SALT LAKE CITY — The farther Dennis Erickson went as a coach, the farther he got from what he really wanted: actual coaching. Now he says he’s found something closer to his beginnings.
Plus there’s a bonus.
“I don’t have to teach history,” he said.
The man who won two collegiate national championships, and was head coach at four power conference schools and two NFL teams, says his new job resembles the one he took at the Montana high school where his career began.
No side teaching required.
“I coach to coach,” he said.
Don’t flinch, but yet another pro football league is on the way. The Alliance of American Football begins in 2019, with teams in eight cities. Erickson will direct Alliance Salt Lake. Set to run February through April, the AAF will be comprised of borderline NFL players and former collegians.
Some will be there so they can keep playing — this time for pay. Others will be good enough to play in the NFL, but just need work on the pro game’s nuances. For instance, read-option quarterbacks will get the chance to run a pro offense.
Erickson says the AAF isn’t like other ill-fated leagues such as the XFL and Indoor Football League. This one will involve only moderate rule changes. Among them are the elimination of kickoffs and PATs, no TV timeouts and an option to call an “onside kick,” whereby a team takes the ball on its own 35 in a fourth-and-10 scenario.
Most intriguing about the new league, though, are the names: Rick Neuheisel, Mike Singletary, Steve Spurrier and Brad Childress. Childress and Singletary are former NFL head coaches, while Neuheisel and Spurrier are legendary college figures.
It’s safe to assume they’re all joining the startup league for the same reason as Erickson, namely job satisfaction.
“I know Steve (Spurrier) is,” Erickson said. “ He’s a good personal friend of mine. I know what he’s doing it for.”
Erickson says the mistake leagues such as the long-ago USFL make is trying to compete head-to-head with the NFL. The AAF will work with the NFL to place talent that has been overlooked or undervalued. That too is a refrain that often has been echoed. But the perpetually struggling Arena Football League is an amped-up game with little to no rushing. The Indoor Football League had fans call plays via their cell phones. The XFL was a TV trash sport.
“Oh, no, no, no, no, no — it’s not going to be a gimmick deal,” Erickson said.
Although coaching in a startup league might seem beneath a coach who won two national titles at Miami, and coached at Arizona State, Washington State and Oregon State, as well as the Seahawks and 49ers, Erickson doesn’t get uppity. He gladly joined Kyle Whittingham’s staff at Utah as an offensive coordinator in 2013, saying at the time, “It’s a load off me. 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.”
This time it’s more of the same, except as a head coach.
Erickson speaks fondly of his simple days as a young coach. Before landing his first head coaching job — at Idaho and later Wyoming — he was an assistant at Montana State, Idaho, Fresno State “and on and on until it sounds and looks like an obituary.”
At San Jose State, under the legendary Jack Elway, he even moonlighted as a bowling teacher, because assistant coaches were required to instruct classes.
“Glad they didn’t have any video,” Erickson said. “I was a terrible bowler.”
In his new job, he won’t have to do booster club sessions or a ton of TV appearances. The new league is “a six- seven-month” commitment, with a simple overall plan. But the best part of all is that he’ll never have to master the 7-10 split.