Erickson back to turn around Idaho
Editor’s Note: This is the fifth story in a series of nine previewing Western Athletic Conference football teams. Today, the Appeal looks at the University of Idaho.
BY DARRELL MOODY
Appeal Sports Writer
Dennis Erickson is back in college football where many feel he belongs.
Erickson, who coached the Miami Hurricanes to two national titles, starts his second stint with the Idaho Vandals, the place where he made his college debut as a head coach in 1982.
Erickson had been out of work since being fired by the 49ers after going 7-23 in 2003-04.
“It’s great to be back in college football,” Erickson said at last week’s WAC Media Day in Boise. “This is a big challenge, about the same as it was in 1982. We have a long ways to go. We have to take it one step at a time, the old cliche one game at a time. There’s no magic wand. Hopefully we’ll be better at the end of the season than we were at the beginning.
“I was brought here to win football games and to look at the program long term. Five to six years from now, I want the program to be competitive and get people in the stands. If I don’t win, I’ll be in Coeur d’Alene on the lake with my wife, Marilyn. She doesn’t like to lose, either. If I don’t win, she might kick my butt out of there.”
Erickson said his biggest challenges are to win games, get the right guys in the program and do a great job of evaluating.
Erickson didn’t get much of a chance to recruit since he was hired. He’s had some success with JC players, who can give a program a quick fix, but said that he wants to have a nice mix between JC transfers and freshmen.
“We’re bringing in a couple of JC players in the fall,” Erickson said. “Eventually I’d like to get to a point where you bring three or four JC and the rest high school. After I evaluate, I may bring in five or six. I want a little bit of both right now. Ideally you like to bring them up through the program.”
A tough schedule awaits the Vandals. Idaho opens at Michigan State and Washington State. After hosting Idaho State, the Vandals visit Oregon State. Erickson coached previously at Washington State and Oregon State.
“I didn’t make the schedule, Nick Holt did, and then he bolted,” Erickson said. “John L (Smith, Michigan State coach) just wants to kick my butt. I think it was the time I yelled at him when he was my defensive coordinator.”
Erickson’s teams have been known for their prolific, pass-happy spread offenses. Erickson said his offense won’t be fully in when the season starts.
“Offensively, my philosophy has been to spread it out and let it fly,” he said. “We’re not going to be able to do that.
“We don’t have an established receiver. We don’t have one that we can go to. Lee Smith looked good in spring. We have to find two or three more and we will. We don’t have a deep threat (now).”
Senior Wendell Octave (6-1, 187) caught 33 passes for 537 yards and senior Matt Askew (6-4, 205) caught 28 passes for 330 yards and a score. Tight end Luke Smith Anderson (6-5, 253) is coming back from an injury, and he should be a threat catching the ball and blocking.
Erickson said the key is establishing the run to set up the play-action pass.
“We ran the football better at the end of the spring than we did at the beginning,” Erickson said. “That’s something we have to do. We have to be able to find a way to run the football.”
Sophomore Jayson Bird (6-0, 221), who suffered a broken collarbone last year after two starts, is back this year. Brian Flowers, a JC transfer, will compete for a starting job. Junior Rolly Lumbala (6-2, 241) returns after rushing for 472 yards last year.
Right now, Erickson doesn’t want to rely totally on returning quarterback Steve Wichman (6-3, 219), who passed for 2,746 yards last year. Sophomore Chris Joseph (6-3, 214) and Nathan Enderle (6-5, 223), a freshman from North Platte, Nebraska, are Wichman’s caddies.
“Steve can make all the throws,” Erickson said. “He’s a good quarterback. We have to protect him.
“As we continued into spring, he became more aware of what we were doing. He’s a good decision maker.”
The offensive line features senior left guard Jade Tadvick (6-5, 314), senior left tackle Nate VanderPol (6-6, 306) and sophomore center (6-2, 292). Sophomore Kris Anderson (6-3, 299) is back at right tackle and sophomore Billy Bates (6-5, 271) was a part-time starter last year. Junior Marcus Fennell started three games last season.
The defense is ahead of the offense entering the season, only because Erickson retained the entire defensive staff.
“We’re going to have to rely on our speed,” he said. “We’re not very big up front. We’re going to have to move up front.”
Sophomore Josh Shaw (6-2, 254) has been moved to tackle alongside senior Ryan Davis (6-0, 261). At the ends are senior Charles Campbell (6-3, 226) and junior Ben Alexander (6-1, 224), whose size is really more linebacker-like.
Campbell had 33 tackles a year ago, Alexander contributed 43, including four sacks. Davis had 24 stops.
Junior Josh Bousman (6-2, 228) and junior David Vobora (6-1, 214) return. Seniors Robert Davis (6-4, 223) and Jaron Williams (6-1, 217) are battling for the middle linebacker job. Bousman finished with 75 tackles, second-best on the team last year and Vobora contributed 43 stops.
Erickson likes his two JC cornerbacks – Reggie Jones (5-10, 201) and Stanley Franks (5-11, 167), and they are the likely starters. Jason Martin will be on the field quite often. Senior Tone Tapule (6-1, 205), who had 36 stops, is the only returning safety. Sophomore Jevon Butler and senior Jarvis Huff also will contend for playing time.
The Vandals lost kicker Michael Barrow, an all-WAC selection for the season. Barrow tore an ACL playing a pick-up basketball game. T. J. Conley returns to punt. Matt Gregg and Luke Hardwick are candidates to replace Barrow.