Utah football: Erickson brings offensive ideas and swagger to Utes
College football • Co-coordinator wants Utah to “own it.”
Published: August 8, 2013 03:45PM
Updated: August 9, 2013 09:31AM
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Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Dennis Erickson talks about his new job as the co-offensive coordinator of the University of Utah football team at a news conference, Wednesday, February 20, 2013.

Utah passing game coordinator Aaron Roderick remembers going to his office on a Sunday in the spring. All was quiet except for one room. There, Roderick spied newly hired co-coordinator Dennis Erickson settled in and watching film.

“He was learning the terminology, learning the guys’ names and getting familiar with us,” Roderick said. “He is awesome.”

By all accounts, Erickson hasn’t stopped being awesome.

When Erickson was hired in February, it was natural to question how well the former Arizona State coach would fit in with Utah’s staff, given the way his presence would diminish Brian Johnson’s role as coordinator and affect Roderick’s duties as passing game coordinator.

But so far, the threesome have integrated their duties as well as anyone could have hoped.

Johnson, Utah’s winningest quarterback, was the youngest offensive coordinator in FBS football when, at the age of 24, he was tabbed as Norm Chow’s successor in 2011.

At times, the football savviness he had on the field didn’t always translate to the coordinating duties.

As a player he was known for going on instinct, but he has admitted as a coordinator he thought too much and hesitated too often. By the end of the year he was on the field where he was most comfortable, working with the quarterbacks and making calls from his gut while Roderick served as the eyes above.

Now, Erickson will be in the press box and Johnson will continue to work with the quarterbacks while Roderick will be on the field sending in signals.

The three will all have input in making decisions, they say.

“It’s still the same pressure on me,” Johnson said. “To win a football game, we all have to do our jobs.”

Such a system sounds great and has worked so far, but in the heat of the moment, when the proverbial “stuff” hits the fan, who is going to make the ultimate call?

The 66-year-old Erickson, filled with more experience than Roderick and Johnson combined, doesn’t hesitate in answering that question.

“I will be,” Erickson said.

“I’ve had that stuff all over me,” he added, playing along with the question. “That is how it should be. We’ll all be involved in what we do and make plans together, but I will be making the call to Brian.”

Out of the game since he was fired from ASU at the end of the 2011 season, Erickson said being back in the box will be a little unfamiliar to him. However, putting his stamp on the offense took no adjustment period.

Upon arriving at Utah, he quizzed Johnson and Roderick about what has worked in the past and questioned why the Utes went away from the schemes that befuddled opponents in 2008.

His thought? Go back to the success of 2008 and use it as a model for the future. The result is a slimmed down, fast-paced offense with a lot of variety.

“People get the misconception that a no-huddle, tempo offense is all pass, but it’s not,” he said. “Look at Oregon. They run more than they throw it — you have to have 50-50.”

Erickson still wears an ASU charm around his neck as well as the 1991 National Championship ring he won at Miami. The trinkets are reminders of not only successes and failures, but ultimately the experience Utah’s offensive coordinating position lacked.

Erickson said he chooses to wear the 1991 ring and not the one won in 1989 because he felt like the ’91 team truly “owned it.”

He is hoping the Utes can do the same this year. So far he has set the tone for the team, in the playmaking and in the team demeanor.

“He has given us a swagger and a sense of confidence,” Roderick said. “He has won so many games. It’s kind of funny. He is the oldest guy on the staff but he has the most swagger.”

lwodraska@sltrib.com

Camp Corner

Who was hot • Quarterback Travis Wilson had one of his best days, in the estimation of coach Kyle Whittingham. Gionni Paul, who transferred from Miami, was also a standout. He will redshirt this year unless NCAA sanctions against Miami allow transfers to play immediately.

Who to watch for • Senior defensive tackle Tenny Palepoi is emerging as a leader on the defense.

Who is missing • Offensive lineman Carlos Lozano, who has struggled to reach a playing weight, has left the team.