As Fate Would Have It For Erickson

Dec. 29, 2000

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) - In 1984, Dennis Erickson was an up-and-coming youngcoach at Idaho who was a leading candidate for the job at Oregon State when JoeAvezzano was fired following a 2-9 season.

'I went and interviewed for the job and really wanted it, to be honest withyou,' Erickson said. 'I didn't get it. It was the best thing that everhappened to me because there wasn't a commitment to the football program. Nowthere is.'

Instead, Erickson went to Washington State and Wyoming, then to Miami, wherehe coached the Hurricanes to two national championships. Erickson had escapedan Oregon State job that Avezzano had called a coaching graveyard.

Avezzano, who went on to success as special teams coach of the DallasCowboys, had followed Craig Fertig. Dave Kragthorpe followed Avezzano and triedto win with a pass-oriented game. Then came Jerry Pettibone and his ill-fatedattempt with the wishbone. All of them lost. All were fired.

'There have been a lot of good coaches at Oregon State that didn't havefinancially the things we have here,' Erickson said. 'And you've got tounderstand that going from 105 to 85 scholarships has made all the differencein college football.'

Still, only when the Beavers hired Erickson, embittered by toughseasons with the Seattle Seahawks, did their string of 28 consecutive losingseasons end with a 7-5 mark in 1999.

Mike Riley set the stage for Erickson's success with two strong recruitingclasses before he left to become coach of the San Diego Chargers. But Ericksonbrought the attitude of a winner.

In his first meeting with the team, Erickson gestured often with his hands,and the players were mesmerized by the shine of those two championship rings.

'They did stand out,' quarterback Jonathan Smith said. 'Nowadays when Isee them, they're not as spectacular. But the first couple of times I saw themmy eyes would definitely go straight to them.'

Many of the players talked about transferring after the highly popular Rileyleft with the Beavers 5-6 and on the verge of that long-sought winning season.They stayed when they found out Erickson got the job.

'Guys really respect him, and they love playing for him,' Smith said.'There couldn't have been a better guy to come in.'

The Beavers finally had some talent, and Erickson taught them how to use it.

'Coach Erickson got us over that hump where we weren't losing the closeball games,' Smith said. 'We were winning them. I think the next year we weregoing to go over .500 after coach Riley left no matter who came in, but go be10-1, that's a tribute to coach Erickson.'

Erickson also points to the financial support offered by universitypresident Paul Risser and athletic director Mitch Barnhart.

'We raised $14 million for an indoor facility last year after our firstyear there. That's being built now,' Erickson said. 'Contributions areunbelievable. We're going to redo the stadium. We're building a facility in ourbasketball arena. When you have that kind of commitment, you can win and besuccessful.'

After such a phenomenal turnaround, Erickson again was a hot coachingcommodity. He was mentioned for the jobs at Southern California and ArizonaState. But at this point in his career, Erickson had grown weary of the chase.He liked living in a small town in his native Northwest. He loved being at thecontrols of such a remarkable turnaround.

Erickson signed a seven-year deal worth almost $7 million. A man can livepretty well on that in Corvallis.

'It's been so much fun to see where this was and to see the excitement ofthe players and the fans,' he said. 'It's unbelievable. They went through along drought. They sat in that rain for many, many years just hoping to keep itunder 28 points.'

Now, amazingly, those once-beleaguered Beavers are favored to beat NotreDame on New Year's Day.

By BOB BAUM
AP Sports Writer

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