When Arizona State and Illinois met in the third game of the football season, who would have guessed that both head coaches would get their walking papers at the end of the season – with both announcements coming on the same day, yesterday (although no official release came from ASU until this morning)?
Both coaches were off to a good start on the season when they met, bringing 2-0 records into the game at Illinois. Dennis Erickson‘s Sun Devils lost a tight one, 17-14, that afternoon, but rebounded to win the next three games. Ron Zook continued on winning, getting off to a 6-0 start.
But the bottom fell out of both seasons at that point. Zook finished with six straight losses. Erickson lost five of the last six games.
Now, they will both be on the coaching carousel for next season.
The 64-year-old Erickson, who has won two national championships, met with his boss, VP for Athletics Lisa Love, this morning to plan the exit strategy. The arrangements they made will apparently enable Erickson to coach the Sun Devils if they get a bowl invitation, giving him a chance to go out on a win.
That would also give him a chance to prove he can win a bowl game at ASU. The only other bowl his Sun Devil teams have played in was the Holiday Bowl in Erickson’s first year. They lost that one to Texas.
Since his contract has been terminated, he would be expected to receive half of the salary due him in the final year of his contract, which goes through next season. His reported annual salary is $1.5 million.
Erickson, who won his national titles during his six-year tenure at Miami, came into his new job in Tempe with a roar, winning a share of the Pac-10 title in his first season by posting the program’s first 10-win season in almost a decade.
But the next three seasons failed to produce a winning record and this year was expected to be a break-out year. Instead, ASU finished the regular season 6-6, bringing his record in Tempe to 31-30.
A 31-27 loss at home to rival Arizona, which had fired its head coach earlier in the season and had just two wins at that point, was probably the final nail in the coffin.
This wasn’t what Love had in mind when she hired the much-traveled coach after he had left Miami, coached in the NFL for awhile, and then enjoyed some continued success at a couple more college stops. He directed an impressive turnout at Oregon State, returned to the NFL for a couple of seasons, and then spent a year at the University of Idaho before jumping to ASU.
There was considerable controversy surrounding Love’s decision in 2007 to bring Erickson aboard, based on his much-publicized wanderlust, never staying at any one school for more than five or six years. The frustrated fan base wanted a coach who would bring both wins – and stability – to the program.
Now, those same fans seem perfectly happy to let him move on.
(Photo: ASU Athletics)