How quickly they forget: Hurricanes' Erickson is a bum

October 12, 1993|By Randall Mell | Randall Mell,Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel

CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- University of Miami coach Dennis Erickson had barely finished his coffee Monday morning and already three irate "fans" had called to tell him what a lousy job he's doing.

Welcome back to the office, coach.

This is what it is like after a 28-10 loss to Florida State. This is what it is like to lose to anybody when you coach the 'Canes.

Erickson is 48-5 in five Miami seasons, but it doesn't seem to matter how much he wins. After every loss, it's always the same. There is gloom and doom. There are nasty calls. There's hateful mail. There's somebody calling or writing to say he should seriously think about coaching someplace else.

"I've had callers ask me to resign and tell me what a terrible coach I am," Erickson said. "I've had a lot of that after losses.

"You have to be thick-skinned and not let it bother you, but it is amazing. I guess some people are always going to believe there's somebody who can win every game."

At 48-5, Erickson is in remarkably successful company. Only Oklahoma's Bud Wilkinson, Notre Dame's Knute Rockne, Michigan's Bo Schembechler, Alabama's Bear Bryant and Arizona State's Frank Kush have won more games than Erickson in a 53-game stretch. And that's taking the best 53-game stretches of those coaches' careers.

Ohio State's Woody Hayes didn't win that many. Neither did Notre Dame's Ara Parseghian. Or Penn State's Joe Paterno. Or Oklahoma's Barry Switzer.

Still, Erickson is getting bombarded on the radio talk shows. WIOD radio's Kim Bokamper handled postgame calls after the Miami-FSU broadcast. He said about 90 percent of the calls were negative or critical of Erickson and his decision not to substitute backup quarterback Ryan Collins for starter Frank Costa.

"We had some calls from people who wanted Erickson's scalp," Bokamper said. "The most ridiculous was a guy who wanted to fire Erickson and couldn't understand how he was hired in the first place."

The disappointment spilled into Sunday and Monday. WQAM's Joe Rose fielded calls on both days. He thought the season-ending injury to Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino on Sunday would become the major focus on Monday. He was wrong.

"It's bad when you think Marino's hurt, and 70 to 80 percent of the calls are still about the UM-FSU game," Rose said. "There was more second-guessing by fans going on over that game than I've ever seen in any athletic event down here. It's not even close."

Rose, a former Dolphins tight end, has been a part of South Florida sports for more than a decade. He said about 10 callers wanted a new Miami coach.

"I was amazed," Rose said. "I heard everything from complaints that recruiting has dropped off under Erickson to claims that just the opposite was true. That the talent at Miami and Florida State is equal. That Erickson's game plan was to blame.

"I'm amazed at this because of Erickson's record. He might go 10-1, and people will actually be disappointed. If he goes 9-2, then I guess it's a disaster."

Erickson, 45, is getting bombarded even though he had won three straight against FSU before Saturday's loss.

"People forget that pretty fast," Erickson said. "Of course when you beat them, you hear that it was because you were playing with the other guy's players."

The other guy, of course, is Dallas Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson, who preceded Erickson.

"It's different down here," Erickson said. "You win a lot, then you lose one game and you wonder what goes through people's minds. I knew what it was going to be like when I came. If I didn't, I found out after losing to Florida State five years ago."

That was 1989, Erickson's first loss, a 24-10 setback to FSU. Erickson said the critics in Miami are harsher.

"It's worse here than any place I've been," he said. "I'm sure there are places as bad. The thing is it's part of the job. You learn to live with it."

Erickson is being scrutinzed by fans who think Collins should be starting instead of Costa. Erickson didn't play Collins at all in the FSU loss. Now, trying to get more out of his offense, he has declared the quarterback job open. He will decide over the next two weeks of practice whether Costa or Collins wins the next start, an Oct. 23 game against Syracuse.

"People don't realize how young we are," Erickson said. "I'm disappointed and unhappy we lost, but I'm not discouraged. We are going to get better. By the end of the year, we are going to be as good as anybody."

WQAM program director Joe Zagacki, formerly a color commentator for Miami games, has heard the critics rave before. He has listened to Miami become a victim of its own success.

"UM fans aren't used to losing, and they panic and overreact," Zagacki said. "I remember callers telling me Jimmy Johnson couldn't coach. I remember them saying Jimmy was winning with Howard Schnellenberger's players. Now, Jimmy's the greatest coach in the world."

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