TEMPE, Ariz. -- In 1984, Dennis Erickson was an up-and-coming young coach at Idaho who was a leading candidate for the job at Oregon State when Joe Avezzano was fired following a 2-9 season.
"I went and interviewed for the job and really wanted it, to be honest with you," Erickson said. "I didn't get it. It was the best thing that ever happened to me because there wasn't a commitment to the football program. Now there is."
Instead, Erickson went to Washington State and Wyoming, then to Miami, where he coached the Hurricanes to two national championships. Erickson had escaped an Oregon State job that Avezzano had called a coaching graveyard.
Avezzano, who went on to success as special teams coach of the Dallas Cowboys, had followed Craig Fertig. Dave Kragthorpe followed Avezzano and tried to win with a pass-oriented game. Then came Jerry Pettibone and his ill-fated attempt with the wishbone. All of them lost. All were fired.
"There have been a lot of good coaches at Oregon State that didn't have financially the things we have here," Erickson said. "And you've got to understand that going from 105 to 85 scholarships has made all the difference in college football."
Still, only when the Beavers hired Erickson, embittered by seven tough seasons with the Seattle Seahawks, did their string of 28 consecutive losing seasons end with a 7-5 mark in 1999.
Mike Riley set the stage for Erickson's success with two strong recruiting classes before he left to become coach of the San Diego Chargers. But Erickson brought the attitude of a winner.
In his first meeting with the team, Erickson gestured often with his hands, and the players were mesmerized by the shine of those two championship rings.
"They did stand out," quarterback Jonathan Smith said. "Nowadays when I see them, they're not as spectacular. But the first couple of times I saw them my eyes would definitely go straight to them."
Many of the players talked about transferring after the highly popular Riley left with the Beavers 5-6 and on the verge of that long-sought winning season. They stayed when they found out Erickson got the job.
"Guys really respect him, and they love playing for him," Smith said. "There couldn't have been a better guy to come in."
The Beavers finally had some talent, and Erickson taught them how to use it.
"Coach Erickson got us over that hump where we weren't losing the close ball games," Smith said. "We were winning them. I think the next year we were going to go over .500 after coach Riley left no matter who came in, but go be 10-1, that's a tribute to coach Erickson."
Erickson also points to the financial support offered by university president Paul Risser and athletic director Mitch Barnhart.
"We raised $14 million for an indoor facility last year after our first year there. That's being built now," Erickson said. "Contributions are unbelievable. We're going to redo the stadium. We're building a facility in our basketball arena. When you have that kind of commitment, you can win and be successful."
After such a phenomenal turnaround, Erickson again was a hot coaching commodity. He was mentioned for the jobs at Southern California and Arizona State. But at this point in his career, Erickson had grown weary of the chase. He liked living in a small town in his native Northwest. He loved being at the controls of such a remarkable turnaround.
Erickson signed a seven-year deal worth almost $7 million. A man can live pretty well on that in Corvallis.
"It's been so much fun to see where this was and to see the excitement of the players and the fans," he said. "It's unbelievable. They went through a long drought. They sat in that rain for many, many years just hoping to keep it under 28 points."
Now, amazingly, those once-beleaguered Beavers are favored to beat Notre Dame on New Year's Day.
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