Cory Mccartney
Thursday October 18th, 2007

His career has spanned from Seattle to Coral Gables, Fla., and includes six other points in between. But the well-traveled Dennis Erickson believes he's finally found the final stop of his coaching career at Arizona State.

No, really.

"I sure hope so," Erickson said. "I'm 60 years old and I think it would be [it]. This is a great school, great university, great place to live and it doesn't get any better."

Contentment is rarely on the docket when describing Erickson. Nor is a spot atop the college football coaching pecking order. But with two national championships, he is in rare company with Bobby Bowden, Pete Carroll and Joe Paterno as the only active coaches with at least two titles.

Erickson's legacy will undoubtedly be centered on a nomadic streak that includes seven stints at six different schools and two stops in the NFL, earning him the label of "the Larry Brown of college football," though he's also shown a penchant for immediate success.

In 1982, his first year as a head coach, he led Idaho to a 9-4 record. Four years later, he won six games at Wyoming before taking over at Washington State, where he went 9-3 in his second season. He followed that stint in Pullman by going 11-1 in his first year at Miami (Fla.). After winning two national titles in six seasons with the Hurricanes, he returned to his native Seattle to coach the Seahawks. Five years later, he returned to the college game and went 11-1 in the second of four seasons at Oregon State. Then he took his second dip into NFL waters with the San Francisco 49ers. Four years later, he was back in the college ranks for a second tour of duty at Idaho -- a job he at the time said he'd only leave in retirement -- before heading to Tempe for a return to the Pac-10.

Just as he's done so many times before, Erickson has again found early success at Arizona State, guiding the 12th-ranked Sun Devils to a 7-0 start, sole possession of first place in the Pac-10 and the highest BCS placement in the program's history, as they came in at No. 8 in this year's initial poll.

At the root of his winning formula is Team Erickson. All but one of Arizona State's nine assistant coaches, defensive line coach Grady Stretz, have been with Erickson before, including offensive coordinator Rich Olson, who has been with him for eight years and defensive coordinator Craig Bray, an assistant with Erickson 23 years ago in Idaho.

"That's maybe the most positive and best thing that we have going is that we've all been together, so it's not like you have to coach coaches," Erickson said. "Everybody knows what you want. Everybody's philosophy is the same and we just know what we want and what we need to get done. So obviously we're not going to sit around and worry about how they're coaching and what they're doing or anything like that. We know what we're gonna get done and it makes a big difference."

While continuity among the staff has made an impact, it wasn't like Dirk Koetter left the cupboards bare when he was fired after going a disappointing 7-6 last season. The team returned 10 starters on offense, including quarterback Rudy Carpenter, running back Ryan Torain (who actually suffered a season-ending injury last Saturday) and wide receiver Rudy Burgess.

But an air of inconsistency had followed ASU since a perceived breakthrough 8-4 season in '02. Koetter delivered five wins in '03, nine in '04 and seven in '05 and '06. Paramount for Erickson was getting the players to put those roller coaster seasons behind them by preaching his own philosophy -- just as he had done at so many schools before.

"You talk to them when you first get here and give them your plan, you always gotta give them a plan on what we feel we need to do to be successful both on and off the football field," he said. "When you say all that, talk's cheap, [but then] all of a sudden it starts to show on the field and [you see] they obviously start buying into things."

A friendly schedule has helped to usher in the Erickson era. The Sun Devils haven't played a single opponent in the first seven games, though three of those wins (Colorado, Stanford and Oregon State) have gained steam, with the Buffaloes upsetting Oklahoma, the Cardinal stunning USC and the Beavers knocking off Cal.

"It doesn't make a difference who you play," Erickson said. "If you win seven games, that's pretty good."

Lackluster schedule or not, the Sun Devils have thrived in the comeback role. They trailed Colorado 14-0, Oregon State 19-0 and Washington 17-13. But thanks to a 136-29 scoring edge after halftime, ASU escaped with a win each time.

"They believe that they can be successful and win when we're behind in the second half," Erickson said. "They have that mentality and believe that they can win if they're behind at halftime, and obviously that's shown a few times."

Offense has been the Sun Devils' calling card for much of the last decade. This year, Carpenter leads a balanced attack that's 29th in total offense and 13th in scoring (37.7 points per game). But it's the play of the no-name defense that's the biggest surprise in the desert this season.

After ranking 115th in total defense in 2005 and 51st last season, Erickson and Bray installed the quick, aggressive scheme that's defined their teams. Currently, the Sun Devils rank 18th in total defense (304.29 yards per game) and eighth in scoring defense (15 points per game).

"What we've done is we've kept it very simple defensively," Erickson said. "We don't do a lot of things. We're pretty basic in what we do and our philosophy has always been on defense to put in the base stuff, have them learn that so that they can play fast and they've done that.

"To me, that's the most surprising thing is how well we're playing on defense."

The biggest question surrounding this team is whether the Sun Devils have merely taken advantage of a friendly schedule or Erickson has already turned them into legit contenders. We'll know for sure in the coming weeks. ASU has this weekend off but face Cal at home next week. Then the Sun Devils head to Oregon and UCLA before wrapping up at home with USC and rival Arizona.

If history is any indication, Arizona State could be in for a dive. Since 2000, the Sun Devils are 3-21 against ranked opponents and three of its last five (Cal, Oregon and USC) are currently ranked.

But Erickson isn't thinking about history. He says he isn't changing a thing.

"Our approach ever since we started was just the old cliché of just playing them one at a time and that's really all we've done and it's all you can do now in this stretch," he said. "You start with Cal, who's one of the better teams in the country, and all you can worry about is Cal."

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