SALT LAKE CITY — There was only one reporter to greet Dennis Erickson immediately after the first day of Ute football camp. That hasn’t occurred since the days when he wore a leisure suit.
That doesn’t mean he wasn’t a story Monday. Erickson coached the fast and furious Miami Hurricanes when they ruled college football. He spent six seasons in the NFL.
He was always the man, a one-time national coach of the year. Since 1982, when Idaho hired him at age 34, he was the boss. Wyoming, Washington State, Miami, Oregon State, Idaho (again) and Arizona State followed. But those were just his college gigs. Toss in six years with the Seahawks and 49ers and you have someone accustomed to being the honcho, a regular Lee Iacocca in sweats.
So it was that after the Utes finished their first workout, Erickson seemed relaxed and refreshed. Not only was he back coaching after a yearlong hiatus, but there was little peripheral stuff to distract him, such as media, boosters, parents and occasional NCAA investigators.
All of that happened at Miami, where the Hurricanes were busy making themselves famous and infamous. But this week the media wanted players first, then coach Kyle Whittingham.
Erickson was an after-dinner mint.
Fine with him. He teased Whittingham last month about having to work the Pac-12’s media tour.
“There are so many things to do, and that’s one of them,” Erickson said. “They take you all the way to New York, then back to California, and it’s a week of your life; it’s something else. To do the New York thing is a little overrated, in my opinion, but it’s what you have to do when you’re a head coach.”
There are still media requests for Erickson. A guy doesn’t go where he’s been and hide behind the ferns. At the same time, he’s largely free from the things that chip away at a head coach’s time.
“When I started in the Big Sky in ’82, it was all coaching, because you didn’t have enough (assistant) coaches,” he said, “so you coached. That’s what it was all about.”
But each step involved less coaching and more managing.
“Then I go to the NFL and that’s less coaching as a head coach. Now as the years go on, there are just so many things you’ve got to do outside coaching football. It gets harder and harder to do what you want, because you’ve got to be the CEO and make sure everything goes the correct way.”
The correct way doesn’t always happen, either. It’s true Erickson got Oregon State to the Fiesta Bowl and won two national titles at Miami. But he also went .500 or below in four of his five seasons at ASU and was fired after the 2011 season. In the NFL he was 40-56.
A DWI arrest in 1995 brought other publicity of the wrong kind.
Now he’s in a position he hasn’t seen since 1981, when he lost out to former high school teammate Mike Price for the Weber State job. The next year, at 34, he was hired by Idaho. The course was set.
Erickson was going places.
After a year of joblessness he’s back where he started, i.e. working the backstage. His task: helping co-offensive coordinator Brian Johnson bring movement to the second-worst attack in the Pac-12.
The bad news is that he’s no longer the boss.
The good news: same thing.
“It’s a load off me,” he said. “I was a head coach for however many years (29), and there are so many other things you have to deal with; now it’s just back to coaching.”
A handful reporters finally wandered over to Erickson after other interviews were over. He gladly spoke with them. There was no real pressure, no congestion, either.
At 65, he doesn’t need the ego points.
Driving the bus is someone else’s job now.
Solitude never felt better.
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