The real story

It was announced on February 8th that Dennis Erickson was hired as the head coach of the University of Idaho Vandals, returning for his second coaching stint there in over 20 years ago. Erickson has won everywhere he's coached at the collegiate level, including two national championships with the Hurricanes of the University of Miami. If history holds true, the folk of Idaho have just been delivered to greatness at the NCAA Division I level.

And as that thought sank in with me, I realized I was actually looking forward to seeing what happens in Moscow. It's going to be interesting to see the how the current players respond to him and how the recruiting will unfold over the next few years. Will Erickson be able to attract talented recruits to Idaho in order to push the program into a top 25 ranking?   What coaches will join him in Moscow?  How will his coaching in the northwest affect regional recruiting? A developing story to be sure.

Then I reflected on a couple of things. Erickson's last college team, the Oregon State University Beavers, struggled mightily to wrap up their season last year dropping four of their last five games, finishing at 5-6, and missing a bowl game. And a number of the orange and black faithful were uncomfortable with the volume of the criticism levied at (or surely very near) the current Beaver Nation front man, head coach Mike Riley.

With Erickson sitting on the shelf following his dismissal from the San Francisco 49ers following the 2004 season, there were whispers in the dark about luring him back to Corvallis for another run; a chance to best the number four national ranking he led the Beavers to the first go around. Debates have been held about where the Beavers are headed, personality and coaching style, and the recruiting classes that seem to have far too many athletes that don't qualify academically. And the ultra faithful found the conversations somewhat distasteful.

Riley commented that he was fairly insulated by his staff from much of the rumbling, but it's a fair guess he was more than peripherally aware that the decibels were higher than any of his previous years.

With the announcement at Idaho, the illusion of any possibility of Erickson returning was vanquished.

But the real story isn't Dennis Erickson being named the top man at Idaho. The real story is what happened before the announcement. The real story is what Riley did.

He made it alright with Beaver Nation that Erickson was about to be named to a position in Idaho instead of in Oregon. He did it by scoring his biggest victory as head coach of the Beavers; he did it by hauling in arguably the best recruiting class he's ever had at OSU.

There have been several other articles, stories, recaps, and other assorted pieces written on the prowess of the athletes that make up the class and the GPA's they carry. Recruiting services and have been covering them for months and have given the Beavers new bunch a number 42 and 43 national ranking respectively. But that's not the basis of my conclusion in any case.

I recently attended the Beaver football recruiting dinner, a celebration where coaches introduce the next class to attendees via commentary and highlight reels. My conclusion isn't from any of the video either.

No, my conclusion comes down to plain old eyesight. It's what I saw at that dinner that led me to believe that, while scrambling to avoid pressure, Riley stepped up in the pocket, set his feet and threw a deep ball down the left side for long score. It was Riley himself, really.

As he was introduced at the beginning of the presentation and walked to the podium, as the crowd stood and applauded him, Riley looked down briefly and smiled. Then smiling broadly he triumphantly pumped two fists over his head, seemingly to know that he'd just quieted the critics.

And as well he should. Just when another misstep would seem likely to throw the program into disarray, the coach and his staff put together a class of talent in the right positions to nudge the Beavers back onto the tracks; a class that makes the return of Dennis Erickson to college football at another northwest university palatable for Beaver fans.

As objective as I can be on a subjective topic, when the Vandals announced Erickson's return to Moscow six days following the OSU recruiting dinner, it just didn't seem to be a disappointment. To those that still experienced a heartfelt pang, I propose that it certainly couldn't have been as bad as it may have been prior to February 1st.

So to Erickson I say "good luck." College football aficionados, arm chair athletic directors and coaches, and I are curious to see what happens. But the real story is what Mike Riley and the Oregon State Beavers are doing down in Corvallis.

Go Beavs!

Robert Nesta can be reached at

BeaverBlitz Top Stories