Football Writers Association of America 2007 BEST WRITING CONTEST

Dennis Erickson makes another smart move
Ted Miller, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Now wait a second here. Folks are mad at Dennis Erickson for leaving no, betraying! Idaho after a meager 10-month stint to take over at Arizona State?

Are you kidding me?

Say the following sentences out loud: Dennis Erickson turned down a chance to quadruple his salary. Dennis Erickson turned down a chance to coach a sleeping giant in the Pac-10 to stay at WAC doormat Idaho. Dennis Erickson decided to continue to live on the frozen tundra of Moscow, Idaho, instead of moving to the resort community surrounding Tempe, Ariz. Dennis Erickson didn't want to coach a perennial bowl contender that could win 10 games next fall because he relished the challenge of leading a program that hadn't posted a winning record since 1999 and will never, never, never reach a major bowl game.

Ted Miller
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Seattle, Wash.
Age: 37
College: Richmond
Background: Miller, an Atlanta native, spent two years at the Marietta Daily Journal before heading south to the Mobile Register. He covered Auburn for two years and was named Alabama Sportswriter of the Year for 1998. He moved to the Seattle Post- Intelligencer in 1999, starting as the Washington football beat writer, then adding Pac-10 and national college football responsibilities. He will cover the Pac-10 for for a sixth year this fall. He was named a sports columnist for P-I in March 2006. He has earned three APSE top-10's with the P-I, twice in enterprise and a third-place for features. He has been a runner-up three times in the FWAA Best Writing Contest for game story, columns and enterprise. Miller enjoys travel and eating and drinking and reading. Although he reports that he tends to be grumpy, he has been married for five years to Chandra.

All because he felt sniff, sniff loyal to the wonderful folks at Idaho who hired him in March 2006?

That's what you wanted to happen? That would have been the right thing for Erickson to do, the ethical thing, the act that would earn him giddy kudos in the media?

Again: Are you kidding me? When did being stupid become a laudable quality?

If Erickson had turned down Arizona State and stayed at Idaho I would have driven to Moscow and beaten him with a stick.

Or at least called him and told him he was insane to allow himself to be bullied by those who throw around terms like "mercenary" and "disloyal" because they simply have never had big opportunities in their lives or have never been driven by ambition to seek the highest level of success possible.

The reflexive sanctimony is predictable and baseless and just a bit disingenuous. Erickson didn't betray his family or friends. He made an employment decision.

What about his players? We sometimes act as though college football teams are collections of Oliver Twists, wan and helpless amid the mad, mad world surrounding them. Please. Sorry if the Vandals' feelings are hurt. Buck up you won four games this season, most the program has in six years.

If you're looking for a villain and there really isn't any, other than circumstance and inopportune timing then consider Idaho athletic director Rob Spear.

If Idaho is worse off for having hired Erickson and it most certainly is it is Spear's fault for making a bad decision when replacing Nick Holt last February.

Recall: After two seasons and five wins, Holt bolted Idaho as though his hair were on fire, first to the St. Louis Rams then back to USC. Spear, though in a jam with spring practices just weeks away, nonetheless could have resisted the urge to take a shortcut and showed some gumption. He could have combed the backwoods for a talented young assistant coach who was hungry to lead and build a program, knowing full well that said young coach, upon finding success, would have bitten at the first better job offer he received.

Spear didn't hire Erickson as a favor. He didn't feel sorry for a coach who was sitting out a football season for the first time since 1969. He made a pre-emptive strike on a big name who was bored while living off the $7.5 million the San Francisco 49ers still owed him. He gambled that Erickson, 59, wouldn't get an attractive offer until he'd rebuilt the program after perhaps three or four years.

And he rolled snake eyes.

"Had we known that we were going to end up in this situation, we would never have gone down that road," Spear told The Associated Press. "We made a commitment and we thought we had a commitment from the other end."

A commitment? Funny, most programs sign coaches to contracts. Erickson's had a $150,000 buyout. Considering Holt's was $30,000, it's obvious Spear anticipated some demand for Erickson.

Erickson flamed out in the NFL, but his college credentials are impeccable. He's been portrayed as a hired gun chasing big contracts and a higher profile, but so what? That's what winners do.

"Ambition doesn't bother me at all," Arizona State athletic director Lisa Love said. "That doesn't even make me blink."

Erickson made the right decision when he left I-AA Idaho in 1986 for Wyoming. And he made the right decision when he quickly left Wyoming for Washington State and then Washington State for Miami in 1989. Each time he took a step up because he won consistently and another program wanted him to do so for them. And, lo and behold, he won a pair of national titles with the Hurricanes. He darn near won a national title at Oregon State in 2000 old-timers know how absurd that very thought is before making his one colossal mistake and jumping aboard the burning, rudderless ship that was the 49ers.

Erickson will win at Arizona State, which welcomes back solid talent on both sides of the ball next fall. In fact, the Sun Devils' backloaded schedule suggests a 7- 0 start is possible.

And if he replaces Pete Carroll at USC four years from now after leading ASU to its first Rose Bowl since 1996, here's what a fair-minded person should say: Good for him.

Comment of the judge, Mickey Spagnola: Not only was this very opinionated and well written, but Im guessing the writer was brave enough to take an unpopular stance, though one he believed in. Seeing things a tad differently from everyone else makes for good column writing.

Second place: John Adams, Knoxville News Sentinel
Third place: John Henderson, The Denver Post
Honorable mention: Tom Dienhart, The Sporting News; Kalani Simpson, Honolulu Star-Bulletin; Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News