Erickson deserved a better reception
February 19, 2003
Did you catch that parade held in Dennis Erickson’s honor last week in San Francisco? The impromptu celebration attracted nearly 200,000 spectators and the float carrying Erickson’s King Kong-sized caricature finished the parade without a single tomato stain.
If not, then maybe as you drove through the casino corridor last Tuesday you saw a lengthy line stretching from Harveys sports book to Kahle Community Center after Erickson was hired as the 49ers’ coach: Every 49er fan in town couldn’t wait to lay down some cash on their beloved team to win next year’s Super Bowl.
If you didn’t see either of these two infamous events, then you have your head on straight — just like the 49ers.
The 49ers have taken a beating — far worse than the one they absorbed from Tampa Bay in the conference semifinals — in the press and from their fans for hiring the former Oregon State coach last week.
They say the 55-year-old Erickson is a “retread,” an NFL loser, unimaginative and the beneficiary of following great coaches.
Obviously, they aren’t Oregon State University alums.
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After what Erickson gave Beaver followers over the past four years — three winning seasons and three bowl games — the 49ers are fortunate some other NFL team didn’t snap him up first.
In the 28 seasons prior to Erickson’s arrival on the Oregon State campus, the Beavers never enjoyed a winning season. Their fans tore down goal posts with each victory because they were so few and far between. The Beavers of the 1970s and 1980s lost so often and by so much the school should have hired Flounder from “Animal House” as the team mascot.
When Erickson took the Beavers to a bowl game in his first season in 1999 it ended a 34-year absence from the postseason.
If you followed college football and the Beavers in 2000, you might have made the mistake of thinking you were watching “Star Wars.” Looking much like a band of reincarnated Darth Vaders, Erickson’s Beavers used an attacking offense and intimidating defense to compile an unthinkable 11-1 record. The last of those victories was a 41-9 rolling of Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. Those Beavers finished fourth in the country and were every bit as good as the poll champion Oklahoma Sooners.
If Erickson can transform a lovable loser like Oregon State into one of the top teams in the country, I shudder to think what might happen now that he has more material than Bill Murray.
Erickson’s critics point to his 31-33 record with the Seattle Seahawks from 1995-98. Given the Seahawks’ history, that record wasn’t as bad as it looks.
I’m sad to see my alma mater lose a great football coach, but I’m pleased that he will get a chance to prove that he isn’t an average NFL coach.
My only concern is that Erickson will be forced to adopt coaching philosophies that he doesn’t share. He has retained many of Steve Mariucci’s assistants. Hopefully, he won’t have to keep Bill Walsh’s West Coast offense, which needs a guy by the name of Joe Montana and a cast of other Hall of Famers to click again.
Erickson’s teams at Oregon State, University of Miami and Seattle spread out defenses with one-back and three- and four-receivers sets. The 49ers have sputtered with their worn-out two-back offense that hasn’t taken full advantage of Terrell Owens’ enormous skills. By adding another receiver to the mix and taking one of their average backs off the field, the 49ers will be more explosive.
Oregon State fans know what the 49ers are getting and they can clearly foresee a championship parade a few years down the road.
It’s just sad that many of the 49ers’ fans don’t share that view. They’re probably wondering why their team didn’t hire Jon Gruden.
— Tribune Sports Editor Steve Yingling can be reached at (530) 542-8010 or at email@example.com
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