The gray, gloomy skies and cold, wet November weather that enveloped Martin Stadium at Washington State yesterday must have reminded the Arizona State football players of a scene from the end of the world.
ASU head coach, Dennis Erickson, may have been thinking something more along the lines of end of the road.
That’s what the Sun Devils’ 37-27 loss to the Cougars could mean for the 63-year-old former Pac-10 Coach of the Year who has fallen on hard times in Tempe.
Erickson, who won two national championships while the boss at University of Miami in the ’80s, started his tenure at the Pac-12 school with a 10-3 record and a share of the conference crown. But the last three years haven’t produced a winning season.
This year’s team was 6-2 and ranked No. 19 in the country, and appeared on its way to the kind of season that would make the fans and administration giddy.
But, even then, he couldn’t get any love. At least not from Lisa Love.
The ASU Vice President for Athletics (aka: AD) told the media at the start of this month that she was holding out any decision about extending her coach’s contract until the regular season was done. She was hedging her bets – which didn’t make the hot seat Erickson has been riding since last year’s 6-6 finish any more comfortable.
The much-traveled coach, who is making $1.5 mil a year (plus bonuses) has another year to go on his last contract extension that was made after his 10-3 start. But he may have some difficulty getting the school to honor the remaining year.
A one-point loss to UCLA following Love’s vote of non-confidence, and then yesterday’s road loss to a team that had just one conference win to its credit, didn’t help Erickson’s argument that he was finally turning things around.
A skinny redshirt freshman quarterback ran roughshod over an ASU defense that had been touted earlier in the season as one of the best in the country. In his first start, Connor Halliday shredded the Sun Devil secondary, completing 27 of 36 passes. His 494 yards in the air set a new freshman passing record for WSU.
ASU came out of the blocks strong, as Jamal Miles returned the game’s opening kickoff 95 yards for a score that put the home crowd right back down in their seats. And the Devils took a 20-16 lead into the locker room at halftime.
But a couple of stalled scoring drives in the fourth quarter gave the Cougars all the opening they needed to slide home for the win. A 58-yard drive took ASU to the WSU nine-yard line, but the Devils turned the ball over on downs. And then they made it to the WSU five, where they had to settle for an Alex Garoutte field-goal attempt – which went wide left.
Erickson wasn’t the only coach whose seat was warming up coming into this game. The WSU head coach, Paul Wulff, needed this win to try and salvage his job.
After finishing out last season with a couple of victories – the only wins all season – Wulff was granted another year to prove he had the Cougars on the right track. The win over ASU will keep the wolves from the door for the time being.
But Erickson still has the monkey on his back, and that weight continues to grow. Think gorilla here.
The Sun Devils (6-4) still have a chance to help their beleagured coach make it to next season. They still have a chance to win the South Division and get to the Pac-12 title game – which might give his boss some second thoughts about pulling the trigger.
Of course, if they do beat Arizona and California to close out the regular-season schedule, and get some help from the other players in the title hunt, they have another mountain to climb to assure Erickson’s return.
They would have to beat No. 4 Oregon for the Pac-12 championship.
And that’s just not gonna happen.
(Photo: ASU Athletics)