Into the Fire
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.
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.
SI had 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 Herald reported.
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 Herald story 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 Herald report 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 Times last 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."
"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.
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 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.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.
- Mesa Police Kill Woman During Asperger Meltdown
Wed., Feb. 10, 7:30pm
Thu., Feb. 11, 8:00am
Fri., Feb. 12, 7:00pm
Mon., Feb. 15, 7:00pm
- Troublemaking Teens Busted in Tempe Car Shootings
- Joe Arpaio's Headless Horse to Be Buried; Horse Group Picks Fight with State...