On the Monday after their loss to the California, Arizona State decided to fire head coach Dennis Erickson rather than let him return for the final year of his contract in 2012.
With a lot of upperclassmen returning and the team’s new image, the pressure was on for Erickson and company to make a move on the 2011 season. It was supposed to be their best chance to win the Pac-12 with USC ineligible to contend for conference championship and bowl placement.
Arizona State started the season on the right track, winning six of their first eight games including impressive home victories against ranked Missouri and even USC. Junior quarterback Brock Osweiler was running the passing game well while junior half back Cameron Marshall was simply running well. Osweiler was throwing darts to his two senior receivers Gerell Robinson and Aaron Pflugrad and Marshall was on pace to tie a school record in rushing touchdowns in a single season.
While the Sun Devils were dominating their home turf, they had their fair share of struggles on the road. During their 6-2 start, both of their loses were on the road and after homecoming, the Sun Devils would have to go on the road for two straight weeks before they return home for rivalry week.
Their season went south faster than a snowball on a slope. They lost both of their road games, then to their rival who was going into the game with just one win against a FBS team. By the time Arizona State was ready to play California for Senior Night, their championship chances were gone, and Erickson’s job went with it.
But was it too hasty of a move? Erickson had just one year left on his contract and would his quarterback and top running back for one more year. Arizona State could simply start a new era with a new quarterback and offense. They would still have a team filled with juniors and seniors next year and the continuity would’ve benefited the team to start fast like they did this season.
There are guarantees in the Pac-12 South next season. USC (who lost to ASU) might not have star quarterback Matt Barkley back for 2012. Rival Arizona is going to be better than 4-8 but how much better remains to be seen. UCLA and Colorado are a mess and Utah is an unknown.
A Sun Devil team led by Dennis Erickson, Brock Osweiler and Cameron Marshall could be a Rose Bowl bound team next year. They would have nothing to lose because win or lose, all three would moving on and Arizona State would then usher in a new era with a young coach.
The change of leadership was right. The timing was wrong.