, and Justin Tryon will return kickoffs. There's some speed there, and they are dangerous, so I like where we're at special-teams-wise, but again we have to wait and see what happens."

Erickson's philosophy in coaching special teams is a committee approach, rather than delegating all the duties in this department to one individual. "The hardest job in all of football is being the special teams coach because you can always find something wrong with special teams, and then the head coach yells at you and all that stuff," he explained. "Now I have to look for all of them to yell at, I just can't get the special teams coach. It gets everybody involved in it. Everybody has ideas. There's only so many ways to do it, but all the coaches are involved in it. I really like it that way, and they are all responsible, so you can't just put it all on one person. Doubt players see that too, that everybody's involved in special teams. We all talk about offense, defense, and special teams, each being a third of the team, but that's now how it always works, because you have one coach working with them…it's worked before, and hopefully it's going to work now."

There's an obvious anxiety and uncertainty for a head coach over the season opener. This notion is magnified tenfold when the head coach is in the first year in charge of a program. "And even after you've been in it, you just don't know how are they going to react to different things," said Erickson. "It's the most important game just to see where you're at, identify where you have to get better and the things that you need to do. If we can just come out and play hard, play with great emotion, that's the most important thing to me right now. Everything else takes care of itself."

In contrast to his natural feelings of doubt, there's a strong sense of excitement that resides in Dennis Erickson. "It seems that not too long ago was December 12 or whatever the day was when I was fortunate enough to be hired here. It's come awful fast," he said. "We have a plan for this program down the road, and this is just the start of it, so it's an anxious time for all of us. We're all nervous, and I've always said when I'm not nervous before a game, I better get out of the business. So I've had that same feeling for 500 years now."

Sun Devil Source Top Stories