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Utah football: Dennis Erickson wants to put teeth back in Ute offense

Published February 12, 2013 11:23 am

Veteran college and NFL head coach becomes Utes'co-offensive coordinator.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Dennis Erickson doesn't know too much about Travis Wilson's throwing skills and doesn't know all of Utah's tight ends or receivers, but he does know one thing: They are all about to learn a new level of aggressive play.

Erickson, who was named Utah's co-offensive coordinator Monday, said his goal is to turn Utah's offense into much more of an attacking unit than it has been recently.

Such a goal must sound sweet to the ears of Utah fans, who have watched the offense struggle to put more than 27 points on the board the last two seasons.

"You have to be aggressive and you have to make teams play you," Erickson said. "You have to know what you want to do and we want to do a lot of things. We want different formations, good shots down the field, big plays on offense, all those things go into it."

All those things have been missing from Utah's offense — at least on a consistent basis — with the Utes averaging just 25.9 points in their first two seasons of Pac-12 play.

The Utes averaged 33.3 points in their final three seasons in the Mountain West.

Such a drop-off could be blamed in part on quarterback injuries, but clearly Utah coach Kyle Whittingham's decision to hire Erickson and name him co-offensive coordinator also is an acknowledgement that promoting Brian Johnson to coordinator after just two years as quarterbacks coach was a bit of a failed experiment.

Whittingham said Erickson, who coached Miami to national titles in 1989 and 1991, will have the final say in offensive decisions.

"He is brought in to make our offense more productive," he said.

The hiring is similar to the one the Utes made in January 2011 when Norm Chow was hired. He was with the Utes only a year before taking the head coaching position at Hawaii.

Whittingham said he envisions Erickson will have a similar role to Chow in that he will oversee the offense but let the assistants handle much of the hands-on duties. Aaron Roderick will remain the passing game coordinator and oversee the receivers, Jay Hill will remain as the running backs coach and Johnson will coach the quarterbacks and work alongside Erickson.

"We're going to make this as un-invasive as possible," Whittingham said.

The 65-year-old Erickson, who had hip replacement surgery last week, said he may split time between Salt Lake City, Phoenix and his home in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.

Erickson has been helping his son coach his high school team since being fired from Arizona State in 2011. He says he is eager to get back into the college game.

"It's not in my makeup not to be a coach," he said. "Anytime I've moved on in my life it has been back to coaching. It isn't all about me. It's about coaching the players and helping them on and off the field."

The Utes lamented the lack of big plays last season. To help them in that area, Erickson said he wants to use his traditional one-back set and use the tight ends more frequently.

"I like to spread them out, get good matchups, get the running game going and come back at them with tight ends and see how they play," he said. "You have to have a plan but it's not just me. We'll sit down as a staff and see what personnel fits best." —

Utah's offense under Whittingham

Scoring Offense

Year Ave. Nat. rank

2012 26.7 73rd

2011 25.0 74th

2010 33.1 23rd

2009 29.9 34th

2008 36.9 15th

2007 26.2 68th

2006 27.9 33rd

2005 30.0 36th

Total Offense

Year Ave. Nat. rank

2012 324.42 105th

2011 310.9 109th

2010 389.0 57th

2009 389.5 54th

2008 400.9 35th

2007 369.9 79th

2006 368.4 41st

2005 473.0 12th —

Dennis Erickson's résumé

Dennis Erickson's head coaching career:

1982-85 » Idaho (32-15)

1986 » Wyoming (6-6)

1987-88 » Washington St. (12-10-1)

1989-94 » Miami (63-9)

1995-1998 » Seattle Seahawks (31-33)

1999-2002 » Oregon St. (31-17)

2003-04 » San Francisco 49ers (9-23)

2006 » Idaho (4-8)

2007-11 » ASU (31-31)