A lot of love for Dennis Erickson
For an old-timer, Dennis Erickson is getting a lot of love these days.
But then, Erickson isn't just any senior citizen. After coaching football for 50 years with a high degree of success, the former Oregon State coach deserves his year in the sun.
"It's nice they haven't forgotten about me," said Erickson, 72, who is taking a victory tour through some of his college coaching locales before induction into the National Football Hall of Fame Dec. 10 in New York.
The first stop was at Washington State on Sept. 21, where he watched the Cougars blow a 49-17 lead in falling 67-63 to UCLA. Then he was in Corvallis on Sept. 28 for an NFF On-Campus Salute celebration during Oregon State's 31-28 loss to Stanford. Erickson, who was saluted between the first and second quarters, accepted a Hall of Fame plaque that will remain on permanent display at the Valley Football Center.
Erickson was then honored in Miami on Oct. 19, when the Hurricanes lost 28-21 to Georgia Tech. He coached the 'Canes to national championships in 1989 and '91.
The Everett, Washington, native coached Oregon State from 1999-2002, taking the Beavers to an 11-1 record in 2000 and a 2001 Fiesta Bowl drubbing. Erickson's quarterback was current OSU head coach Jonathan Smith. Erickson had a 31-17 record and coached three bowl teams in four years before leaving to become head coach of the San Francisco 49ers.
"Worst mistake I ever made in coaching," Erickson said. "I should have stayed at Oregon State. I had as much fun there as any place I ever coached."
Erickson, who lives in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, with his wife of 48 years, Marilyn, arrived in Corvallis on Friday and had dinner with a number of old friends. Before Saturday's game, Smith spoke to a group of about 150 former Oregon State players in the VFC auditorium, then introduced Erickson, who had a few words to say, too.
On hand were several who played for Erickson at OSU, including running back Steven Jackson, offensive linemen Chris Gibson, Aaron Koch, Mike Kuykendall, Vince Sandoval and Mitch White, tight ends Tim Euhus and Marty Maurer, defensive end Bill Swancutt and punter Carl Tobey. Also in attendance was Craig Bray, Erickson's defensive coordinator at OSU and father of Beaver linebackers coach Trent Bray.
"It was great to see everybody," Erickson said. "We had a lot of guys back who played for me. There are a bunch of others who let me know they wanted to come but couldn't make it.
"From what I hear, they're going to make it an annual thing. They want to get the guys together to come back for a game every year. There's a lot of pride in Oregon State football, going back to the days when Dee (Andros) was coach. I know they'll continue to have great support for the program and for Jonathan."
Erickson watched the Stanford game at Reser Stadium, then watched on television as the Beavers won at UCLA 48-31 last Saturday. He has kept close tabs on the OSU program and has texted often with Smith through the season. He uses "we" and "us" in references to the Beavers.
"I'm really happy for Jonathan with the progress he has made," Erickson said. "It's going to take time, and that's just how it is. But it was fun to watch the Stanford game. We had the momentum after tying it up, but then there was the breakdown on (the ensuing kickoff). Those things are easily corrected, but they hurt when they happen. But Stanford is pretty darn good, as Washington found out last weekend.
"We played really well against UCLA. That was huge for everybody involved — the players, the coaches, the fans. We're getting better. They're doing a good job recruiting. We're getting better players. (Quarterback) Jake Luton is playing pretty darn good, and the defense is improved. I'm excited about where they're at."
Erickson's last college head coaching job was at Arizona State, where he was 31-31 in five years from 2007-11. He served four seasons as an assistant at Utah from 2013-16. He served as head coach of the Salt Lake Stallions of the Alliance of American Football, a short-lived professional league intended to be a feeder system to the NFL. The AAF began in February, but play was suspended in April after just eight weeks of games when the league filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
The Stallions were 3-5 in their eight games. On Erickson's coaching staff were three men who coached under him at Oregon State — Tim Lappano, Dan Cozzetto and Michael Gray. Ex-Linfield quarterback Randy Mueller was the team's general manager.
"That was so much fun," Erickson said. "It's a shame they closed it down. It was damn good football. There were great coaches, and the players played their rear ends off. The NFL was supportive, we had an TV contract going and we had good fans. It was what it was supposed to be — to give guys a shot to get into the (NFL)."
Another ex-OSU head coach, Mike Riley, was the head coach of the AAF San Antonio Commanders. Riley will serve as offensive coordinator of the Seattle Dragons of the XFL, the Vince McMahon-run spring league that will make a return in 2020. The XFL's only previous season of existence was in 2001.
"I'm not interested in the XFL, or at least going in as an assistant," Erickson said. "But then, they weren't knocking my door down, either.
"I don't think the football is going to be quite as good as it was in the AAF. They're in some big cities. It will be interesting to see how it will draw. Honestly, though, I hope it works. The most important thing is, it gives a lot of players a chance to show what they can do and hopefully get a shot at the NFL."
On Dec. 28, Erickson will be introduced at halftime of the CFP semifinal game in Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium along with the rest of the CFF Hall of Fame inductees. On Dec. 10 in New York, he becomes a Hall of Famer.
"It's one of the biggest things to happen to me in my career," he said. "I'm excited."
Erickson wouldn't mind another coaching gig.
"I don't know if I'm done or not," he said. "If the right opportunity came along, I'd consider it. We'll see what happens. If not, I've done it for a half-century. I've had my share of wins and losses.
"After you've been doing it for that many years, it gets a little boring this time of year. I've played quite a bit of golf. I've traveled. I've spent a lot of time in Seattle with my mother (Mary, who is 95). I work out about every day when I can't play golf. It keeps me busy."
For coaching lifers like Erickson, though, there's always the next job around the corner. Until there isn't.
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