ASU's Dennis Erickson Takes Risk by Hiring from His “Inner Circle”

Greg EspositoContributor IIJanuary 5, 2010

TEMPE, AZ - NOVEMBER 28:  Head coach Dennis Erickson of the Arizona State Sun Devils during the college football game against the Arizona Wildcats at Sun Devil Stadium on November 28, 2009 in Tempe, Arizona.  The Wildcats defeated the Sun Devils 20-17.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images


It was announced earlier today that Noel Mazzone will be the next offensive coordinator for the Arizona State Sun Devils. Not familiar with Mazzone? Don’t worry because Dennis Erickson is and that might be a problem.

By firing former offensive coordinator Rich Olson, Erickson had a chance to get as close to a “fresh start” as he was ever going to get at ASU. Instead he seems to have repeated his original mistake.

Mazzone, like Olson, is an “Erickson guy." He was on Erickson’s staff as the running backs and special teams coach at Oregon State in 2002. Now, I realize that Mazzone’s one season with Erickson pales in comparison to Olson’s twelve but it’s all about perspective.

If Erickson had gone with someone who hadn’t previously been on his staff it would have made many fans feel better about the hire. It would have shown his willingness to be flexible and given him more of a margin of error with fans and the athletic department.

Instead, by hiring Mazzone, Erickson has put himself in a no-win situation. If the offense struggles again he no longer has a scapegoat. The hire ensures that he will have to take the fall. If he had hired someone outside his circle he probably could have gotten away with throwing another offensive coordinator under the bus.

If Mazzone’s career stats as an offensive coordinator are any indication of how he will perform in 2010, then Erickson may be in some trouble. In 10 seasons as an offensive coordinator, Mazzone's offenses averaged 21.4 points per game and six wins. Olson’s offense last season averaged 22.3 points per game during ASU’s four-win 2009 campaign. I wouldn’t exactly call it a huge upgrade.

Mazzone’s best season as a coordinator came at NC State in 2003 when the team averaged 37.6 points and 452 yards per game. It also happened to be the one season he had Phillip Rivers as his quarterback.

Last time I checked, the Sun Devils don’t have a Phillip Rivers-type quarterback on the roster.

It would be one thing if Mazzone was a hot commodity around college football and Erickson snatched him away from another suitor based on his previous experience with him, but that wasn’t the case. Mazzone wasn’t even coaching this season as he spent all of 2009 as a personnel consultant for the New York Jets.

You may not be familiar with Noel Mazzone but Dennis Erickson is and his career at ASU will live or die because of it.