AP File Photo
Former Arizona State head coach Dennis Erickson watches the action during a 2011 game against Illinois. The Utah Utes announced on Monday that they have hired the 65-year-old Erickson as the football team’s co-offensive coordinator.
SALT LAKE CITY — Dennis Erickson won a pair of national titles at Miami and has been a head coach at three Pac-12 schools.
Now the 65-year-old is coming out of retirement to help transform Utah’s offense, joining 26-year-old Brian Johnson as co-offensive coordinator.
Head coach Kyle Whittingham made it clear during a Monday news conference, however, that Erickson would have final say as coordinator despite the “co” in front of his title.
He called Erickson a good fit, even though he will be yet another offensive mind in the mix— especially with quarterback Travis Wilson trying to make the jump after getting thrown into the fire as a freshman last season.
“There’s mutual agreement we can continue in the direction we’re headed. We’re not starting over. That’s what we didn’t want to do,” Whittingham said.
“We weren’t very good on offense last year, but I think we’re doing some good things and we need to build on that. I think he’s going to allow us to do that without having a wholesale systematic change. . It’s an opportunity for all of us to learn from (him).”
Whittingham wasn’t sugar-coating Utah’s offensive woes.
The Utes were 105th in the nation last season in total offense, averaging 324.42 yards. They were 97th in passing offense at 190.67 yards and 91st in rushing offense (133.75).
This for a team some thought would contend for the South Division title.
They avoided the South cellar only because of Colorado’s woeful record.
Johnson, a former Utah quarterback who engineered the Utes’ Sugar Bowl victory, struggled at times since becoming major college football’s youngest coordinator last year.
Whittingham said hiring Erickson is not a demotion for Johnson.
“In no way, shape or form does this diminish my opinion of Brian or what I think his future is,” Whittingham said.
Instead, Whittingham said he believes Erickson can help implement some aspects of the high-tempo offense so popular now in the Pac-12.
“I’m not going to sit here and tell you we’re going to go to the light-speed of which Oregon plays every snap, but we’re going to have the ability to change tempos,” Whittingham said. “That’s something we were thinking about prior to coach Erickson coming on board. It’s something we need to do to improve our offense.”
Whittingham said he has followed Erickson’s career from Idaho, where he got his start in 1982, and Wyoming to the incredible success at Miami
“He has been labeled as one of the original architects of the spread and we are looking forward to the impact he will have on our offense,” he said.
The Utes are coming off a 5-7 season in which they finished a disappointing 3-6 in conference play.
“Being around football players and coaches has been my life and that’s why I am coming out of retirement,” Erickson said in a statement. “I will do whatever I can to help the players and coaches at Utah be successful and I am excited to get back out on the football field.”
Erickson was at his home in Arizona and expected to be in Utah next week.
Erickson won national titles in 1989 and 1991 as coach at Miami, where he compiled a 63-9 record before heading to the NFL as head coach of the Seattle Seahawks.
He has been a head coach at six universities — three of them Pac-12 schools.
Erickson is the only coach to win Pac-10 Coach of the Year at three schools, sharing the honor in 1998 at Washington State, winning it outright in 2000 at Oregon State and in 2007 at ASU, when he led the Sun Devils to a share of the conference title in his first season.
His success at ASU didn’t continue and he was fired in 2011 after failing to secure another winning season.
Whittingham looked beyond the down years at ASU, or Erickson’s 9-23 record over two seasons as coach of the San Francisco 49ers in 2003-04.
“I think he’ll be just fine,” Whittingham said. “We’re hiring him to make our offense more productive. . He’s done plenty of good things in his career. You’d be hard-pressed to look at a guy that’s coached that long and have every year be up.”
Erickson has an overall college coaching record of 179-96-1 over 23 seasons.
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