In the days before the annual rivalry game against
Arizona, the natives are getting restless in Tempe.
“This is the year,” they were told. A season filled with
promise after consecutive wins to end last season and a
veteran-laden roster returning for action in 2011.
And for awhile, it looked like the promises would pay off.
There was a buzz from the athletic department re-branding
back in the spring, and the Sun Devils on the field,
despite a glut of key injuries, were performing up to
their capabilities and most expectations.
Then, trips to Pasadena and Pullman happened. ASU
road losses to seemingly inferior teams, and all of a
sudden talk about a contract extension for head coach
Dennis Erickson turned into angry outcries for his firing.
I’ll admit, I too am incredibly frustrated by these last
two losses, more so about the inexplicable showing in the
Washington State loss. My support for Coach Erickson and
staff has waned.
But a question hit me today as I flipped through a Sun
Devil media guide laying around…can any coach turn this
program into the consistent powerhouse so many fans
believe it should be?
Thirty-two years of history lead me to believe that the
answer to that question is ‘no’.
There’s a reason why the field at Sun Devil Stadium bears
Frank Kush’s name. What he accomplished in his tenure in
Tempe is amazing. Kush guided the program to 176 wins and
six bowl victories in 22 years on the job. The six-year
stretch from 1970 to 1975 is the “golden era” of Sun Devil
football as ASU went 62-9, won four bowl games and
finished in the AP postseason top 15 five times.
That’s the standard that this program is held to, even 36
years after the era ended. Six coaches have tried to
recapture the glory and for a number of different reasons,
six coaches have failed to do that.
Darryl Rogers took over for Kush in 1980, and had success
for three seasons with a lot of Kush recruits. In his last
two seasons, the Sun Devils went 11-10-1.
John Cooper was up next and had great success for three
seasons, including a 1987 Rose Bowl victory, but he used
the job as a stepping stone for a job at Ohio State.
Larry Marmie’s Sun Devil teams were the very definition of
mediocre, going 22-21-1 over four bowl-less seasons.
Bruce Snyder bolted from Cal and took over, and had a
great two-year stretch in 1997 and 1998 that included a
20-4 record, a Pac-10 title, a Rose Bowl appearance and a
near national championship. But in Snyder’s other 7
seasons, the Sun Devils were 38-41.
Dirk Koetter coached six seasons and made four bowl games,
but that wasn’t enough, and he was jettisoned after the
And that brings us to now and the Erickson regime. After
a 10-win season in 2007 that included a conference co-
championship, it’s been downhill ever since.
The point is, nobody has been able to match the “glory
days” of Frank Kush, whether they were a hot, young
commodity, a retread or a coach with two national
championship rings in his jewelry case.
There’s one constant in all of this and that’s the program
itself. Instead of reliving the glory days of the early
to mid-70s, maybe we just realize that Arizona State
football is a middle-of-the-road program, destined for one
outstanding season every decade or so followed by
Will another coaching change fix that problem? I doubt
it, but I have the feeling we’re going to find out again.