Every Saturday, a program's successes or failures are on display for all to see. It's the business that Dennis Erickson chose for himself over 30 years ago. Two national titles at Miami and a complete restoration job at Oregon State serve as successful landmarks along Erickson's coaching trail. Unsuccesful stints in the NFL with the Seahawks and 49'ers mark the failures. So what to make of his three seasons at Arizona State when viewed through the murky lens of 2009? Too early to tell for certain, but I claim the program is in much better shape than when he got to Tempe.
First, the cupboard was nearly bare of NFL caliber talent upon his arrival on the scene in the December of 2006. The program has had just 6 players drafted in the past three NFL drafts from the Dirk Koetter era and only one, TE Zach Miller, could be considered an NFL star. No one has ever doubted Erickson's ability to recruit talent and get the most out of it every Saturday. What happens Sunday - Friday is another matter, but regardless of what anyone says, the talent pool is considerably higher today than it was in December of '06. It's just young. And inexperienced. And impetuous. And not yet disciplined enough to know all it takes to be a D1 college football player. Rising defensive playmakers like Jamaar Jarrett, Vontaze Burfcit, Lawrence Guy, Corey Adams, Shelly Lyons, Omar Bolden, Brandon Magee, Deveron Carr, Clint Floyd, Osahon Irabor, Will Sutton, Bo Moos and Josh Jordan are all in their infancy in terms of their upside and represent the core of what is already a nationally ranked defensive unit. Offensively, the offensive line still admittedly needs work, but there's not much doubt that guys like Brock Osweiler, Samsom Szakacsy, Cameron Marshall, Jamaal Miles, Gerrell Robinson, TJ Simpson, Matt Hustad, Patrick Jamison, Garth Gerhart and Ryan Bass (if he stays) are a big improvement over the past three years, particularly at the skill positions.
Second, there's never going to be a 'duh' moment with Erickson. There's not a game that this team has played (certainly) or will ever play that will be bigger than the HC. He won't flinch, waver or show any type of intimdation at any point. Young players in program-building environment need that type of leadership to grow and move forward.
Lastly, if there's ever a case for patience, look no further than down I-10 about 100 miles. There may not have been a coach on a hotter seat than Arizona's Mike Stoops just 18 months ago. Even I have to admit that he's done a great job in recruiting and building back a sorry fan base to some level of respect. The university stuck with him and he's paid them back to this point.
The 2010 recruiting class is already shaping up as a good one and will join a talented and, as important, more experienced group on both sides of the ball next year.
Now if they can only get a win this weekend, that lens will start to look a little clearer.