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Former Washington State, Idaho coach Dennis Erickson calls Palouse ‘my first love’ on day of Hall of Fame induction

UPDATED: Mon., Jan. 7, 2019, 10:02 p.m.

Dennis Erickson’s career as college football coach spanned 39 years and included 10 different stops, from the wide open ranges of Montana to the sandy shores of South Beach.

But the most recent College Football Hall of Fame Inductee still speaks with the ultimate affection when he talks about his time on the Palouse. Erickson’s first job as a head coach came in 1982 at Idaho, and five years later he took the same position at Washington State, leading a short but sweet tenure with the Cougars that culminated with a trip to the Aloha Bowl in 1988.

“It was my first love,” Erickson said Monday of his time in Moscow/Pullman. “When I had the opportunity to be the coach at Idaho, when Bill Belknap hired me that was awesome. And then when I was hired at Washington State, it’s where I wanted to be. So I really enjoyed my time on the Palouse and it has a great place in my heart, without question.”

Erickson, who posted a 179-96-1 record in his 23 years as a college head coach, was one of 15 members inducted Monday to the 2019 College Football Hall of Fame Class by the National Football Foundation.

The 2019 class includes two coaches – Erickson and Joe Taylor – and 13 All-America players. Among them, two Heisman Trophy runner-ups: Texas quarterback Vince Young and Notre Dame wide receiver Raghib “Rocket” Ismail.

The full list of players to be recognized at the National Football Foundation’s award banquet in December includes Arkansas running back Darren McFadden, Oklahoma defensive back Rickey Dixon, John Carroll linebacker London Fletcher, Texas A&M defensive lineman Jacob Green, North Carolina State receiver Torry Holt, Arizona State quarterback Jake Plummer, USC defensive back Troy Polamalu, Wisconsin offensive tackle Joe Thomas, Michigan State running back Lorenzo White and Mississippi linebacker Patrick Willis.

Erickson retired from coaching football in 2016 after 47 years, but couldn’t fully remove himself from the game and assisted his son Bryce, formerly the coach at Lake City High. He returned to the profession on a full-time basis when he accepted a head coaching job with the Salt Lake Stallions of the Alliance of American Football, which will hold its inaugural season in 2019.

From Stallions training camp in San Antonio, Erickson said Saturday he was deeply humbled by the HOF induction.

“Well first of all, it’s maybe the highest (honor) you can have in the profession I’m in,” Erickson said. “… Not just me, it’s an honor for my family, kids, wife that have been going through this for all these years. If it wasn’t for them, heck, I wouldn’t have got it done. But all the guys and players who’ve played for me, coaches who’ve coached for me, obviously it wouldn’t have happened.”

On a national scale, Erickson is most recognized for his time at the University of Miami. After a brief stint in Pullman, he went on to coach the Hurricanes for six seasons and won a pair of national championships while going 63-9. Erickson then led a successful four-year regime in Corvallis, Oregon, winning 31 games in four seasons at Oregon State, including an 11-1 record in 2000 that saw the Beavers go to the Fiesta Bowl.

Erickson’s winning percentages at Miami (87) and Oregon State (64) are the best all-time at both schools.

Palouse locals have good memories of his time at Idaho (1982-85, 2006) and WSU (1987-88).

In Erickson’s first tenure, UI teams posted winning records each of his four seasons and made the NCAA Divison I-AA (FCS) quarterfinals in 1982 and ’85. The Vandals combined to go 18-7 in those seasons. A leading practitioner of the one-back offense, Erickson led UI to nine wins in ’82 after the Vandals posted zero wins in Big Sky Conference play the year before.

“Growing up in Seattle over in the Everett area where I was born and raised, Washington State and Idaho, I used to come over and watch the Cougs play all the time and had relatives that went to school there,” Erickson said. “So that was always a pleasure for me.”

The Cougars brought Erickson on board in 1987. The turnaround at WSU didn’t come immediately, but after a 3-7-1 record in ’87, the Cougars went on to go 9-3 in 1988 behind the play of quarterback Timm Rosenbach. Erickson left the program in a good place for the next coach, Mike Price, who’d utilize many of the same one-back schemes while leading one of the most successful eras in Cougar history.

In additon to the ones listed above, Erickson, a Montana State alum, also had head coaching stints at Wyoming (1986) and Arizona State (2007-11).

Erickson will attend the 62nd NFF Annual Awards Dinner on Dec. 10 in New York City.

“You reflect back on different years, a lot of different coaches, a lot of different teams,” he said. “Particularly in my career and a lot of different places I’ve had the opportunity to coach.”

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