Early in the 2007 college football season, I identified three capable and experienced new freshman coaches who were brought in to rescue troubled programs: Nick Saban at Alabama, Dennis Erickson at Arizona State, and Mark Dantonio at Michigan State. Since the regular season is over, it’s time to evaluate your performance.
I created a new system to do it. The basis is actual NCAA regular season team statistics for the top 5 offensive categories and top 5 defensive categories. These are Scoring Attack, Total Attack, Running Attack, Passing Attack, Pass Efficiency Attack, Scoring Defense, Total Defense, Running Defense, Pass Defense and Pass Efficiency Defense.
A numerical value (1-5) was then assigned to the 119 Division 1A schools. The top 10 in each category earned an “Excellent” rating of 5, the next 20 earned a “Good” rating of 4, the next 59 an “Average” rating of 3, the next 20 a “Poor” rating of 2 and the bottom 10 a “Terrible” rating of 1. Excellent and Good ratings represent the top 25% of schools, Average rating represents the middle 50%, and Poor and Terrible ratings represent the bottom 25% of schools .
Given this system, the best results were clearly produced by Dennis Erickson, followed by Mark Dantonio and then Nick Saban.
When Arizona State hired Dennis Erickson as head coach, the Sun Devils won the lottery. Erickson is arguably among the top 5 current college football coaches in the country, and he has the performance history to back up my claim. Before coming to the state of Arizona, Erickson had:
1) Led Miami (FL) to a 63-9 record (.875 winning percentage) over a 6-year stretch that produced two national championships in 1989 (11-1) and 1991 (12-0). Erickson recorded 32 home wins in a row, part of the longest home winning streak in college football history, as Miami won 58 in a row between 1985 and 1994.
2) He produced one of the biggest turnarounds in college football history at Oregon State, leading a team that hadn’t had a winning season in 28 years to a 7-5 record in his first year, and a mark of 11 -1 in his sophomore year, beating Notre Dame 41-9 in the Fiesta Bowl and finishing the year ranked No. 4 in the AP Poll. He was named Pac 10 Coach of the Year and Sporting News National Coach of the Year.
3) He inherited a pathetic Washington State team and went 9-3 his sophomore year, shocking UCLA and beating Houston 24-22 in the Aloha Bowl in 1988. The bowl victory was the first for the state of Washington at 57 years. He was named Pac 10 Coach of the Year.
4) Inherited a struggling Idaho program and instantly turned it into 4 straight winning seasons with a 32-15 record and two IAA Division playoff appearances.
5) Joined Lou Holtz as the only coaches in the past 20 seasons to win 3 games against teams ranked No. 1 in the AP Poll. He beat UCLA, Notre Dame (breaking a 23-game winning streak for the Fighting Irish) and Florida (breaking a 16-game winning streak for the Siminoles).
So how did Erickson fare in his first regular season at Arizona State? It’s not bad at all. He inherited a 7-6 team that had suffered an embarrassing 41-24 loss to Hawaii in the Hawaii Bowl, and quickly won its first 8 games, rising to No. 6 in the AP Poll before losing to Oregon.
The Sun Devils finished the season 10-2 and ranked 11th in the BCS standings. Arizona State will face Texas (9-3) in the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 27. He was selected again as Pac 10 Coach of the Year this year, and was also nominated for the 2007 Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award.
Erickson started out with some talent, but the stats highlight his ability as a coach. On offense, the Sun Devils were no more than average in scoring offense, total offense, running offense, and passing offense and good in passing efficiency offense. On defense they were good at scoring defense, total defense, rush defense and passing efficiency defense and average passing defense.
Erickson is known as an offensive innovator, but his greatest legacy is winning football games. The lifetime record is currently 158-67-1. Dennis Erickson was a better coach than Nick Saban or Mark Dantonio this year.
Editor’s Note: This is Part 1 of a 3-part series. Part 2 reviews Mark Dantonio’s performance at Michigan State.
Copyright © 2007 Ed Bagley