Enter Denis Erickson. 10 years ago this would be a no-brainer of a hire, but in 2006 it raises questions. There is no doubt that Erickson will win games in Tempe, but is he the guy to take ASU to new levels? Can he challenge Cal? Can he be the guy to topple USC?
Lisa Love wanted a "wow" hire and did not get it. Then again, no one has. Not Miami, not Alabama, not Michigan State. There were few home run coaches out there who might consider changing schools. Bobby Petrino, Greg Schiano and maybe Rich Rodriguez fit that description. All three stayed put.
Erickson is a great coach. He certainly knows X's and O's and is a guy who has built championship teams. He got Washington State turned around, kept Miami a national power and finished the rebuilding job at Oregon State. Certainly impressive accomplishments.
Of course he was also the guy who was .500 with the Seahawks, run out of San Francisco after two seasons and won just four games this past season. He has also had his share of off the field issues surrounding his teams.
As good as Erickson has been in the past he has not coached a winning football team in five seasons. To be fair, no one could have won with those San Francisco teams or get Idaho turned around in one season, but some of the sheen is off. There are high school seniors who were in middle school the last time Erickson won a bowl game. You have to wonder if his name carries the same weight in recruiting circles that it did a few years ago.
It may lack the ‘wow' that Love wanted, but it is not a bad hire. Many Wildcat fans have compared it to the John Mackovic hire at Arizona. While fans of the Cats may wish the same misery on their Sun Devil counterparts, I would not count on it. While there are some similarities in terms of age and pro and college experience, that is where the comparisons end.
Erickson won everywhere he has been in college. He is 148-65 all time and that is with the 4-8 season this year. He has had just three losing seasons in 18 years of college coaching, again, including this season.
Mackovic had a solid 85-64 lifetime record prior to his stint at Arizona. In 13 years he had three losing seasons and another .500 season. He won 10 games twice, once with Illinois and once with Texas. Erickson won 10 or more games six times, five with the Hurricanes and once at Oregon State. He also won nine games four times, including twice at Idaho and once at Washington State.
The biggest difference is in their time away from coaching. Erickson was away from the game for just one season. After being let go by the 49ers he sat out the 2005 season and jumped back into it this season with Idaho. Prior to being hired by the Wildcats, Mackovic was working in television for three seasons.
That being said, he is not guaranteed to take ASU to great new heights. He'll be 60 in March competing in a league where only one coach is older (WSU's Bill Doba). Most of the coaches in the Pac-10 are in their 40's. Certainly age does not guarantee success or failure, just look at Lute Olson, but if you look at the coaches who have been competing for national championships of late, most are closer to 50 than 60.
Another misconception about Erickson is that he'll jump at the next opportunity. Granted, he has been nomadic in his career but at his age there are few schools better than ASU that will want to try to spend the money to pry him away. A third stop in the NFL does not seem to be an option and how many elite jobs will be open to a coach, who by then, would be in his early 60's?
To me this hire is a "safe" hire, but a hire with potential. He instantly adds another solid coach to the Pac-10. He will, at the very least, maintain what the Sun Devils have been doing. Although the Dave McGinnis/Norm Chow/Larry Marmie trio was intriguing, it was no guarantee for college success. Ron English may have been a hot assistant, but he was unproven.
Erickson is proven. He will win. He may even win enough to justify Koetter's termination. But can he satisfy a fan base that expects to be an elite program? Can he knock USC or even Cal off their perch? I'm not sure. My guess is that ASU will be better. Koetter could not beat better teams, but rarely lost to inferior teams. Erickson will find a way to beat ranked teams. He'll certainly not get blown out very often. He should even find a way to win a conference game in the state of California.
If I was an ASU fan I would not be upset with the selection. It may not be the pick that bowled me over, but the Devils certainly could have done a lot worse.
If I am a Wildcat fan I may not be shaking in my boots, but I wouldn't sleep well either. Erickson can coach. He knows all about rivalry games and the Pac-10. I think that he is better than Koetter.
In my opinion the Sun Devils did not hit a home run, but they have made the best hire so far this off season. To me it is at least a double with a legitimate chance to leg it into a triple.