With success come rumors that Erickson will be leaving Miami

December 08, 1991|By Ken Rodriguez | Ken Rodriguez,Knight-Ridder News Service

MIAMI -- Spoils of success spill into Dennis Erickson's office every morning like a splash of Florida sunshine. Fan mail from boosters. Congratulatory calls from colleagues. Unannounced visits from friends, all wanting to spend a moment with college football's hottest coach.

A reporter drops by to inquire about Regular Season No. 3 at the University of Miami, which Erickson has just completed at 11-0.

How does it feel, he is asked, to savor perfection?

"Haven't had much time," Erickson says. "I've been out recruiting."

The phone rings. Sam Jankovich, the New England Patriots' chief executive officer, wants to say "hello."

A knock on the door. Art Kehoe, an assistant, wants to talk business.

More calls. A coaches meeting in 30 minutes. Erickson is to hit the road in 90 minutes.

There is little time for Erickson, 44, to revel in success. There is less time to ponder his future -- a future that has been the subject of nationwide speculation. But UM fans can relax -- Erickson says he is not leaving anytime soon.

Nonetheless, The Los Angeles Times links him with the San Diego Chargers. The Philadelphia Inquirer says he tops the wish list of the Green Bay Packers. The Dallas Times Herald reports Erickson is the No. 1 candidate at the University of Texas. KPNX-TV in Phoenix says Arizona State has contacted him twice in the last week. The St. Paul Pioneer-Press calls The Miami Herald asking if Erickson might be interested in the Minnesota Vikings.

"At this point, I haven't talked to anybody," Erickson says. "I don't plan to talk to anybody. At this point, I don't plan on leaving the University of Miami."

A lot of NFL and college teams might want him to leave, but that is no surprise. Erickson is off to the best three-year start of any coach in school history. In 35 games, he is 32-3, a winning percentage of .914.

Rumors swirl.

"I would be shocked," says Jankovich, the former UM athletic director who hired Erickson away from Washington State three years ago, "if his name did not come up with every NFL opening that arises."

Some UM officials would be shocked if Erickson left, considering his contract. A buyout clause requires him to repay UM a significant, undisclosed sum if he bolts before the end of the 1993 season. A second clause, included in a two-year contract extension, prohibits Erickson from voluntarily leaving UM for any other Division I school during the 1994-95 seasons (though he is allowed to take an NFL job during those two years without financial penalty).

A UM administration source says an NFL team could probably pay off Erickson's buyout clause -- but not another college.

Contract aside, Erickson has another reason for staying. Family. His son, Bryce, 16, is a junior quarterback at Palmetto High.

"He's at the age where he needs to be at one place," Erickson says. "I would never uproot him at this point. I couldn't do it."

Erickson leans back in his chair, relaxed, comfortable, looking very much like a man ready for a round of golf. He doesn't have the time, of course, but he seems to have everything else: Peace. Happiness. Fame. Security. Power.

He can call his own shots.

Texas? Arizona State?

Great programs, he says, "but you're talking about the best program in college football right here. Why would you want to leave? The only time a guy would leave here for another college program is if he were asked to leave."

UM is so enamored of Erickson it gave him a two-year extension on a five-year contract after last season.

"The record here has been extraordinary with Dennis," says UM athletic director Dave Maggard. "And we've had some real distractions. From last spring right on through."

Over the past nine months, Erickson has seen FBI agents pull players from practice to question them about alleged Pell Grant fraud. He has presided over a quarterback controversy -- Gino Torretta vs. Bryan Fortay -- that ended with the loser, Fortay, transferring to Rutgers. He suspended two players last month following a motorcycle accident that led to two arrests.

"It's a credit to Dennis that he's been able to keep his players focused," Maggard says. "I don't know that there is a real appreciation for what he has achieved this year, even within our own department."

Maggard says he has received no requests to talk with Erickson. But he's not surprised at the rumor mill.

In 1989, Erickson became the second coach in major college history to lead a team to the national championship in his first season at a school (Bennie Oosterbaan did it in 1948 with Michigan). Erickson is one game away from winning a second national title. And he has become the toast of the college coaching fraternity with his one-back offense.

"What Barry Switzer was to the wishbone, what John McKay was to the I-formation, what Amos Alonzo Stagg was to the single-wing, Dennis Erickson is to the one-back," Jankovich says. "But I want you to know we are pleased with our coach, Dick MacPherson. He has three years left on his contract."

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