Thumbing through the Arizona Republic this past week, the headline “ASU Coaches Named Staff of the Year” sparked some interest with many fans. Although, upon further review, the Sun Devil softball coaches were being honored following Arizona State’s 60-6 season, while securing the softball program’s second national championship in four seasons.
It would have been silly to think Dennis Erickson and his staff would receive an honor, especially after a 6-6 season. But many awards issued during the summer are simply talking points and hold no merit.
The football staff did not receive an award this past week. Instead, the entire Sun Devils athletic department was blindsided by a former player.
Former football standout and 2010 leading receiver Kerry Taylor volunteered his opinion on the state of Sun Devil football and the experiences during his four-year stint in Tempe.
Taylor gave a preview to Sunday's AZ3 TV interview via a June 26 tweet: “I want ASU to win Pac-12 championships, all us ASU fans do. But in order for that to happen we need a new Head Coach. That’s all I’m saying.”
Granted, Kerry Taylor was recruited by former Sun Devil coach Dirk Koetter, but maintained his verbal commitment to the ASU football program. Although Koetter was not the coach, Taylor saw action in all 13 of ASU’s games en route to a Pac-10 championship under then-first-year head coach Dennis Erickson.
Throughout Taylor’s entire career in the maroon and gold, he was neither the scapegoat nor the star. Taylor is certainly accustomed to stardom, coming from a pedigree of NFL greatness. Kerry’s father, Keith Taylor, and uncle, John Taylor, both had extensive careers on the ultimate level of the game.
To date, Kerry Taylor is still hoping for a shot at the NFL, or an auxiliary football forum. After totaling 111 catches for 1,416 yards and seven touchdowns, his statistics did not overwhelm scouts, and his game film followed suit.
After all, Taylor never separated himself from the rest of the pack in college, why would scouts believe he would blossom at the highest level of competition?
Before Taylor’s senior season in Tempe, he only had two games in which he hauled in five or more passes. And prior to his “contract year,” Taylor never eclipsed the century mark for receiving yards.
At one point during the TV interview, Taylor made light of Erickson's abilities to form a staff, mentioning that the coach is “helping out [Erickson’s] buddies.”
"We all know this is Erickson's last stint in coaching. He is just trying to get some of his buddies one last paycheck," he said.
Maybe Taylor does not understand how staff chemistry impacts the job, success and planning of an entire football program. Sure, Erickson hired “buddies,” but for the most part, these were the same assistants that have toed the line with Erickson since his coaching days in the Northwest and at the University of Miami.
Certainly, Taylor is aware of Erickson’s accolades and historical success, Erickson sports one of his two championship rings with regularity, both in the football facility and on the field.
One of the biggest blunders of Erickson’s tenure might have been the drawn out allegiance to former offensive coordinator and quarterback coach, Rich Olson. Fans that believed 2007’s success would breed new life into the Sun Devil program were sorely mistaken.
The system under Olson never meshed with the offensive roster, including Taylor.
Olson’s vanilla offense, lack of excitement inside the stadium, and lack of success on the scoreboard ultimately ended the Olson saga in Tempe. Olson was not the only faulty piece in ASU’s “Championship Puzzle.” ASU was also in the midst of juggling quarterbacks to replace Rudy Carpenter, who started 43 games as a Sun Devil.
Sure, Olson and Erickson had to find a suitable replacement at the most pivotal position, but if there is no viable solution, where do you turn?
Rightfully so, Erickson rebuilt the defense with astute and energetic defensive coordinator Craig Bray. Yes, Bray is a longtime “buddy” of Erickson, but he is a master of his craft. Taylor failed to mention Craig Bray’s son, current linebackers coach, Trent Bray, as hires that flaunt Erickson’s nepotism.
Then again, Trent Bray was a ferocious linebacker at Oregon State in his own right. Bray's honors in Corvallis extended much like a grocery list, rather than a player's bio.
In Kerry Taylor’s case, Erickson had a former “buddy” coach the Chandler Hamilton standout for all four seasons.
Eric Yarber, former ASU wide receivers coach, was discovered at Los Angeles Valley College by Dennis Erickson in 1983. The former Crenshaw High School star signed his national letter of intent to play for the Idaho Vandals and Erickson later that year.
Yarber then had a brief stint in the NFL with the Washington Redskins as a return specialist. Yes, Yarber was a friend, but his coaching credentials were second to none.
If Taylor objects to that, he can call the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and ask how their new wide receivers coach is holding up.
Which side do you come out on?
Erickson’s son, Bryce, even received some backlash from Taylor. Taylor specifically mentioned both Bryce Erickson and Jamie Christian, Erickson’s son-in-law, while exploring perceived nepotism by Erickson.
Bryce had coaching experience before he arrived in Tempe, as did Jamie Christian. Both coaches have even flourished in their roles. Bryce has upgraded recruiting locally, as well as mentoring two running backs to rush for over 500 yards each.
Christian has spearheaded the special teams game, which had a couple hick-ups, but more highlight reel touchdown plays than gaffes. Take a look at any number of the long-distance kick returns Christian's unit returned last fall.
Taylor obviously feels slighted, in some shape or fashion. At this moment, Taylor is not in the NFL. Any athlete who signs a letter of intent for a football program has aspirations of making it to the league. Taylor did not reach that goal, yet.
Taylor is doing his best to steer his brother into the best possible path to reach that same goal, but it will not be at Arizona State.
The entire interview was not supposed to be about Kerry or ASU, but his younger brother’s recruitment. Kerry’s younger brother Kendyl, pledged to play for the University of Washington under Steve Sarkisian, not the local Sun Devils.
Erickson extended an offer to Kendyl Taylor, but the recruiting for Taylor was done in-house.
By the end of Kerry Taylor’s rant, it was clear his Sun Devil career was a sham, at least at this very moment.
Last November, Taylor reflected on his ASU career prior to his final game, but no signs of disgust or frustration lingered. “I don’t regret anything that happened at ASU," Taylor told Devils Digest. "Everything happens for a reason, so I’m glad I got to play even though a couple of the years haven’t been as good as I would have liked. I’m still glad that it happened.”
Erickson and Taylor both reminisced about potentially redshirting the wide receiver in 2007.
“He is really developed,” Erickson said. “You look at him now and you almost regret not redshirting him but at that time we didn’t have very much depth and one thing about Kerry is that he was a very polished receiver coming out of high school.”
“Looking back at it now (Nov. 2010), redshirting would have been great but I’m still glad that I didn’t,” Taylor said. “I still got the opportunity to play in every game my freshman year, learned a lot and had a great experience. I think it was a good stepping stone into my sophomore year.”
And indeed it was a good move at the time, for both Taylor and the program. Now, the feelings have changed quite a bit.
Now, Taylor believes that ASU will not win a Pac-12 championship with Erickson as the head coach. Whether it is because of the “buddy system” taking over the football staff, unsupported mentions of recruiting letdowns on the local front, or the treatment of players while in the football program, Taylor has voiced his displeasure.
It is easy to see the frustration through three-straight non-winning seasons, especially, now, that Erickson’s 2011 squad is on the brink of competing for the inaugural Pac-12 championship, without Taylor.
This all could be a case of sour grapes, or as the season unfolds, perhaps Taylor’s bashing will hold merit?
Only time will tell.