It's time at ASU, but for what is undecided
That was the slogan for this season at ASU.
With one game remaining on the schedule, I have a follow- up question.
It's time for what?
Every person that has anything invested into the 2011 season is disappointed. Every player, every coach, every fan and every administrator knows there were massive let downs this year.
If Utah, USC and ASU all win this weekend, ASU will finish in second place in the division yet still face Oregon (barring a shocking Duck upset) in the Pac-12 Championship game. It will be the most hollow division champ since the San Diego Padres of 2004.
After starting 6-2 with a win over USC, I was a believer. I believed because I thought the tough losses of 2010 galvanized a mental toughness the Devils didn't posses in previous seasons. I believed in Mizzou and Illinois as good teams. I believed in Dennis Erickson.
I now know what time it is.
The failings of 2011 go so much deeper than most people are willing to look. This is an institutional failure. When over 50% of all NCAA teams go to bowl games and ASU goes to one bowl game in 4 years, coaching is only one part of the problem.
The Erickson plan is to get the best athletes you can get and keep the schemes simple to allow the athletes to make plays. That works when you have better athletes. The skill and talent of ASU is dramatically improved versus before his arrival. The problem is the mental toughness and football IQ of the players as a whole has dropped.
My faith in the coaches changed during Saturday's game when Gerell Robinson threw an illegal forward pass. Normally one play doesn't make me question the entire future of a coaching staff. However, when there's been three straight years of no bowls in a BCS conference, the scrutiny gets much tougher.
At UCLA, Robinson made one of the dumbest decisions I've ever seen on a football field when he tried to throw a pass to Dennis Erickson. The clock would have stopped with a 1st down so there was no need to desperately attempt to get the ball out of bounds. Secondly, not knowing the rules is always a cause for concern. All was forgiven when his knee was ruled down against UCLA. There was no ten second run-off and ASU was returned a time-out. Could have been a great teaching opportunity for Robinson to learn never to do that again, but it wasn't.
Against Arizona, Robinson did it again. It didn't matter that the same result occurred in Robinson being ruled down and the ten-second run-off restored. The play told me that either Robinson is the dumbest man to ever play football (hard to believe), Robinson has absolutely no respect for his coaches and what he's been taught (he's a good kid so I don't think so) or the standards of player accountability aren't high enough or respected at ASU. Irrelevant of why his error occurred, the fact it did shows the Erickson plan won't work at ASU.
When high school athletes have so many better options than the current state of ASU athletics, the athleticism of the players that are saying yes to ASU isn't high enough to overcome a lack of accountability and poor clock management. This doesn't mean Dennis Erickson doesn't know football. Dennis Erickson didn't get lucky in winning his national championship. Dennis Erickson is a good coach. He's just not the man to fix what ails ASU.
The next ASU coach needs to have charisma to sell the program to the millions of people who claim to be ASU fans but have no idea what it means to be a fan. Fans come to every game. They don't come to just the "big" games. A fan is a fan of their team and they come to support their team.
College athletics is not a chicken and the egg situation. You can't win in college football unless you recruit great athletes but great athletes don't want to play in stadiums filled with empty seats. You can't win in college athletics until donors foot the bill for facilities, but donors won't donate until they have a charismatic coach they can believe in. You can't get a great coach with empty buildings and slow-moving donors.
Dennis Erickson proved he's not strong enough of a coach to win at a program with poor facilities, small-time donors and bad fans.
The boosters need to step-up to pay the price for a big- time coach or make the necessary promises to an up-and- coming head coach about where the facilities are headed. If they don't, the ASU job is no better than the job the targeted coach already has.
When that happens, fans need to rush the ticket office and buy season tickets to show future recruits that ASU is now ready to compete.
It's time for everyone who wants ASU to succeed to do more.
Any coach in America who wants the ASU job is going to be watching Friday night to see just how much the fans care about ASU football with a chance at a championship on the line.
It will be interesting to see what time it really is.