Former Arizona State head coach Dirk Koetter might have said it best, “The Arizona State football program is not what fans, spectators and outsiders believe or think it to be.”
Koetter said this during his farewell speech at the team’s banquet, less than 24 hours after being fired.
“It is not all sunshine and good-looking girls, and they can’t say “just beat the Wildcats,” Koetter continued.
So what is the ASU football program’s image?
As of right now, the description goes something like this: a struggling 3-4, youthful squad that is facing a very scary, yet potentially embarrassing contest versus the Washington State Cougars.
That is not a joke, this is a scary game against Wazzu. And no, it is not 2001-’02.
But how did ASU get to this point?
First and foremost, Arizona State is not a “traditional national power.” That phrase is tossed around a lot, and never has that been applied to ASU.
Honestly, is ASU even a “traditional REGIONAL power”?
The Arizona Wildcats have a better head-to-head record, but that dates back to Tempe Normal School.
How about the next closest schools? Well, the Los Angeles schools both have upper-echelon historic football traditions, something that ASU fans only dream of.
So regional power might be pushing it just a tad as well.
Comparable to the New Mexico schools, Colorado schools and the Mountain West football programs, ASU stacks up pretty darn well.
And that is exactly the caliber of opponent that the Sun Devils beat repeatedly in the '60s and '70s under the legendary Frank Kush.
Just glance back at the records and results. West Texas State? Pacific? Hardin-Simmons? Texas-El Paso?
Not exactly those national powerhouse football programs.
By the way, the Sun Devils notched their first bowl victory in 1970. That is only 40 football seasons in between that game and today.
Furthermore, the Arizona State program has posted 11 double-digit win total seasons. The fans who believe the Sun Devils are a head coach away from a BCS title game should take a closer look at the history.
Six of those seasons were under the intense tutelage and teaching of Frank Kush. No one is expecting Kush to return to sidelines for one last go around.
After the Sun Devils debacle in Berkeley, Erickson’s job security, or lack thereof, was called into question. However, Erickson has received a few pats on the back by Athletic Director Lisa Love on local radio stations.
In fact just a week ago, the notion of a “hot seat” was quickly tossed aside.
A game that went from ugly to embarrassing pretty quickly couldn’t possibly change
“the boss’” mind, right?
Her “approval board,” or shall I say, beloved Sun Devil fans would beg to differ.
The comments on the Arizona Republic’s sports page have been laughable, unless your initials are DE or LL (Dennis Erickson and Lisa Love).
Even the Arizona Wildcat fans are joining to lend a helping hand. The fans from Tucson want Erickson to play out his contract through 2012, hinting at continued lackluster results.
Mike Stoops has led the Wildcats to two straight victories over ASU, a feat that had not been accomplished since 1997-98.
That dates back to the late, great Bruce Snyder. Snyder quite possibly is the second best coach in ASU history, behind the guy the field is named after.
Looking at Snyder’s early seasons in Tempe, the results were far from impressive. Try seasons of 6-5, 6-5, 3-8 and 6-5 records. Is anyone winning a BCS title with those results? No.
Snyder went on to coach the Sun Devils to a 20-4 record the next two seasons and an “oh so close undefeated Rose Bowl season.”
Dennis Erickson has posted an overall record of 22-22 in three-and-a-half seasons.
I am not saying ASU will be winning 20 games in the next two seasons, but anything north of 15 should be expected and demanded.
However, fans do not want to wait. Football is a sport defined by the phrase “what have you done for me lately?”
Lately, the Sun Devils have shown promise.
Competitive, close, near wins left the Sun Devils desperate for a victory. The Sun Devils delivered in the rain at hostile and rowdy Husky Stadium.
Then the “sky began to fall,” as the Arizona Republic mentioned, following the 50-17 loss to California.
Subsequently, names like Mike Leach, Gary Patterson, Chris Peterson, Mark Mangino, Chris Hoke and Mike Bellotti were plastered on virtually every ASU-related message board.
But my favorite name mentioned, and this era’s call for “bring back Kush”: the great former Sun Devil and Dallas Cowboys quarterback Danny White.
It would be nice to see a Sun Devil take hold of the reigns, but the call for the coach’s head is too soon. Plus, Danny White would be great for alumni but an Arena League coach? Let’s hold off on that one.
With the financial numbers aside, we as Sun Devils were in this same situation in 2006.
So knock everything down and start from square one is the “best” decision?
When Love fired Dirk Koetter in 2006, was that the best decision? Honestly no one will ever know.
Erickson had a nice inaugural year in Tempe, but that luster soon faded somewhere between the Holiday Bowl loss to Texas and the downright dismal rebuilding season that featured Danny Sullivan last Fall.
But the spotlight didn’t have to be on “Sully.” Does anyone ever wonder what Nick Foles would look like in maroon and gold jersey with Sparky on his helmet?
Koetter had him committed to be the quarterback to replace Rudy Carpenter. Sounds to me like a better option than Sully, and I like Danny Sullivan as a person.
The Sun Devils want a winner and a winner who can beat Arizona.
But don’t tell that to Dirk.
Koetter guided ASU to a 40-34 record and beat Arizona four out his six seasons in Tempe. In “the white visor’s” last three seasons, the Sun Devils were 23-14.
Off-the-field issues stemming from multiple incidents in ’04-’06 directly relating to Loren Wade and Brandon Falkner turned the heat up on Koetter’s seat back then.
Believe it or not, the indecision on which quarterback to start in the fall of 2006 led to the ultimate termination and lack of success in Koetter’s final year.
This is not a call for Koetter to return, there is no way he is taking a pay cut. This is to point out a major factor in where ASU is in the Pac-10.
Unfortunately, the past is the past, and what is done is done. Just take a look at the coaches in the Pac-10.
Chip Kelly took over a regional power on the verge of national acceptance following the Bellotti era.
Since 1995, when Bellotti was promoted from offensive coordinator to head coach, the Ducks had one losing season in ’04. Oregon was already a mainstay and a dominant presence before handing over the keys to Kelly. Now, with consistency and confidence in their hire, the Ducks are ranked No. 1 in the country.
Oregon State coach Mike Riley is in his 10th season in his second term with the Beavers. Maybe one of the best turnarounds ever, and the fans in Corvallis started with virtually nothing.
Riley, with the help of Erickson, transformed the Beavers from nothing to playing for a berth in the Rose Bowl 13 years later. And yes, it only took two coaches to reach that platform.
Stanford found a diamond in the rough via the University of San Diego. Four years ago, Jim Harbaugh’s name was thrown around for numerous coaching vacancies, including the one in Tempe. Clearly Harbaugh was a good option and a great fit for Stanford.
Following two losing seasons, the Cardinal had their first winning season since 2001. Harbaugh put in his philosophy from Day One and followed it, and now look at where the Cardinal sit in the conference standings.
The Cardinal have a 23-21 record under Harbaugh and are improving daily.
Even Arizona, the Sun Devils arch-rival and hated sister school from the south, made a good decision in coaching vacancies.
As much as Sun Devils fans hate both Mike Stoops and the University of Arizona, a tip of the cap is necessary.
In 2007, Stoops was under fire. His seat was a little warmer than Erickson’s right now.
Will Lisa Love end the rebuilding project with Erickson this year?
Does a 29-27 home loss to New Mexico ring any bells? Well, maybe Stoops’ 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in that same game will remind you.
That same season Stoops was the man on watch for a 2-6 start. Stoops finished the season at 5-7 and a decision was necessary on his future. After four years, Stoops’ record was 17-29.
Former Arizona Athletic Director Jim Livengood kept Stoops around.
Each season the national panel predicted a turnaround season under Stoops, but it finally took shape in 2008.
A must-win season was called for, and Stoops delivered an 8-5 record and the Wildcats first bowl win in 10 years.
The 2008 season was a catalyst for the entire football program in Tucson and the overall confidence of the fanbase.
When a program has continuity, familiarity and chemistry within the athletic department, great goals can be achieved. Even lofty expectations like Roses in Tucson.
It sounds funny to say, but that goal seemed lofty before Mike Stoops arrived.
What about the aspirations in Tempe to reach the Rose Bowl and other BCS games? As a fanbase are you going to pull the plug on those dreams for another four-year rebuilding process?
If that is the case, then fans should have came together, swallowed their pride and fought through seven- and eight-win seasons under Koetter to see what year eight or nine would have looked like.
Maybe the results would look similar to Mike Riley's at Oregon State or Mike Stoops' down in Tucson?
Instead, just like UCLA firing Karl Dorrell after a 35-27 record over five seasons, a new coach began to rebuild from step one and isn’t faring so well either.
Rick Neuheisel was the appealing hire for the fanbase just like Erickson was in Tempe. Both coaches replaced less-than-ideal media-friendly coaches.
However, it is not like Sun Devil fans have not been here before. Einstein might have said it best: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Continue building a program with underclassmen who are becoming upperclassmen, or pull the plug on the “Erickson experiment” and start back at square one all over again?