While Dallas cowboys fans were still reeling from the abrupt dismissal of Tom Landry—and a movement to rename Texas Stadium in his honor began to sweep the Metroplex—his departure set off a national chain reaction in football. One week after Jimmy Johnson left the University of Miami to replace Landry, Hurricane athletic director Sam Jankovich hired Dennis Erickson from Washington State to replace Johnson. The choice of Erickson, 41, a big-play coach who led the 1988 Cougars to a 9-3 record, their best since 1930, alienated Miami blue-chippers past, present and future, while scrambling everything from the NFL draft next month to the Heisman Trophy race next season.
Erickson, who will bring six of his Cougar assistants along with him, favors a passing offense, which has been a Miami hallmark in the 1980s. At Wyoming in 1986, his Air Express offense ranked second in the nation; last season at Washington State, his quarterback, Timm Rosenbach, led the country in passing efficiency. But the Hurricanes already had an aerial guru in offensive coordinator Gary Stevens, who in his nine seasons at Miami had developed future NFL quarterbacks Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar and Vinny Testaverde. Those three—along with another likely first-round pick, the Hurricanes' incumbent quarterback, Steve Walsh—endorsed Stevens for Johnson's job. "This system has been unstoppable," said Kosar. "I don't see any reason to change that." Added Kelly, "I can't believe they're thinking of hiring someone else. Gary Stevens made me what I am today." Even Miami's police chief, Perry Anderson, backed Stevens in a hand-delivered letter to Jankovich.
Given the Hurricanes' recent history, it's not surprising that the law should take an interest in the team's affairs. In 1986 and '87 Miami players had a series of run-ins with the local authorities, but at the insistence of university president Edward Foote, they seem to be cleaning up their image of late; indeed, for the most part the Hurricanes have stayed out of trouble in the last year, and all of the seniors have graduated or are on schedule to graduate. But Erickson does not have a strong reputation for monitoring his players' study habits.
And, though Erickson's clearly a hot property, he has left a trail of jilted suitors in his wake. When he took the Washington State job with nearly four years left on his Wyoming contract, he didn't bother to return to Laramie to address his former players. That earned him a rock through a window in his Laramie house and threatening phone calls. Nor are folks around Pullman, Wash., pleased with his sudden departure for Miami, which might have to buy out the last three years of Erickson's contract with the Cougars at a cost of $150,000. Earlier in the week, Erickson denied seeking the Hurricane post until word leaked out that he was actually in Miami talking with Jankovich. "I like your act, coach," wrote Spokane's Spokesman-Review columnist Dan Weaver last week, "but the exit needs work."
March 13, 1989
Two days before Erickson formally broke the news of his departure to the Cougars, Rosenbach, a fifth-year senior, announced his decision to jump to the NFL rather than return to school. "There comes a time when a person feels he must move on," said Rosenbach. "That time has come for me."
That time seemed to be coming for Walsh, too, who said that he might forgo his senior season if Stevens didn't get the Miami job, opening the possibility that Johnson might select Walsh over UCLA's Troy Aikman as the first pick in the NFL draft. It also meant that the three top Heisman prospects for '89 could turn pro. (Oklahoma State's Barry Sanders, who won the award in December, isn't expected to return, either.)
Jankovich called Erickson "the best head football coach possible to take the premiere football program of the '80s into the '90s." But Erickson's move to Miami has hardly stilled the turbulence that began with Johnson's resignation. High school linebacker Darren Krein from Aurora, Colo., has hired a lawyer to try to nullify the letter of intent he signed with the Hurricanes last month, and a few other recruits have threatened to transfer.