Into the Fire

Dennis Erickson's a frightening choice to lead a college football program plagued by murder and NCAA violations

Two former Arizona State University football players have died from bullet wounds to the head.

One is known worldwide for giving up National Football League riches to go to war. Killed by friendly fire in April 2004, Pat Tillman is hailed as a hero, his name enshrined at Sun Devil Stadium.

The other toiled in obscurity off the field, hoping to earn his college degree. Killed by ASU football star Loren Wade in March 2005, Brandon Falkner is the gunshot victim ASU would rather forget.

Giulio Sciorio
Dennis Erickson, ASU's new football coach
Tony Blei
Dennis Erickson, ASU's new football coach
ASU President Michael Crow is betting Erickson will deliver more wins than off-the-field problems.
courtesy of ASU media relations
ASU President Michael Crow is betting Erickson will deliver more wins than off-the-field problems.
ASU Athletic Director Lisa Love says Erickson had nothing do with the NCAA sanctions that wrecked Miami’s football program. The NCAA says otherwise.
courtesy of ASU media relations
ASU Athletic Director Lisa Love says Erickson had nothing do with the NCAA sanctions that wrecked Miami’s football program. The NCAA says otherwise.
An SI cover blasting Erickson
An SI cover blasting Erickson
Another SI cover criticizing Miami's program during Erickson's tenure
Another SI cover criticizing Miami's program during Erickson's tenure
Dirk Koetter, former ASU football coach, knew of Loren Wade’s problems but still fought to get him back on his team.
AP/Wide World
Dirk Koetter, former ASU football coach, knew of Loren Wade’s problems but still fought to get him back on his team.
Former ASU star running back Loren Wade was sentenced last month to 20 years in prison for killing Brandon Falkner in March 2005.
AP/Wide World
Former ASU star running back Loren Wade was sentenced last month to 20 years in prison for killing Brandon Falkner in March 2005.
Erickson talks football with the Phoenix sports media. He refused an interview with New Times.
Tony Blei
Erickson talks football with the Phoenix sports media. He refused an interview with New Times.
Former ASU football player Brandon Falkner was kicked off the team for a minor infraction. He then was murdered by ASU football player Loren Wade.
courtesy of Jalani Falkner
Former ASU football player Brandon Falkner was kicked off the team for a minor infraction. He then was murdered by ASU football player Loren Wade.

ASU has gone to great lengths to ensure that the legacy of ex-Sun Devil and Arizona Cardinal Tillman, 27 when he died, won't be forgotten.

ASU has done nothing to commemorate the tragedy that left Falkner, 25, dead and Wade, 23, sentenced to 20 years in prison.

"It would be nice to see some respect for Brandon," says his older brother, Jelani Falkner.

One way to have paid homage to Falkner, an ex-member of the ASU football team when he was shot to death, would've been for the school to overhaul its football program to make sure blue-chip athletes, such as Wade, aren't given special treatment when they get in trouble.

Another way would've been to replace fired coach Dirk Koetter with a coach whose integrity couldn't be assailed, whose past couldn't be questioned.

Instead, ASU President Michael Crow and Athletic Director Lisa Love hired Dennis Erickson last December to replace the beleaguered Koetter.

Erickson, 60, brings immediate cachet to Tempe thanks to two national championships at the University of Miami in 1989 and 1991. But he also brings a disturbing history, especially considering that his predecessor, Koetter, came under fire for coddling thugs like Wade.

Erickson's Miami teams were constantly in trouble with police. No fewer than a dozen scholarship players were arrested in 1994, his final season there. His hiring at ASU sends a clear signal that winning and cash flow are far more important to ASU than rehabilitating the moral fiber of a football program muddied by murder.

The selection stunned Don Crampton, a Phoenix attorney who represented the Falkner family in a wrongful-death suit filed against ASU and Koetter that was dismissed in November 2006. The court ruled that the university and Koetter had no special duty to control Wade's off-campus conduct and can't be held liable for negligence in connection with Falkner's death.

The ruling cleared the way for ASU to hire Erickson, who has a history of recruiting players he can't control, without fear of legal consequences if another off-campus tragedy occurs.

"Nobody cares," Crampton said, referring to Erickson's hiring at a program that ignored the dangerous behavior of a star player who wound up killing a former player in the parking lot of a Scottsdale nightclub. "They just want to win at all costs."

Crow and Love are betting Erickson will field a winning team that will fill the 73,379-seat Sun Devil Stadium and pump money into the athletic department saddled with an onerous $30 million debt.

"I could sell tickets to his practice," Love said upon Erickson's hiring.

Love's assumption that Erickson will attract huge crowds isn't panning out.

Season-ticket sales for the 2007 season that began Saturday, September 1, with a 45-3 win over San Jose State have slipped to 36,000, down from 42,000 last year, despite lower ticket prices.

Stagnant ticket sales will be the least of ASU's problems if off-the-field issues that plagued Erickson's six seasons in Miami occur in Tempe. Gunplay, sexual escapades, police raids, arrests, drug abuse, boozing, a federal grand jury probe, and cash bonuses to players who made the best hits in games served as the notorious backdrop to Miami's success on the field.

All this was accompanied by rapper Luther Campbell, of 2 Live Crew, strutting the Hurricane sidelines during games and doling out booze and money to players at his nightclubs.

Under Erickson's tenure, Miami's football program committed debauchery to the point that Sports Illustrated published a famous June 12, 1995, feature with the incendiary headline "Why the University of Miami Should Drop Football" on the magazine's cover instead of a photograph.

SIhad run another cover story blasting Erickson — who'd left Miami in January 1995 to become head coach of the Seattle Seahawks — for lack of leadership in the wake of his arrest in Washington State for extreme DUI. Erickson recorded a .23 on blood-alcohol tests, more than twice the legal limit, and entered a deferred-prosecution program that required him to receive treatment for alcoholism.

Eleven months into Erickson's tenure at Seattle, the NCAA levied severe sanctions against Miami's football program, stripping 34 scholarships, placing the university on probation for three years, and banning the team from appearing in a bowl game.

The disgrace in Miami, along with the glory of two championships, is part of the legacy of the coach ASU hired to make over a troubled football program scarred by the reckless behavior of favored players. The football team already is on probation for violating NCAA rules, and the university is required to submit detailed reports to the NCAA on reforms it's making to comply with NCAA rules. It's the eighth time that ASU's athletic department has been slapped with NCAA sanctions — the most in the nation.

"I haven't talked to anybody who's excited about Erickson coming in," says one prominent booster who asked not to be identified, fearing repercussions from the ASU athletic department for publicly criticizing the hire. "Especially with the precarious situation ASU is in with the [NCAA] infractions."

Rather than publicly addressing Erickson's well-documented debacle at Miami and how ASU will prevent the problems that happened during Koetter's reign from reoccurring, the university is acting as if the Miami mess never happened.

During a December 11 news conference introducing him as ASU's football coach, Erickson told the media he had nothing to do with the NCAA sanctions against the Miami Hurricanes.

"There have never been any NCAA infractions that I've been involved in," Erickson stated flatly.

Love backed Erickson's incredible assertion, stating: "Dennis Erickson was not involved in those issues, and that is what was found to be true."

Both statements are contradicted by the NCAA's 1995 Committee on Infractions report on violations and sanctions for the University of Miami, as well as by scores of stories that appeared in the Miami news media in the early 1990s.

While the NCAA never said that Erickson personally committed a major infraction, it determined that his actions as Miami's football coach directly contributed to two NCAA infractions by the university that led to sanctions.

Not only is ASU rewriting Erickson's resumé, the university also is destroying e-mails between the athletic department and members of the public concerning Erickson's hiring, an act that may be in violation of the Arizona Public Records Law.

ASU spokeswoman Terri Shafer stated in an e-mail to New Times that the athletic department has an "unwritten policy" allowing the immediate destruction of e-mails exchanged between the athletic department and the public.

Just as the Army lied about Tillman's death in the mountains of Afghanistan, claiming, at first, that he was killed by hostile instead of friendly fire, ASU is obfuscating the truth about the turbulent past of the coach it plans to pay $5.6 million over the next five years to lead a football program shadowed by a high-profile murder and other outrageous behavior by players.

And just as the Army tried to cover up the facts surrounding Tillman's death, ASU appears guilty of attempting to hide public reaction to the hiring of one of the state's highest-paid public employees.


On May 18, 1995, the Miami Herald published a devastating investigative report on the University of Miami football team under Dennis Erickson. The story was a prelude to the NCAA sanctions that would be levied the following December.

Under the headline "Hurricanes: Eye of the Storm — A Program in Disarray," the Herald described an astonishing assortment of illegal activities that permeated the football program.

"Interviews with more than 50 current and former athletic officials, players, and others close to the team reveal a litany of lawlessness before and throughout Erickson's six-year tenure," the Heraldreported.

The Herald wrote that Erickson battled with athletic department officials to allow players who had been recently indicted in a federal Pell Grant scandal to participate in games. More than 50 Miami players received more than $170,000 after submitting fraudulent applications. (The U.S. Department of Education Pell Grant Program was set up to provide cash to low-income undergraduate students.)

The Heraldstory also uncovered information that the university later confirmed revealing that Erickson violated Miami's drug policy and played athletes who had tested positive for illicit drugs, including All-American Warren Sapp, in the 1995 Orange Bowl. Sapp, the newspaper reported, had tested positive for marijuana.

The newspaper broke down the violations into categories including:

• Sexual misconduct: "Women were humiliated and sometimes assaulted in football dorms." The paper reported that players gang-raped passed-out female students.

• Arrests: At least a dozen Miami players were arrested during the 1994 season on charges including possession of cocaine and battery on a police officer.

• Alcohol abuse: "One ex-Miami coach said Erickson would get so 'obliterated' that he was 'walking on his knees. How could he discipline players,' the coach asked, 'when he didn't have discipline in his own life?'" One of Erickson's assistants, Gregg Smith, was arrested for DUI in 1992 and refused to take a Breathalyzer test. Smith is now an assistant offensive line coach at ASU. Coaches invited at least one player to drink with them before the Sugar Bowl.

• Violence: "Campus police often clashed with players, and Erickson received late-night calls asking that he go to dorms to help police control his players.

• Drugs: Despite drug-testing programs, marijuana use was widespread and often shared with the assistant coaches' secretary. Players smoked pot the night before the 1994 Fiesta Bowl, which they lost to Arizona 29-0.

• Guns: Players owned guns and would often fire them out of windows and into ceilings.

The Herald reported that two Miami athletic directors said Erickson was a lax disciplinarian. "Dennis was too lenient," Dave Maggard was quoted as saying. "He needed some backbone behind him . . . He has a big problem disciplining the team."

Sam Jankovich, who'd hired Erickson in 1989 from Washington State University (where Erickson's last team had a collective 1.94 grade point average), said: "At times, he let some players intimidate him. You could say he could have been firmer."

The next day, the newspaper wrote a scathing editorial lambasting Erickson's complicity in the tawdry affairs and failure to impose discipline:

"With rare exception, players weren't suspended when they were arrested. Even convictions — for battery on a police officer, for carrying a concealed weapon, and for drunk driving — brought little or no punishment. Players, campus police, and female students reported sexual assaults by team members, but again, no suspensions. As to discipline by the coaches, one player said: 'At Miami, the coaches got into more trouble than the players.'"

Sports Illustrated followed up on the Heraldreport a month later with its infamous cover urging Miami to drop its football program. In an open letter to University of Miami president Edward T. Foote, SI writer Alexander Wolff took note of Erickson's inability to control his players at the 1991 Cotton Bowl, where Miami committed 10 personal fouls:

"Surely, as a former Marine, you must have been appalled at an environment in which players could openly defy coach Dennis Erickson's efforts to restrain them during that game and then have one of them say, as center Darren Handy did, that their behavior 'might be embarrassing to the university and the coaches, but it's not to the players. We enjoy it.'"

Among the most outrageous behavior Erickson failed to stop involved a "pay-for-play" scheme in which players received cash bonuses for making big plays during games.

The Herald reported in a May 20, 1994, story that rap star Luther Campbell gave players cash for stellar performances, including big hits, during games. Though Campbell denied the assertions, the newspaper said he paid as much as $500 for a touchdown. Money also came from former Hurricanes making millions in the NFL. The Herald reported that "many players were aware of the deals, which occurred while the Hurricanes won national championships in 1987, 1989, and 1991." The newspaper quoted Erickson as saying: "I wasn't aware of these things. Why would anyone in a program as good as this one know about this and let it go?"

The NCAA's investigators later determined that Erickson did know about the pay-for-play scheme and failed to take significant action to stop it.

In an interview with New Timeslast month, SI's Wolff says Miami's success on the field resulted, in part, from Erickson's willingness to ignore transgressions by players in order to field the strongest team.

"When you have that kind of a track record, it also includes all the things that go along with winning, which includes looking the other way," Wolff said. There's plenty of incentive to look the other way in bigtime college football. There are millions of dollars at stake — for players hoping to make it to the NFL, for coaches wanting to land million-dollar jobs, and for universities seeking fat bowl-game and television payouts.

Just as Erickson turned a blind eye to the issues rocking Miami, ASU is now engaging in the same look-the-other-way behavior in its public statements about his Miami legacy. It's no surprise, because ASU has plenty of practice at turning a blind eye to problems on its own football team.


In the months leading up to the March 26, 2005, murder of Brandon Falkner, then-coach Dirk Koetter did everything possible to get his star running back, Loren Wade, back on the team.

Wade had been suspended from the team in fall 2004 after accepting payments from an athletic department friend with whom he'd had a sexual affair. Wade missed the rest of the 2004 season, but by early 2005, Koetter had decided to reinstate the running back. Koetter made that decision even though he'd received extremely troubling information concerning Wade's behavior.

Koetter was aware that Wade had threatened to kill a female gymnast. Koetter also had received a report from ASU's women's soccer coach that players were terrified because Wade possessed a gun. He also knew that Wade's girlfriend had called police, fearing Wade was going to destroy her apartment after he threatened her life.

Rather than report Wade's increasingly dangerous behavior to campus police or to student-affairs authorities, Koetter elected to counsel Wade personally.

Koetter's decision allowed Wade to careen out of control in early 2005. If campus police and university authorities had known he was carrying a gun and making death threats, he almost certainly would've been expelled from ASU.

Wade's criminal defense attorney, Ulises Ferragut, says that although Wade accepts full responsibility for the shooting, ASU should have provided better guidance to him in fall 2004 and early 2005, when it was clear that he was struggling with a volatile relationship and with the fallout caused by his suspension from the team.

"When things went awry, instead of the coaching staff saying 'Time out!' they sort of just let it go on," Ferragut says. ASU, he says, sent "the wrong message to Wade" by allowing his aberrant behavior to go unchecked.

Wendy Adams — the former athletic department employee who provided the improper cash payments to Wade that led to his suspension and ASU's subsequent and most recent NCAA probation order — said in a letter to Wade that many people were aware he was having serious problems in fall 2004 and early 2005. Adams sent the letter to Wade after he was being held in the Maricopa County Jail in the slaying of Brandon Falkner.

"I think the system failed you," Adams wrote in that April 25, 2005, letter. "The signs of your temper, depression, and not being rational were there, and they should have gotten you help."

She noted in the letter that ASU obtained a psychologist for Wade when he was considering quitting football in fall 2004 after sustaining a concussion during a practice. But, Adams wrote, the university didn't do anything when Wade was having problems with girlfriends and "punching walls."

Adams wrote, "I saw it, so I know that our friends, coaches, and your mother saw it, too. Like I said, we all failed you and, in turn, Brandon."

ASU, however, doesn't see it that way. In a heavily censored report prepared by a university task force formed to investigate the shooting, ASU acknowledged in July 2005 that Koetter made "errors in judgment" in handling Wade. The report, however, concluded that no university policies were violated.

Koetter escaped reprimand, but his future at ASU appeared to be in jeopardy, especially because his teams struggled against top opponents. Love surprised many — and infuriated Falkner's family — when she extended Koetter's contract in December 2005 through the 2009 season. She also gave him a $172,000 raise, boosting his pay to $950,000 a year.

"The complete scope of our program continues to strengthen under his leadership," Love said in December 2005, somehow overlooking the fact that a starting player had committed a murder during Koetter's watch.

Love's pronouncement that ASU's program was improving under Koetter's leadership shocked the Falkner family. Jelani Falkner said Koetter failed to take steps to protect others from Wade's aggressive actions. And, to make matters worse, Koetter had kicked Falkner off the team a few years earlier because he had been arrested for driving on a suspended license.

Jelani Falkner says Koetter displayed inexcusable favoritism by removing Brandon for a relatively minor offense while reinstating Wade in the wake of the NCAA violation and his antisocial behavior.

"It was extremely upsetting when they extended [Koetter's] contract and gave him a raise," Jelani Falkner said. "I didn't think he deserved the position as head coach."

A year later, neither did Love.

ASU fired Koetter last November, the day after the Sun Devils defeated Arizona in Tucson to finish another mediocre regular season. The university is paying dearly for Love's haste to extend Koetter's contract. ASU is paying Koetter (now the offensive coordinator of the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars) $2.85 million to fulfill the terms of that contract.

Wade wasn't the only player to run afoul of the law during Koetter's era.

After suspending Wade in 2004, Koetter named Hakim Hill starting running back. Koetter had suspended Hill in 2001 after Hill was charged with sexually assaulting a 15-year-old girl. Hill pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of assault causing injury and Koetter reinstated Hill to the team in 2002. Hill led ASU in rushing in 2004 but was kicked off the team again before the 2004 Sun Bowl for getting in a fight with a teammate.

Koetter is a defendant in a lawsuit filed by an ASU student alleging she was sexually assaulted in her dorm room by defensive back Darnel Henderson in March 2004. No criminal charges were filed against Henderson, who was kicked off the team in April 2004. The lawsuit filed in March 2006 alleges that Koetter and ASU "created and fostered an environment that encouraged inappropriate behavior by football players, including sexual harassment of female students and other women."

Does any of this sound familiar to what was said about the behavior of football players at University of Miami in the '90s?

With Koetter gone, Lisa Love had the golden opportunity to hire a squeaky-clean coach to rid ASU football of its outlaw image — and to lead it to the high standards that Crow professes to desire at his "New American University."

Love and Crow picked Erickson.


"Who is the best fit to lead the Sun Devil football program in regards to our standards?" Lisa Love rhetorically asked to open a news conference last December 11 to introduce ASU's new football coach.

"Who fits us, 'us' being a commitment to the scholarship and academic standards and the success of student athletes and Arizona State," she continued. "'Us' means a commitment to following the rules, the Pac-10 rules, the rules of college football, the rules and policy of Arizona State University, and certainly those of the NCAA."

Amazingly, Love concluded that "who" is Dennis Erickson, the man who allowed Miami's football program to descend into the gutter and then bolted to the NFL months before the NCAA slapped the university with harsh sanctions.

Inexplicably, Love concluded that Erickson was the best available college football coach in the nation when it comes to "following the rules."

Moments later, Erickson, in responding to a question about problems at Miami, made the statement mentioned earlier in this story: "There have never been any NCAA infractions that I've been involved in."

Love quickly backed up her new coach, absolving him of any blame for the fiasco in Miami.

Love said she did her homework on Erickson's tenure at Miami and was satisfied that he wasn't responsible for what happened.

"I read the transcripts and findings and consultations with the compliance officials with regards to the Miami affair to get down the crux of it," she said. "Not just what is perceived but to get to the facts, and I found that, indeed, Dennis Erickson was not involved in those issues, and that is what was found to be true."

Love said she interviewed "compliance officers," who gave Erickson "excellent marks at being very much involved and very committed to rules compliance and abiding by structure.

"So, I went right to the source and right to the key people who were responsible for those areas and departments. The more I heard, the more confident I was in what I believed to be true and what other athletics directors have shared with me in who he is."

Erickson and Love's statements exonerating the new coach from any responsibility for the NCAA sanctions at Miami are directly contradicted not only by numerous news media reports, but also by the NCAA's Committee on Infractions report issued December 1, 1995, concerning the University of Miami.

Attempts to interview Erickson, Love, and Crow to discuss the NCAA findings and the contradictory statements made during the December 11 news conference were unsuccessful. Typical of the Crow administration whenever New Times requests information on controversial issues at the university, all three refused to be interviewed for this story.

ASU also has failed to comply with an August 3 written request filed under the Arizona Public Records Law to produce all records reviewed by Love that led her to conclude that Erickson wasn't involved with NCAA rules violations at Miami.

Virgil Renzulli, ASU vice president for public affairs, requested that New Times submit written questions concerning Erickson's hiring. New Times submitted detailed questions to Love, Erickson, and Crow. None of them responded.

Renzulli also refused to answer most of the questions. Concerning ASU's review of Erickson's background, Renzulli stated:

"We thoroughly checked his background, which is standard procedure in hiring college coaches, and concluded that Dennis Erickson is not only one of the best college football coaches in America but also a man who will work well in concert with the ASU infrastructure supporting academic success and the off-the-field behavior of our student-athletes."

ASU officials point to the fact that Erickson was never personally cited by the NCAA for violating rules at the University of Miami to support their hiring decision.

"There was no finding that the former head football coach [Erickson] committed a major violation [at Miami]," says James Elworth, an NCAA enforcement official.

But that doesn't mean that Erickson was not directly involved in major infractions leveled against the Miami football program.

It's unknown whether ASU officials read the 1995 Committee on Infractions report on the University of Miami before hiring Erickson, although Renzulli states in his e-mail that ASU "checked" NCAA reports. If ASU officials actually read the NCAA report, it's difficult to understand how they concluded that Erickson walked away from Miami with his hands clean.

The infractions report states that actions taken by the "head football coach" directly contributed to the University of Miami being severely penalized for violating NCAA rules.

"That report speaks for itself," Elworth says.

The NCAA report found a wide range of rules violations at Miami, including two directly related to the "head football coach," Dennis Erickson.

The NCAA determined that the pay-for-play pool had started in 1986 and continued through at least the first four years of Erickson's six-year tenure, which began with the 1989 season.

"During the 1986 through 1992 football seasons, numerous football student-athletes received cash awards for their performances in regular-season and postseason football games," the NCAA report states.

According to the NCAA, Erickson knew about the improper payments to players but failed to stop them.

"The head football coach and the associate director of athletics for compliance and internal operations were aware of the existence of the pool. Although the head coach requested that the student-athletes discontinue the pool, neither individual took any significant steps to stop the pool or to ensure that the activity ceased."

The NCAA also found that Erickson violated the university's drug policy by allowing players to continue to compete after testing positive for banned substances in the 1993 and 1994 seasons.

During the 1993 season, the NCAA said players, assistant football coaches, athletic department officials and the assistant trainer all believed that the university's drug policy was in effect. The policy was published in the student-athlete handbook and had been reviewed with players.

Yet, somehow, Erickson didn't think the drug policy was in effect.

"As a result," the NCAA report states, "if a student-athlete tested positive, the head athletics trainer notified the head football coach, who did not forward the information to any other athletics department staff."

The NCAA attributed Erickson's failure to notify the athletic department about positive drug tests to a "lack of communication and misunderstandings concerning the policy."

Erickson's "misunderstanding" allowed him to play All-American Warren Sapp in the 1994 Fiesta Bowl, even though Sapp had tested positive for the third time earlier in the season and could have been suspended for one year. While the NCAA report doesn't identify what drug was found, newspaper accounts reported it was pot.

Erickson didn't suspend Sapp for the following season and, when Sapp tested positive for a fourth time in fall 1994, Erickson once again didn't disclose the results to the athletic department. Instead, Erickson started his talented defensive player in the 1995 Orange Bowl with the national championship on the line. Top-ranked Nebraska defeated third-ranked Miami 24-17.

The NCAA also found other substantial violations involving the football program but didn't link them directly to Erickson. These violations, however, raised serious questions about Erickson's ability and willingness to closely oversee a major college football program.

For example, the NCAA found that between 1990 and 1994, more than $223,000 in excess financial aid was distributed to 141 football players. The money was handed out because the athletic department improperly calculated off-campus room-and-board stipends. In addition, football players got another $212,000 in improper benefits between 1989 and 1991.

That's not all. There was the Pell Grant scandal, in which about 57 football players received roughly $170,000 by filing fraudulent grant applications. An assistant athletic director pleaded guilty to filing the fraudulent applications and was sentenced to three years in prison.

"It was widely known among the student-athletes that funds could be obtained through the help of the assistant director for academics in athletics support services," the NCAA report states.

Many of the athletes, the report stated, were aware that they submitted fraudulent applications to obtain the Pell Grants.

Just as Erickson maintained he didn't know about the university's drug policy, the head coach claimed he knew nothing about the Pell Grant scam until after news of a federal investigation appeared in the news media. Erickson was later called to testify before a federal grand jury about the matter.

But once he learned about the scandal, Erickson wasn't interested in punishing players who'd been indicted.

According to former Miami athletic director Dave Maggard, Erickson insisted — over Maggard's objection — that a player who'd been indicted in the scheme be allowed to participate in games.

Erickson hasn't always taken the position that he's never been involved in an NCAA infraction — as he stated in Tempe last December 11.

The day after the NCAA released its report on December 1, 1995, Erickson was quoted in Fort Lauderdale's Sun-Sentinel as accepting partial blame for the NCAA sanctions.

"I'll take responsibility for my share of what happened there" concerning players participating in games after testing positive for drugs, he said.

But Erickson insisted that he never hid drug results from anyone and that it was simply a "misunderstanding or the lack of communication, or whatever you want to call it, that went on between the football program and the administration."

Despite the fact that the NCAA had just slapped Miami with a three-year probation, suspended 34 football scholarships, banned the school from a postseason bowl game, and stated that the "head coach" was directly involved in two serious infractions, Erickson declared victory because he wasn't cited by the NCAA personally:

"I feel vindicated."


Alumni wonder how long Dennis Erickson will stay in Tempe and whether it's in his constitution to bring dignity to the football program.

The coach has a history of bolting from teams after short stints. He stayed at Wyoming one year before jumping to Washington State, where he lasted two years. He left Pullman to take the Miami job and stayed six seasons. By the time he left Miami, he had compiled an impressive 117-48-1 record through the 1994 season.

His record has been underwhelming since he left Miami.

Except for leading Oregon State to an 11-1 season in 2000 and a Fiesta Bowl win against Notre Dame, Erickson has coached more losers than winners. His record the past 11 seasons is 75-81, including two dismal years coaching the San Francisco 49ers before he was fired after the 2004 season.

After sitting out the 2005 season, Erickson returned to the University of Idaho, where he'd started his head coaching career in 1981 at age 34. Erickson became Idaho's winningest coach in just four seasons in the early '80s. Naturally, he received a hero's welcome upon returning to Moscow in 2006. He signed a five-year contract and announced his intention to rebuild the struggling Vandals program and finish his coaching career in Idaho.

Erickson quit after 10 months to take the job at ASU.

Left behind were disillusioned and angry university officials and fans.

"Had we known that we were going to end up in this situation, we would never have gone down that road," Idaho Athletic Director Rob Spear said. "We made a commitment, and we thought we had a commitment from the other end, but I wish Dennis Erickson the best."

Given that ASU is Erickson's third Pac-10 school, he was asked about his views on commitment and loyalty during the introductory news conference. Erickson suggested that opportunity holds sway.

"Commitment and loyalty are different things depending [on] where you are at and what you want to do with your life," he said "The bottom line for me, leaving Idaho to get here, was the opportunity to be the coach here."

ASU booster Don Tapia strongly supports Erickson's hire and predicts the Sun Devils will quickly return to the national stage.

"He's got a great freshman class that, in a couple of years, will lead us to one of the major bowl games," Tapia predicts.

Erickson's problems at Miami don't concern Tapia: "Everybody who's been successful in life has some baggage out there."

Besides, Tapia says, he's confident that Love has implemented strict reforms in the athletic department to reduce the likelihood of future NCAA violations. Since she and the other ASU officials typically refuse to answer questions, how can anyone be sure what, if anything, she's done to make sure Erickson doesn't follow in Koetter's footsteps — or his own — regarding discipline?

ASU has provided some incentive for Koetter's replacement to stick around. Erickson's five-year, $5.6 million contract is back-loaded, with most of his pay coming in the latter years. He's to be paid $500,000 this season. The Arizona Board of Regents approved the contract last spring.

Robert Bulla, who was board president during the decision to hire Erickson, says Crow assured him that ASU conducted a thorough review of Erickson's background at Miami.

"Michael was very comfortable with the process that was taken," Bulla assures.

Bulla says he made it clear to Crow that regents will have "zero tolerance" for bending the rules.

Bulla downplayed the problems swirling around Erickson's tenure in South Florida, calling it "old news." At the same time, Bulla acknowledged that he couldn't "tell you how much involvement" Erickson had in the NCAA sanctions.

Bulla made the statement after New Times provided him — along with every member of the Board of Regents — copies of the NCAA Committee on Infractions report detailing Erickson's role in the sanctions against Miami.

It's difficult to gauge the community's reaction to Erickson's hiring because the e-mails on the subject have been destroyed. In the past, the ASU athletic department kept a record of all e-mails and copies of all letters received from the public concerning the selection of high-profile coaches.

Last year, for example, New Times reviewed scores of e-mails and written correspondence in connection with Love's decision to fire men's basketball coach Rob Evans and hire Herb Sendek.

That policy has changed. The athletic department's new "policy is to respond to public e-mails and to delete both the original e-mail and the response," ASU spokeswoman Shafer stated in an e-mail to New Times.

Shafer stated that the athletic department's e-mail policy "is not published (nor is it required to be published) as formal university policy. Public e-mails have never been designated as required for retention, so they have always been eligible for deletion at any point after receipt."

The athletic department's policy to delete public inquiries and ASU's responses is extremely unusual and could violate the Arizona Public Records Law, says First Amendment attorney Dan Barr.

"I haven't seen something like this before, especially when they say they destroy the records right away," says Barr, who's filed numerous public records lawsuits for Valley news organizations.

ASU hasn't responded to New Times' request for a copy of the university's e-mail-retention policy, and none could be found on ASU's Web site.

However, the University of Arizona's electronic records policy states that "any information including all e-mail produced or received on [the] University provided system . . . may be subject to disclosure under the state public records law."


It's been 29 months since Loren Wade killed Brandon Falkner in a fit of jealous rage outside CBNC, the lively Scottsdale club that's attracted celebrities like rapper 50 Cent and Denver Nuggets point guard Allen Iverson.

During this time, ASU first extended Dirk Koetter's contract and then fired him as head coach. Given the opportunity — some would say obligation — to ensure that the football program would be led by a coach with impeccable credentials in the aftermath of Falkner's murder and the other player problems, ASU selected a man who brought championships and disgrace to the University of Miami.

Eight days before the Dennis Erickson era was to begin on the field with a Sun Devils home game against San Jose State, Wade stood sobbing before Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Arthur Anderson and asked for leniency.

Anderson already had in his possession a lengthy letter written by Wade in which the former star running back, now 23, accepted full blame for killing Falkner.

"Never once in this whole case have I tried to deny responsibility for the death of Brandon," Wade wrote. "It is my fault, but I couldn't own up to intentionally taking the life of another human being."

The jury had already agreed that Wade didn't intentionally kill Falkner, convicting him last June of second-degree murder.

Turning to Falkner's brother, Jelani, who'd asked the judge to sentence Wade to the maximum 22 years, Wade said, "I didn't mean to kill your brother, but I take full responsibility. Brandon is with God, and he knows the truth. And I promise you that Brandon will be honored through me."

The judge listened intently before sentencing Wade to 20 years in prison. Wade will now have plenty of time to fulfill his pledge to dedicate his life to Falkner.

"I've made a promise to Brandon that whatever I do here on this Earth will be to honor him," Wade wrote to Judge Anderson. "He is my angel, and he guides me, and I always think about [that] before I do anything."

Arizona State University should consider giving Brandon Falkner a second thought.

Show Pages
 
My Voice Nation Help
24 comments
pmpnjomama
pmpnjomama

Terrible article. Previous posters have already covered why. I just wanted to add my agreement. Does New Times always have to try be controversial?

Tom
Tom

Missouri Devil,

With regards to your "point" 4, Wade and Wade alone is responsible for his own action.

Also, "point" 5, all 3 have happened and the future looks bright.

Scum indeed.

Matt
Matt

What a bunch of crap this is now... Look at the football program now, Erickson is Named Coach of the year, and what a bunch of nonsense this article states.. No sound basis for any of the arguments and when its all said and done, I'd like to see a new article titled " I was wrong about Erickson" The person who wrote this article is the person who see's a murderer in his own Mother.. Always dwelling on the negative and never looking at the positives. Spout out an article like this then he comes in and people love the guy and he does wonders for a football program in such a short period of time, and then reading this article is like a joke.

Dawn
Dawn

John,

Nice to see you back. Well written, thoughtful, insightful, and as always, well-researched. If it were written about my university I might hate it too, because it's written about my State's university it troubles me greatly. ASU fans, look at the evidence. Maybe DE has changed. 1995 has been a few years. Hopefully we've all done some growing and changing in those years, and IF he is in recovery now from alcohol abuse he may be a totally, totally different man and coach. Maybe, we can wait and see for a little while.

Still, nice to see you back, Dougherty!!

Missouri Devil
Missouri Devil

I am a grad of ASU and love the school with all my heart but I am saddened by all the people calling John's story leftist, commie etc. A few things for you right leaning name callers:1) Being "Liberal" is not being Communist. BIG FRIGGIN DIFFERENCE!2) The Arizona Republic is not the bastion of fact that you make it out to be! (I believe Joltin' Joe Arpio's Son-In-Law is an editior...Yead that leads to unbiased journalism)3) DE as you call him is scum! He was scum in Miami, He was Scum in Washington and he will be Scum here. You can shine a turd all you want but it is still a turd.4) Every other Sports program at ASU have great coaches who wouldn't let their athletes act like Coach Koetter let his players act5) It doesn't matter if the guys girlfriend was rich or poor, everyone is to blame for that young man's death

And Finally5) I hope the Devils do win more games, pack the stadium, have no problems etc. But I know that at least one of those won't happen.

Welcome back John, love ya brother!

scott machen
scott machen

Wow. What a story. I never knew there were problems at major division 1 football programs. Get a life.

Withheld for Fear of Retributi
Withheld for Fear of Retributi

ASU. Always a class act.

ASU used to feature in Playboy's Top Ten Party Schools issues in the 70s.That was bad enough but even that was preferable to the kinds of things coming out now - the fabricated "Muslim hate" incidents, the porn movie scandal, the "I can get away with DUI manslaughter if I'm an international student from Kuwait" scandal, the repellent treatment of senior faculty, and the open secret about the appalling levels of cheating - especially among international grad students. I wonder if PBS is aware of the extent to which ASU treats KAET as "its own personal television station." I've never seen so much hype on any other PBS affiliate.

Does ASU serve Phoenix-area students, or is it the choice by default?

Time we woke up and pulled the plug.

Pissed
Pissed

ASU. Always a class act.

tom gavin
tom gavin

Jeeze, listen to the little ASU homers squeal like the little bitches they are! All they care about is whether the ASU football team wins, which is pretty much what John Dougherty said with this story. Only he was referring to the administration. Otherwise why would they hire a scumbag like Dennis Erickson? As long as the Sun Devils win football games, murder, rape, whatever is great. I would like to see the credentials of the guy above who claims to have 15 years' experience as a jouirnalist. At the Weekly Reader? Notice nobody complaining here has the balls to sign his name. Just a pack of pussies, like most ASU fan-roids. What a fucking idiot this so-called journalist is, along with the others who claim this story is fact-challenged. Fuckheads, it's right from the NCAA report and the headlines! Sports Illustrated covers and an NCAA investigation don't lie. Erickson is a loser personally, even if he does win a few more games than Koetter. But even the jury's out on that.

Serious
Serious

Why don't you write an article blaming his rich little girlfriend who was more to blame, she knew his personality more than anyone else and covered for it repeatedly. If she'd have done what she should have, Faulkner would be alive. How would Koetter not think Wade's previous transgretions weren't blown out of proportion when Haley kept sticking up for him. Blame her, blame her parents... they were the enablers.

Drew
Drew

The biased, one-sided "reporting" of this left-wing rag never ceases to amaze me. THe only reason why I came across this article was because the link was posted on www.devilsdigest.com. After reading the whole thing, I was amazed at the amount of space wasted mainly on one subject: The Miami infractions. Erickson, Love, and Crow aren't trying to forget about Erickson's past, rather they are trying to put it behind them to become a better program. I find it interesting that you don't even address that.Brandon Falkner is dead because Loren Wade shot him. THAT"S IT!!! Stop shifting the blame around. If anybody failed anybody, the jury at the trial failed us. Wade should have been convicted of murder 1 and facing the death penalty (oops.........too conservative for you, huh).Fair and balanced reporting do not exist with the New Times (never has). That's why the author of this story has a home here and no self respecting print media outlet (like the Tribune or the Republic) will go near him. This liberal, anti-ASU rag belongs in the craphole down south (yes, I mean Tucson). Better yet, the ASU school of journalism should hold the New Times as an example of "what not to be."

Paul
Paul

As a journalist for more than 15 years, I believe The Phoenix New Times has dropped the ball on this one. Your reporter might as well be a prosecutor. The reporter has presented a case to support an argument, while leaving out huge portions of fact to make the case appear stronger. Here�s the problem. You are supposed to present a fair and balanced report of all the facts and you have failed miserably. So, without getting into all the examples (because I know you don�t need them � they're right in front of you with your research) I will just say this ... when you are in journalism for a while you can see when something is just plain wrong with a report (and this is a great example of that). Let�s be honest. This report has an "all or nothing" approach. I�m sure one of the goals was to generate a lot of talk, controversy, and emotion. Why? To get more people to pick up your paper. Your company is in the business of making money and this article is a means to an end. I believe there are good people working at your paper and I also believe there are people who are misguided. If you truly step back from this report you can clearly see the article is a microcosm of what is wrong with journalism today (a lack of journalist ethics) and I am sure many would agree ... articles like this are perpetuating a slow and methodical death to journalism as we know it.

Paul
Paul

As a journalist for more than 15 years, I believe The Phoenix New Times has dropped the ball on this one. Your reporter might as well be a prosecutor. He/She has presented a case to support an argument, while leaving out huge portions of fact to make the case appear stronger. Here�s the problem. You are supposed to present a fair and balanced report of all the facts and you have failed miserably. So, without getting into all the examples (because I know you don�t need them � they're right in front of you with your research) I will just say this ... when you are in journalism for a while you can see when something is just plain wrong with a report (and this is a great example of that). Let�s be honest. This report has an "all or nothing" approach. I�m sure one of the goals was to generate a lot of talk, controversy, and emotion. Why? To get more people to pick up your paper. Your company is in the business of making money and this article is a means to an end. I believe there are good people working at your paper and I also believe there are people who are misguided. If you truly step back from this report you can clearly see the article is a microcosm of what is wrong with journalism today (a lack of journalistt ethics) and I am sure many would agree ... articles like this are perpetuating a slow and methodical death to journalism as we know it.

That�s just my opinion �

Bababoohii
Bababoohii

Typical of a left-wing rag to blame a high profile target like ASU; a target with deep pockets, for the independent, willful actions of a student athlete like L. Wade. I think the fact that the Fulakner wrongful death suit was dismissed in summary judgement speaks for itself. Wade was a ticking time-bomb; and one could easily argue suspending him prior to his rampage would have triggered this maniac to commit crimes more horrific than the Faulkner tragedy. But hey, you can't sue a psychotic running back with no money; so lets hire a scumbag leach attorney to argue ASU was vicariously liable for homicide....what a joke; but you have to love the attorney's effort...he probably had visions of new vacation home dancing in his head.

With respect those "major" NCAA violations, here's a list of those horiffic violations:

whoa nilly....food, lodging, paying a 20.00 phone bill....whoa...stop the presses New Times..ASU's athletic program is the Rikers Island of the SW...

Sel Date Institution Summary Nov 10, 2005 Arizona State University Impermissible benefits; impermissible financial aid; Jun 25, 1997 Arizona State University EXTRA BENEFITS: impermissible transportation and meal provided by coaches ... Nov 10, 1988 Arizona State University FINANCIAL AID: provided financial aid to ineligible student-athletes. EXT ... Mar 18, 1986 Arizona State University Extra benefits; out-of-season practice; improper recruiting contacts, induc ... Apr 18, 1985 Arizona State University Improper financial aid; lodging and transportation. ... Dec 31, 1980 Arizona State University Improper financial aid; extra benefits; complimentary tickets; improper rec ... Oct 27, 1959 Arizona State University Improper recruiting employment, inducements, lodging and transportation. ... Jan 08, 1954 Arizona State University FINANCIAL AID. IMPERMISSIBLE RECRUITING: transportation; tryouts. OUTSID ... Found 8 Major Infraction Cases

Rob
Rob

Mr. Dougherty, what you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent article were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having read it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

Rita Skeeter
Rita Skeeter

This is the worst article I have ever read, and reeks of poor journalism, a clear bias, and terrible writing skills. I suppose the author of this must be practicing for future employment with the Weekly World News.

And, for anyone that has ever read Harry Potter, notice the uncanny resemblence to this writer's style, and the blatant style of muckraker Rita Skeeter. ... the only difference is, Ms. Skeeter's lies and hyperbole actually make sense pertaining to the article.

This piece, it took 6 pages to bash ASU's football program-- jumping from Miami, to Pat Tillman, to some players girlfriend, to.... oh that's right, it's just a hodge podge of meaningless snippets, none of which are related to each other in any way.

This is the last time I ever read a New Times article.

J
J

This is the first and last time I'll come to this site. And with a population of over 55,000 don't you think it's quite possible some bad things might happen? And just STOP with the bashing on Erickson... Pessimistic or jealous people NEVER seem to get over the past and see what has changed. Some ASU alum you are.

Ryan
Ryan

John,

Only read the first page of your article and found two things wrong already:

Season tickets sales actually passsed last year early last month. If check with the Sun Devil ticket office or the article that was written in a real newspaper "The Republic" you would have seen this. Your number for this year did not include student tickets which are usually sold during the month of August. Guess thats why you are wiritng for a free newspaper.

Also season ticket prices went up this year. If you were to have done the correct research you would have found out there are more home games therefore increase in season ticket price.

Good try on writing a Doom and Gloom article to create controversy to attract readers. You should be so proud.

Ryan
Ryan

John,

Only read the first page of your articel and found two things wrong already:

Season tickets sales actually passsed last year early last month. If check with the Sun Devil ticket office or the article that was written in a real news the "The Republic" you would have seen this. Guess thats why you are wiritng for a free newspaper.

Also season ticket prices went up if you were to have done the correct research. Reason being, there are more home games.

Good try on writing a Doom and Gloom article to create controversy to attract readers. You should be so proud.

Matt Feller
Matt Feller

Thank GOD we don't dwell on the past huh? Hmm what is the quickest way to try and make ASU look bad? OH lets go ahead and point our finger's at DE and ASU's past AGAIN. Its not like ASU has a spotless record, and neither does DE. But lets pretend for a second that this HASN'T already been talked about. Lets pretend this is actually "new news". It is obvious you are running out of things to knock ASU for.

Saying that ASU is offending Falkner's image by hiring DE is the most rediculous journalism I have ever seen.

How about you don't rip on DE at ASU unless something actually happens. Thats a novel thought.

Jason
Jason

Nice liberal commi write-up. Surprised you did not blame all of Mike Vick�s problems on DE. Guess what, when this team is winning *with DE* there will be 72k out to support ASU. It�s obvious that ASU is the only school with problems. When you have the 2nd highest enrollment in the country you are bound to have some bad apples. And high profile athletes that don�t receive preferential treatment would be against the norm anywhere in this country. DE wins period. Consider that pretty much all of the athletic department is funded by the football program, it needs to get back to an elite level. How about you move to Tucson and write how great the �Spread Your Legs� offense is working for that spazz throwing fits blaming everyone except himself.

Cingo  wayongo
Cingo wayongo

This is a load of crap. Are you guys out of stories to write?

Bill Preston
Bill Preston

John, Welcome back! You have no idea how much the pubilc and the press have missed you. We appreciate your need to move on and get away, but so glad that you came back to us. I read what I could from you in High Country News, but it will be brilliant having you back in the valley bringing us stories closer to home. We've barely been "Via Con Dios"-ing without you. Give us the inside goop on Sheriff Joe, Mark Goudeau, and the UEP. No one else can compete with your research and writing. You give us something to look forward to on Thursday's. Thanks.

chris long
chris long

I lived there 16 years and ASU has been plagued by scandalssince the 80's...

The reputation of the school is well earned...

Wonder if they have a course on the 'Phoenix Lights' ?

No, the Do have Marianne Moody-Jennings...Ha !

 
Loading...