Erickson Meets The Press
Nov. 27, 2001
(On the orange windbreaker Erickson wore to the media conference) 'This jacket is in honor of Dee Andros (OSU's head football coach from 1965-75 and athletic director from 1976-85). If you didn't know, Dee had open-heart surgery Monday and is doing very, very well. Our prayers are out to him and his family. When it gets to this week - Civil War week - when you're a Beaver, you've got to think about Dee Andros and all the things he's done over the years. That's the reason I wore this whatever-it-is.'
(On Oregon in general) 'They're an outstanding football team. What can you say? They're fourth in the country, and it's well-deserved. Any time you can go through a football season with the schedule they've had and win nine games and lose only one, to me, it's a remarkable season. I know, we did it last year, and it's pretty darn hard. What they've accomplished is unbelievable, and they've continued to do it year-in and year-out. I have nothing but praise for their program, and particularly their football team this year.
'You look at what they've done offensively, and when you talk about the University of Oregon the No. 1 thing you talk about is Joey Harrington. It's well-deserved, to me, he's probably the best quarterback in all of college football right now and probably will be a first-round (draft) pick - I'm sure he will. He's played extremely well for them, he's their leader, he's the heart and soul of their offensive football team and they've got a lot of other things to go with him. You look at Maurice Morris and Onterrio Smith at running backs, their receivers are outstanding, (Keenan) Howry has had a terrific year for them, probably a guy who is overlooked a lot - maybe he isn't, because he's gotten some accolades - is Justin Peelle, their tight end, who in my opinion is one of the better tight ends in the country. He creates a lot of problems for you. And their offensive line has played well together, they're a very close-knit group, you can see that when they play, they understand each other. They're just very explosive. You start with Howry and Morris and Smith, you can go to all their wide receivers - we've got our work cut out for us on defense. There are some things we've got to do, hopefully not give up a lot of big plays, hopefully we get some sort of a pass rush on Joey, hopefully we can play defense like we have the past three or four games.
'On the other side of the football, they're very similar to us. They're not huge but they run to the football. Their down guys move around extremely well and make a lot of things happen. (Kevin) Mitchell and (David) Moretti at linebacker, they run to the ball. Then there's Rashad Bauman at corner, who is one of the better ones in our league. The guy that I like is Keith Lewis, who is playing extremely well for them at safety.
'They're an outstanding football team, there's no question about it. Again, we feel we're playing a lot better than we have early in the year. And it's the Civil War, it's going to be a heck of a football game. We're excited about playing. There are a lot of things at stake for both teams. We have a chance to have a winning season and possibly go to a bowl game, depending on what happens if we were to win the game. And they have a chance to be involved in the BCS and possibly the Rose Bowl, which remains to be seen. It's going to be a fun Civil War, it's going to be a fun football game. Again, we have great respect for them and we're just going to go out Saturday and have a lot of fun and play the game.'
(Does the extra week for you, and the extra two weeks for Oregon, add to the rivalry?) 'I don't know if it adds to the rivalry. It just makes it go longer, as far as preparation is concerned. Sometimes you have too much time to prepare - you start looking at video and saying 'Well, maybe we can do this and maybe we can do that, let's add this and let's add that.' And eventually you just get back to what you do.
'As far as the waiting period, I don't think it does much as far as the rivalry is concerned. They were gone for Thanksgiving, we were gone for Thanksgiving. We played a game against Northern Arizona, so ... to me, it really doesn't make much difference.'
(What's the biggest obstacle playing at Autzen Stadium presents?) 'You talk about homefield advantage and all of that, and obviously at Autzen there's homefield advantage because of the crowd, the noise factor, all those things you deal with, which is a heck of an advantage. And it's been an advantage here for us at home. But when you start talking about teams that win a lot at home and hardly lose at all, to me it's more the players and coaches than it is the venue itself, although it is noisy and you've got to do some different things in that situation than other places.'
(On OSU's roller-coaster season, from preseason rankings to a slow start to the last two wins) 'There was a time about a month ago when I'd be happy to be 5-5. It's been a roller-coaster year, obviously, we're disappointed where we are, we didn't expect to be here but we are. You can't even dwell on that - you can look back on games and say 'We should have done this, we should have done that, we could have won this game, we should have won that game.' If you do that, you spend all your time worrying about that. Really, the last three or four weeks we've just been concerned about we can do to have a good football season, which is to win as many games as we can. We've been inconsistent, particularly early in the year, we didn't play as well as I thought we would. But where we're at, there's nothing we can do about it.'
(Has the key to that been the offensive line?) 'I don't know that you can take one area. The offensive front is playing a little better together, we're making some plays at wide receiver - it's a combination of a number of different things.'
(What's been the key to Oregon being so good?) 'No. 1, they've got some weapons offensively. I believe they have the best quarterback in college football, which really helps when you're building a team. They've got great skill offensively, they make a lot of big plays. They play great on defense, they play hard and they believe they can win, and that has a heck of a lot to do with it.'
(What do you think of making a decision between placekickers Ryan Cesca and Kirk Yliniemi?) 'That it's early. Seriously, I don't know what to tell you. I'd like to say that one of them is going to knock everything in and tell you who he is, but I can't. We practiced on Sunday and they both kicked well at times. We'll practice today, Wednesday and Thursday and then probably make a decision on Saturday. We'll watch them warm up. A lot depends on the weather, who kicks best in the weather ... so many factors are involved in it. You won't know who's going to kick - and maybe I won't know - until we send somebody out to kick.'
(Was there anything leading up to the win over Washington that made you think this team would turn its season around?) 'I hate to say it, but I believe it was the domination down at USC, as far as playing. We went on the road and dominated a football game, and that's why it was such a tough loss for us. But I really believe we started to come together - probably too late in the season - but we ran the football extremely well offensively. Then we came back and played well from then on, but it's one of those years. Hopefully, we can play like we did against Washington this Saturday. But it's been an up-and-down year. Hopefully, we can come out and be the good football team that I know we are on Saturday.'
(On how running back Ken Simonton has handled some difficult times this season) 'Ken Simonton is a true winner, a true competitor, a tremendous person. He's what athletics should be all about, because he's had to deal with some adversity. He didn't have a lot of places to run at times. What he's done is, he's played as well as he can play, regardless of what it was. Whether there were holes, he ran hard, when he had to pass protect, he pass protected. His play has been excellent. One thing about Ken and this whole football team is, there has never been any finger-pointing, never anything like that. Everyone has been together. We've been trying to solve the problem ourselves, and that's the kind of person Ken is.'
(If you had to pinpoint what went wrong this year, what would it be?) 'I don't believe, when things like this happen, that you can pinpoint one thing. Because there are so many games that you look at and so many things that happened during those games that made a difference ... when you have something like that, it involves everybody on the team and every aspect of the game, in my opinion.'
(In a game like the Civil War, can you throw the point spread out the window?) 'I don't know much about spreads, but I know that when you have a rivalry game like this, regardless of what the seasons have been, at least in the rivalry games I've been involved in, it's always a great game because of that.'
(Compare the coaching job you've done this year to other years. Could it be one of your best jobs?) 'I'm sure there are a lot of boosters who disagree with you on that - probably 99.9 percent. But it's been an interesting year. I know I take a lot more Zantac, that's made a huge difference at times. I've taken the mental stuff, too, but that's the stomach stuff. I look at this team, and I'm as proud as of this team as I was of the team last year, or any of the great teams I've had, because they've fought through some adversity. Again, we were picked very high and expectations were high, our expectations were high. For whatever reason, things didn't work out, but they've battled and hung in there. I keep recalling the USC game, you go down there and dominate a game and lose, then come out and play a good Washington team - but there was never any quit. I've seen a lot of teams over the years - hopefully, none I've ever had - that go in the tank when things like that start happening. And these guys have never done that since I've been the coach here. Like I said, I'm as proud of this team for hanging in there and doing the things they have as the team that went 11-1 last year.'
(Coaching-wise, what did you do?) 'The coaches have hung in there. This staff has been together a long time, we've been through a lot of ups and downs, we've been through things like this before. As long as you have a staff that's close together, that believes in each other, good things are going to happen and you're not going to have adversity, and we haven't had any adversity. If you have adversity in a coaching staff, if you have bickering offensively and defensively - and I've seen that happen a lot in football - then that's when things start to splinter on you. That will never happen in this program, just because of the closeness of the staff and where we are. We've been through a lot of wars together, and that's helped us through this season.'
(How much do you want Ken Simonton to gain 113 yards at Oregon and reach 1,000 yards this season?) 'If he can get over 100 yards against Oregon, we have a chance to win the game - that's the bottom line. Sure I'd like to see Ken get that thing, all of us would. But that will never have any effect on how I coach this football game. The No. 1 thing is winning the game. If that's Ken carrying it 30 times, then it's Ken carrying it 30 times, if it's Ken carrying it 10 times for 40 yards, then that's what happens. People ask me that, and I'm not saying it's a ridiculous question, but if you've been in this business, you've got to do what it takes to win. Winning the Civil War will last a lot longer in Ken Simonton's mind than reaching that record. And it's a great record, don't get me wrong - I'd love to see it happen. But whatever it takes for us to win the football game is the No. 1 thing in our mind, and that's what I owe and what Ken owes to this football team.'
(Do you see this game as more important than a potential bowl game?) 'This is the most important game of the year, no question. And it was last year, and it was the year before, and it will be next year, and it will be, hopefully, 10 years from now when I'm still coaching here. Because it's the Civil War and it's about bragging rights for a year, about pride in both these programs - so it will always be the most important football game.'
(Last year you were able to put a lot of pressure on Oregon's offense and force a number of turnovers. Could that get into Oregon's heads a little bit, or is that affect negated by the turnover in personnel?) 'It's totally different. If that were true, then you'd like back at the year before that (1999) and what they did to us, and obviously the next year that didn't happen. It's a different year, different game plans. You can look at last year's game, or even the year before's game, and have an idea what their philosophies are. But when you're dealing with different people, different day, different emotion, different stadium - it's different.'
(Would Joey Harrington's desire to atone for last year perhaps put him off his game?) 'I've watched him play 10 games on video and I haven't seen him off his game yet. Both teams will go out and play as hard as they can, and whatever happens, happens. I don't believe in any of that malarkey, to be very honest. You prepare, get ready, you have a game plan for both sides, they have a great coaching staff - then you go out and execute it and see what happens. The bottom line - and it's been that way in both these football games - is turnovers. The defense creates them, or you do something offensively that creates them for you, and that's a huge factor in every game but it becomes even more of a factor in a game like this because the emotion is so high. The same thing with dumb penalties. The emotion is so high, and there are dumb penalties in a game when the emotion is high. None done on purpose, but the emotion and the hitting and the things like that happen, so you want them at a high level, but you want them in a situation where we don't do anything stupid. Those are going to be the factors in this game.'
(How important is it to have the players like defensive end Kyle Rosselle who put the work in and wait their turn to start as seniors?) 'This game is important to all the seniors. This will be the fourth time for these seniors, and they've had some success and they've not had some success. For guys like Kyle, it's a chance to start against them, he played quite a bit against them a year ago. Again, in a game like this, you're dealing with both sides' seniors that this is an emotional, important football game for them.'
(How important is it for OSU's program to go to a bowl game for a third straight year?) 'You'd like to go to a bowl game. The thing I like about bowl games is, you get some national exposure, No. 1. Plus you get to practice with your young guys for an extra couple weeks. To me, that's the most important aspect of it, you get some extra practice to get you better for the next year. At 5-5, we're not going to win the Pac-10 championship, so some of our goals are gone. We're playing for a winning season and to go to a bowl game, which gives us an opportunity to get better for next year. It would be nice to go to a bowl every year, if you can.'
(Are you doing anything extra to motivate the Beavers this week, like Oregon coach Mike Bellotti handing out bracelets that say 'Believe'?) 'No. He didn't call me and let me know he's doing that. But no, to make it simple.'
(Is there any one aspect of the Oregon game that concerns you most?) 'Their explosiveness on offense, and the big-play capability they have, is frightening. That bothers you a little bit, so you kind of have to keep things in front of you, as far as that goes. Defensively, they're very aggressive, they're going to blitz you and do some different things, so you have to be sure you take care of the football.'
(When you prepare for Oregon running backs Maurice Morris and Onterrio Smith, how different are they?) 'They're both very good. They're very similar. I think Smith is a little faster, Morris' feet may move a little better laterally, but Smith's really explosive. They give you a little different one-two look. They're both really good players.'
(Does it change anything for you if one is in and one is out?) 'Not really. You defense formations and defense plays as opposed to personnel. You've got to tackle them - that's the bottom line.'
(On wide receiver Cole Clasen) 'Cole has been a pleasant surprise for us to come out of Lake Oswego as a walkon. It's tough enough for a freshman on scholarship to play, but for him to come in and play as a freshman is a great story. The thing he has fits to a position we have, which is a guy in the slot. If he had to come in and play running back, which is what he did in high school, the same thing probably wouldn't have happened. But he just happened to fit into that situation for us, so it's been a great story. And it will be a great story in the future, because he's got a great future.'
(Will we see quarterback Jonathan Smith on your coaching staff some day?) 'I don't know. Jonathan and I have talked about that. Again, he's got to finish this season up and then he's graduating this quarter. I don't have a graduate assistantship open until next fall, but we've talked about it and we would like to have him. He's got to decide what he wants to do with his life, too - not everybody's dumb enough to want to coach.'
(How much do you enjoy coaching in the Civil War?) 'It's a great game, and that's what you coach for - games like this. Rivalry games are what you coach for. The excitement of it all, the ABC-TV ... but probably the biggest thing is, you take a side, one way or the other, in this state. That's what I like about these kind of rivalries. For the most part, you're either a Beaver or a Duck. It happens to be bragging rights - for us, too - but for guys working in the same office together, or guys teaching in the same school together, or people working at TV stations together. And you guys have a lot of fun with it, probably a lot more fun than we have with it, because when it's over you can either go brag or not, and we have to deal with the win or the loss. But those things are fun, those kinds of rivalry games are fun. I enjoyed it when I was at Washington State, I enjoyed it when I was at Montana State, when I was at Idaho and we played Boise State. You're either one or the other, and that's what it's all about. And even if you didn't go to school there, you pick a side. If you're working for somebody that's a Beaver and he pays your salary, normally you should probably root for that team, would be my suggestion. Unless you don't want to be employed.'
(Could you grade quarterback Derek Anderson's freshman season?) 'Grade it like A-B-C-D? Let's see, when I was in school all I got were As ... Derek's had a great fall, he really has. He has experience. The reason we didn't redshirt him - and it's a real important reason - is that it gave him an opportunity to play in some games and get game experience. But even more than that, he was able during the year to take a lot of snaps in practice in our offense and learn our offense as the year went on. Had we redshirted him, he would have been on the scout team, so he wouldn't have dealt with our offense at all. So then going into spring football, you start all over with him. This has been a great experience for Derek. He's going to be No. 1 going into spring football and will have all this behind him, and it will make him a heck of a lot better quarterback next fall. What do I think his future is? I think he has a chance to be a great player. But again, you've got a lot of work to do, a lot of learning to do. Nothing's etched in granite. He's 18 years old, people forget that. But I'm glad we didn't redshirt him, because it's really going to be good for him and for our program the next three years.'
(What have this year's seniors meant to the OSU program?) 'The legacy is the turnaround of Oregon State football, in my opinion. When they came here five years ago, some of them, four years ago, some of them - they hadn't won anything. This program was down about as low as you could probably get. During their tenure here, they've gone to two bowl games, ended up fourth in the country, and have got this thing turned around in a lot of ways - as far as winning is concerned, as far as the indoor facility that's sitting out there right now. That wasn't even a thought when we first took this job. The renovation of the stadium that's going to happen in the next couple years, selling out season tickets so you can't get a ticket, when five years ago you could pick any seat you wanted in this place. You look at that and what they've done for four years and that's their legacy, as far as I'm concerned, because they've been here the whole time through that. They've been through the bad times and they've stayed through a lot of the good times. To me, it's a legacy of having to get this thing turned around.'
(Even moreso than the coaching staff?) 'The thing they can't do is stay here and reap the benefits - or not reap the benefits, whichever it may be - but I believe reap the benefits. It's a combination of everything together. When you talk about this turnaround - and we'll keep it going, there's no question in my mind, and be better as time goes on - you talk about those guys and the seniors before them and the seniors before them since I've been here. You talk about (former head coach) Mike Riley, who had an impact on this program. You talk about (former head coach) Jerry Pettibone - a lot of the guys the first two years were recruited by him. When you take a program that all of a sudden goes from here to there, there are a lot of people involved and these seniors are a big part of it.'
(How difficult is it to keep players' emotions in check this week?) 'It's hard because of the emotional situation involved. But one thing as a coach - in these games, you don't have to worry about giving pep talks and getting Knute Rockne's book out and finding the Gipper or something like that. You just go out and practice, and everything else will take care of itself. I've found in these games - and I've had the opportunity to be in a lot of them - that's the best way, because the emotion on Saturday when you go into Autzen Stadium ... it's probably going to be a lot more green than orange, and it will be a lot of motivation. These are fun games to coach in.'