Erickson stays true to himself to the end

Right or wrong, Dennis Erickson never changed his approach even as things fell apart at Arizona State.

LAS VEGAS – For good or bad, Dennis Erickson was true to himself after what was likely the final game of his 22-year head coaching career.

He was funny, he was sarcastic, he was right and he was wrong.

He joked that his favorite thing about coaching was the press conference.

"I mean there is no question I would be good at your job," he said to the assembled reporters.

He joked that 20 years ago he would have been able to run onto the field and call a timeout that would have stopped a fourth down interception that was returned 100 yards by Boise State for a backbreaking touchdown.

He said his mother had asked him the same questions everyone else had about the team's late-season implosion.

"And she's 87," he pointed out.

He was poignant.

"I've had ups, I've had downs, I've had fun, I've had bad days but football is the greatest game in the world," he said wistfully.

He was his own man until the end.

Unfortunately, Arizona State was true to itself until the end, the kind of undisciplined but talented team Erickson might have been able to whip into shape in the past as he did most notably at Miami and Oregon State.

But this Erickson in the twilight of his career never was able to overcome those penalties and turnovers and destructive personalities, which is why the Sun Devils' season ended before Christmas and not in an upper-tier or BCS bowl.

"Things have changed over the years a little bit," he said. "Maybe the players have changed a little bit, maybe I have changed a little bit."

At the end of October, Arizona State was 6-2 with an unimaginably easy path to the Pac-12 championship game. Doormats UCLA, Washington State and rival Arizona were the only obstacles left to a breakthrough season.

And then, "Things kind of went backwards on us here in the last part of the season," Erickson said, dramatically underselling the meltdown that ended his tenure in Tempe.

"This thing came so darn fast. It was like a month. Things started going backwards, went from a contract extension to being sent down the highway pretty fast."

It was best exemplified by the team's star player, linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who went from engineering its defining win over USC to the bench because of penalties and poor play.

The junior barely played in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas. If Burfict enters the NFL Draft as is widely expected, his college career ended with one tackle in his only postseason appearance.

He is too talented to go out like this. Arizona State was too talented to go out like this, even against a Boise State team that was a two-point conversion and missed field goal away from perhaps playing for the BCS title.

Erickson was too good to go out like this. Not after being so instrumental in the widespread adoption of the one-back offense across college football, not after continuing the Hurricanes' greatness with a pair of national titles, not after making the Beavers relevant in a way not seen since the Giant Killers.

What comes next?

He held out hope this isn't the end of the line, certain he would remain in the game in some capacity.

"I don't know that that's it for me (as a coach), but you have to have opportunities. I'll be involved in football in someway. I'm not sure exactly what. I haven't had a lot of time to think about what I'm going to do.

"I'm going to stay in football. That's all I know. I'm not going to become a math teacher or something like that."

Not that anyone would expect any less.

Dan Greenspan is the publisher of Cal Sports Digest and cover the Pac-12 for Fox Sports/Scout.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanGreenspan.


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