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July 27, 2007

Erickson looking for more Pac-10 success

LOS ANGELES Dennis Erickson joked that his biography in the new Arizona State media guide reads like a tribute to a coach of the past.

It's the third time Erickson has appeared in a Pac-10 school's media guide as a head coach, and he hopes he is far from writing the last chapter in his coaching career.

"It's going to be fun," Erickson said. "I know two fight songs in the Pac-10 and I'm going to learn my third."

Erickson is returning to a league where he was twice the conference coach of the year (at Washington State and Oregon State). Although he's perhaps best known for his two national championships at Miami in 1989 and 1991, Erickson is a West Coast coach.

After one season at Idaho and two with the San Francisco 49ers, Erickson is back in the Pac-10 for the first time since 2002. He turned 60 three months into his tenure at Arizona State, and he's not interested in taking time to rebuild.

He wants to grab his second career Pac-10 title sooner rather than later.

"When you're 60 years old you get impatient," Erickson said. "I hope we can do some things this year."

The Arizona State administration seems to share his impatience.

The Sun Devils made three consecutive bowl games and four bowls in six years under former coach Dirk Koetter.

In his final season, Koetter made two critical decisions that may have caused his demise. He named Sam Keller his starting quarterback before fall camp, then changed his mind days later and chose Rudy Carpenter as his starting QB. Keller soon transferred.

Later, in the sixth game of the season, Koetter elected to punt on a fourth-and-22 from his own 23 with a minute and a half left in a one-touchdown loss. The play and Koetter's explanation backfired. (For the record, Erickson said he would have traded that play for "one that works.")

Although the microscope will be on Erickson to take Arizona State to its first Rose Bowl since 1997, his players haven't noticed the extra pressure.

"For the most part he's relaxed and wants us to compete, but be relaxed," center Mike Pollak said. "He doesn't want us to be uptight, but to be confident in ourselves."

The biggest beneficiary of Erickson's arrival could be Carpenter.

After leading the nation in passing efficiency in 2005, Carpenter was sidetracked by the quarterback controversy and injuries to his hands in 2006.

Erickson Returns
Dennis Erickson is the only Pac-10 coach other than Pete Carroll who has a national championship ring, but he did that at Miami. Both Carroll and Erickson have two each. Here's how the current Pac-10 coaches stack up. (Records are as Pac-10 coaches; league titles includes shared titles):
Coach Record Titles
Mike Bellotti, Oregon 97-48 2
Pete Carroll, USC 65-12 5
Ty Willingham, Washington 51-52-1 1
Dennis Erickson, Ariz. State 43-27-1 1
Jeff Tedford, Cal 42-20 1
Mike Riley, Oregon State 38-34 0
Karl Dorrell, UCLA 29-21 0
Bill Doba, Washington State 25-22 0
Mike Stoops, Arizona 12-24 0
Jim Harbaugh, Stanford 0 0
Under Erickson, Carpenter appears to be rejuvenated. After passing for 2,273 yards and completing 68 percent of his passes as a redshirt freshman, Carpenter slipped to 2,523 yards and a 55.4 percent completion percentage last year.

"I've been around a lot of quarterbacks in my day, and he's a guy that really wants to be good," Erickson said. "He is our quarterback and he's the leader of our team."

Carpenter is likely to see some tweaks in the playbook. ASU is expected to have a more balanced offense this season. The Sun Devils will feature running back Ryan Torain and more plays from the shotgun, a formation where Carpenter excelled in high school.

Although the changes around Tempe could be drastic, they won't be for Erickson. He says he's mellowed since his last go-round in the Pac-10, and he believes the league has become more balanced.

In the last few years, the spread offense and other schemes have become the trend. However, Erickson still sees elements of what was run decades ago.

Clearly, the game hasn't passed him by yet.

"Everyone says the game has changed," Erickson said. "I don't believe football has changed. Things have kind of come around in circles."

Just like Erickson.

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.

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