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Originally published October 16, 2012 at 6:42 PM | Page modified October 17, 2012 at 1:03 PM

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Dennis Erickson still coaching — at South Albany High School in Oregon

Dennis Erickson, fired last season at Arizona State, is helping his son coach high school football in Oregon. "It's the purest part of coaching, to be honest with you."

Times college football reporter

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The football game of impact this week is Oregon at Arizona State on Thursday night. That's for some people. The big game in Dennis Erickson's life will be South Albany at Woodburn.

That's in Oregon, where the former Seahawks coach hangs out a lot these days, helping his son Bryce coach high-school football at South Albany.

"It's been a lot of fun," Erickson said over the phone this week. "When you've been doing it 40-some years, it's kind of hard to turn it off."

So, 25 years after he coached Timm Rosenbach at Washington State; 20 years after he had Heisman Trophy winner Gino Torretta at Miami; 15 years after his quarterback was Warren Moon with the Seahawks ... and 11 months after he got fired at Arizona State, Erickson is back coaching offense again.

There's not a lot of media around, not a lot of boosters to appease.

"It's the purest part of coaching, to be honest with you," Erickson said. "I've enjoyed it."

While South Albany, a downtrodden program, is fighting through a 2-5 season, the talent Erickson and his staff helped assemble at Arizona State has helped the Sun Devils to a surprising 5-1 record.

After all these years, Erickson, 65, has a thick hide. He's realistic, even charitable, about his dismissal in Tempe. But still, it has to tug at him a little, seeing Todd Graham stress discipline and pull it all together, the year after Erickson seemed so close.

"He's taken that team and done a good job of doing what they do best," Erickson said. "He's done a heck of a job coaching."

Some of us were lulled by ASU's five-game fade at the end of last year and minimized what was on hand there. Erickson knew about defensive tackle Will Sutton, who leads the nation with 8 ½ sacks. He knew about the quarterback, Taylor Kelly, and he knew defensive end Junior Onyeali — suspended after a dustup with Erickson late last year — could play.

"I thought they were going to be a lot better than people thought," he says.

Sutton, he says, "reminds me a little of Warren Sapp in college, the way he penetrates and gets up the field." Erickson chuckles at Sutton's listed weight of 270, saying, "I think he's closer to 300 than he is to 270, to be honest."

Kelly, meanwhile, leads in Pac-12 pass efficiency. Erickson's guys recruited him out of Eagle, Idaho, outside Boise.

"He's really a good athlete, a basketball player and track athlete," Erickson says. "He finds ways to get it done. He's a great leader — smart, and really loves the game. He's got control of that offense."

If high-level coaching is over for Erickson, the play that ended it came in the final moments at the Rose Bowl early last November, ASU leading UCLA 28-23 and the Bruins facing a third-and-29 at the Sun Devils' 39. Kevin Prince completed a 33-yard pass to Nelson Rosario, and three plays later, UCLA scored with 49 seconds remaining and won.

The slide was on, greased the next week when ASU went to Pullman and lost 37-27. If the Sun Devils had beaten UCLA, they, not the Bruins, would have met Oregon in the Pac-12 title game, and maybe Erickson doesn't get fired.

"It's hard anytime you get let go," he says. "(But) what happened to us the last part of the season was inexcusable. We just couldn't stop anybody. We had some injuries.

"But I'm proud of the pieces we put together there."

Erickson has homes on Lake Coeur d'Alene and in Arizona, but he's spending a lot of autumn in Albany. And it's somebody else's job this week to deal with the Ducks.

"You've got to be able to stay on the field offensively," he says. "You've got to be able to run against them.

"They're both no-huddle. That thing might last three days."

And what's more ...

• A decade or so of success at Oregon State tends to make one forget that there's been considerable sordid football there. If OSU gets to 6-0 this week against Utah, it will be the first time since 1907.

• The Pac-12 release announcing California CB Steve Williams as defensive player of the week — presumably using ammunition provided by Cal — says among Williams' feats was he "held Washington State WR Marquess Wilson to four receptions." In reality, when Wilson was knocked out of the game on a helmet-to-helmet hit that drew a penalty on another Bear, he had four catches for 87 yards — with 11 minutes to play in the first half.

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com


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