In the hype and excitement of an offseason filled with visions of Pac-12 South titles and flashy new uniforms, the coaching hot-seat upon which Dennis Erickson has sat for the last three seasons cooled considerably.
That is, until this past week, when former Sun Devil Kerry Taylor, ASU’s leading receiver a season ago, blasted Erickson first on Twitter and then again in an interview with Channel 3’s Tim Ring. In his scathing review of the state of the football program, Taylor accuses Erickson of nepotism, losing the respect of his players and driving in-state recruits away from ASU.
Whether Taylor's words are a call for change from a caring alumnus, or the jaded words of a recently undrafted player, remain to be seen. What they do, however, is once again bring to the surface the fragile nature of Erickson’s tenure in Tempe.
The thin ice on which Erickson resides is certainly warranted.
After his impressive debut season in 2007, in which he led the Devils to 10 wins, a share of the Pac-10 title and a Holiday Bowl berth, ASU has gone 15-21 and missed a bowl for three-straight seasons for the first time in school history. Not surprisingly, in a fair-weather market like Phoenix, attendance has suffered.
Critics have pointed out that his lone successful season came with former coach Dirk Koetter’s players, which lends credence to Taylor’s assessment.
What must Erickson do to keep his job?
Erickson has said since he took over that his rebuilding plan for ASU culminated in the fifth season. That fifth season is now, which means that Erickson is out of time. And a talented roster means that he is also out of excuses. To see the final year of his contract in 2012, he must win now.
But how much? Will simply making a bowl game give Erickson another season?
ASU is being hyped by most college football media as a preseason top-25 team and a strong contender, if not the favorite, to win the Pac-12 South division. Sports Illustrated’s Stewart Mandel even fancies the Devils as a sleeper national title contender. With ASU’s long history of unmet expectations, simply winning six or seven games and being bowl-eligible won’t cut it.
On the other end of the spectrum, Mandel’s lofty proclamation is over-optimistic if not downright unrealistic, which means that for Erickson, salvation lies in between.
For Erickson to see a sixth season in Tempe, he must lead Arizona State to a Pac-12 South division title and a berth in the inaugural conference championship game. That would likely require nine or 10 wins, which would prove that he finally has the Devils on the right track—the same track he envisioned when he took the job.
Would ASU then need to win the conference title? No, but a BCS berth would serve as a rosy icing to a successful bounce-back campaign that would resurrect hope and support in the desert.
With impressive young talent on both sides of the ball and a highly touted recruiting class shaping up for 2012, the sustained success that has eluded the program would finally be in sight.
However, it all starts with the immediate convergence of a talented football team, a manageable schedule and a coach’s five-year-old goals.
Fork ‘em, Coach.
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