Dennis Erickson says he doesn’t feel like he was demoted.
Nor does he seem to care if that’s how others see it.
This is a man who led Miami to two national championships, coached twice in the NFL and popularized the one-back offense that is the basis for how many teams play football today.
Given that, is it really hard to believe he doesn’t attach any special value to the title of Utah offensive coordinator?
“That’s not why I’m in it,” Erickson says. “I’m not about promotions or demotions. ... The bottom line is for the University of Utah to win, and whatever’s the best way — if we can add a new coach when somebody left to make us better — then that’s what you’ve got to do.”
That somebody who left is Utah assistant Jay Hill, to become head coach at Weber State, and the new coach is offensive coordinator and former Wyoming top man Dave Christensen.
Following Christensen’s hire in December, Co-OCs Erickson and Brian Johnson were told by Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham that they would be position coaches.
Johnson left to become quarterbacks coach at Mississippi State. But Erickson stuck around, and even though he told a Tribune reporter at the time that Christensen’s hire was a surprise, he says there are no hard feelings.
“I was on the other side of that, too, as a head football coach, so I understand the situations,” he says. “My role is not a heck of a lot different [from last year]. We’re all doing it together like we’ve always done.”
Like Erickson, Christensen is from Everett, Wash., and he runs a high-tempo spread offense that Erickson says is not greatly dissimilar from those he has operated.
Of the new boss, Erickson says: “I’ve never coached with him but I have friends of mine that have coached with him, and they have nothing but good things to say, and so do I. He’s doing a good job.”
Erickson turned 67 last week. He now devotes practice time to coaching Utah’s running backs, and since he rarely shouts and is often lost in a crowd of large men wearing pads, it’s possible to watch an entire two-hour session and not notice him.
The same is not true for his successor.
“With Coach Erickson, he’s more laid-back, mellow,” says junior running back Bubba Poole. “Coach Christensen is on the move, on the go. He’s loud, you’ll hear him from across the field, no matter where you’re at. He’s more rowdy.”
Erickson’s voice may not carry as far, but he continues to be an effective teacher because of his attention to detail, Poole says.
“He says to run a route at 6 yards, don’t do it at 51/2, 53/4, he wants 6.”
Christensen says he and Erickson have had developed a “pretty special friendship” in the two months since he arrived in Salt Lake City.
“The guy has done everything,” he said. “There’s no ego with this guy. ... I just want to soak off of him and get as much information and knowledge as I can.”
Erickson likes to tell people he drove the team bus as a head coach of Billings Central High School in 1970.
Why keep doing it, all these years later? For the reasons that brought him out of retirement last February when he was a year removed from a 6-7 season and a bitter ending at Arizona State:
“I just like being around the players and the coaches and being here trying to help win football games.”
Dennis Erickson’s résumé
• Head coach at Arizona State, Idaho, Oregon State, Miami, Washington State, Wyoming and in the NFL with San Francisco and Seattle.
• 179-96-1 record in 23 seasons as college head coach, including two national championships with Miami.