Christmas in the Desert, The State of Arizona State Football

Round and round the coaching carousel goes and where it stops nobody knows. The holiday season brings presents, goodwill and peace, but for some college football fan bases it brings new hopes, new expectations and a shiny new coach to deck the halls of the athletic complex. Many schools have filled their vacancies with a new head coach, who holds the hopes and dreams of a fan base in his hands. There are recruits to woo, high school state championship games to watch to find the next diamond in the rough and coaches to hire during the bowl season. So with all of these occurring at many schools with new coaches, one has to ask what is going on at Arizona State.

This is a key time for new coaches, but all of this seems to be lost on ASU Athletic Director Lisa Love. As the Devil’s jock boss has been dragging her feet on this very key hire. She hired Dennis Ericson hoping he could recapture the magic he had at the University of Miami, but what was lost, of course hindsight is twenty/twenty, is that Ericson was an enabler at Miami and always has been in his coaching career. The book on Ericson is good coach but his teams are not very disciplined, does anybody remember the 1991 Cotton Bowl Classic where “the U” rolled up two hundred plus yards in penalties? There would have been enough coal in “U” players’ stocking to refill a West Virginia coal mine. With Ericson being an enabler, a program like ASU may not be the best fit, there has really never been a culture of discipline in Sparky’s house since Frank Kush “punched” his final time card. During Ericson’s tenure the Devils will be best remembered for key penalties at key times, which contributed to unrealized goals and expectations. Love hired Ericson with the best intentions but Ericson is what he is, so lesson learned. Arizona State’s next hire will be a coach who is strict, possibly not charismatic but a no nonsense bad gym shorts, whistle around the neck, short haircut type in other words not a sexy hire.

With that thought, where has ASU decided to hang mistletoe and start the process of flirtation with an employed coach. The reports are beginning to surface that Utah’s Kyle Whittinghan is a serious candidate for the job. Whittingham is a great fit; he is strict, has proven he can recruit in the state of California, and is a winner, there is no downside to the guy or is there? Well if you are an ASU fan here is the downside. ASU fans believe that they are a great program just a notch below USC and Oregon but those of us outside of pitchfork nation see ASU as a program that is far below those programs and on par with many of the other PAC-12 programs including, gasp, its “Territorial Cup rival”; Arizona. More importantly for the purpose of this article, there are many that believe right now Utah is a better program than ASU. Utah’s facilities are better; Utah has a passionate fan base, and has been to two BCS bowl games in the BCS era, which is two more than ASU.

The Phoenix metro area is the sixth largest market in the country but ASU football lags behind professional sports (Cardinals, Diamondbacks, Coyotes, and Suns)in that market. The Devils also lag behind just the fact there is more to do on a Saturday afternoon/evening in metro Phoenix which includes Tempe. The conversation of “man its 100 degrees outside, do I really want to watch the Devils tonight” occurs before many home games in September and early October, more than Sun Devil fans care to admit. Arizona State’s fan base is also a very fickle fan base; they will be out in droves when you are winning but will desert you when you are not winning.

Conversely, Utah’s fan base is passionate and loyal, of course this winning consistently “thing” has been relatively new to Utah fan, and because Utah has been winning and been a national player it is right now a good job for coaches and more importantly a more attractive place than ASU with its recent history. Should Whittingham be offered the job and ultimately turn the job down citing things like; comfort in Salt Lake City or that he has finally learned the lyrics to the Utah Fight Song, most will be able to read between the lines, which will say loud and clear; Utah is a better program than ASU and I can win a Pac-12 title here before I win one at ASU. Therein lays the danger in trying to hire a coach away from a conference school and that report surfacing. ASU fan you do not need anyone to tell you that this is a key coaching hire but where it goes for its next hire and who turns down this job may say more about your program than whom you ultimately find under your Christmas tree.