Dennis Erickson did leave an imprint on UW football — a good one
LARAMIE -- In 2019, Dennis Erickson was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
Erickson won a pair of national titles at Miami and was named coach of the year eight times by various outlets and conferences. The Washington native won 179 college football games and six league titles. He also spent six seasons as a head coach in the NFL.
Little of that résumé had to do with Erickson's one-season stop in Laramie in 1986. He won just six of those games above while on the sidelines at Wyoming, but the impact he had on the Cowboys' football program is often overlooked.
Well, leaving the school for Washington State with no warning doesn't exactly help Erickson's "legacy" in Laramie.
He went 6-6 with his "Air Express" offense at UW. It worked, too -- at times. Wyoming knocked off Air Force and Wisconsin on the road in back-to-back weeks. Led by the school's all-time leading tackler, Galand Thaxton, the Pokes also picked up wins over Utah, New Mexico and UTEP inside War Memorial Stadium.
A story penned by Jerry Crowe of the LA Times better explains the Cowboys' feelings about their former coach, who bolted for Pullman before the 1987 campaign.
"On an “Erickson’s Air Express” poster hanging in the sports information office at the University of Wyoming, somebody has drawn a bar over the eyes of Dennis Erickson, former Wyoming football coach," the story begins. "That says a lot concerning this state’s feelings about Erickson, who left Wyoming last January, ditching a five-year contract after only 13 months to become coach at Washington State.
"Even more galling to Cowboy supporters than Erickson’s departure was the way he left, without saying so much as goodbye to his players."
Wyoming replaced Erickson with Paul Roach the following season, and wouldn't you know it, Wazzu was on the schedule in Week 2. Local sportswriters dubbed it the "Bitter Bowl."
The Cowboys didn't win that one, falling to the Cougars 43-28, but the wheels were set in motion for one of the best eras of Cowboy football.
And Erickson's fingerprints were all over it.
The official minutes of a UW School Board meeting back in 1986, detailed the new players Erickson was bringing to Laramie. You may have heard of a few of them:
Craig Burnett (JuCo)
Freddie Dussett (JuCo)
Bill Hoffman (JuCo)
James Loving (JuCo)
Reggie Berry (JuCo)
Scott Joseph (JuCo)
Mike Ray (JuCo)
Anthony Sargent (JuCo)
Demtres Stephens (JuCo)
Wyoming won back-to-back WAC Championships in 1987 and '88. They played in the Holiday Bowl both years after compiling an overall record of 21-5. In 1990, Wyoming also played in the Copper Bowl against California.
Sargent and Hoffman were named First-Team All-WAC in '87. Fittje also earned All-Conference honors in '90.
In 1988, Donahue added his name to that list. Then he did it again and again. The lightning-quick defensive end from Montana earned conference Defensive Player of the Year honors twice -- 49 career sacks will do that -- and was selected in the fourth round of the 1991 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers.
Wiggins was taken five rounds later by the Cleveland Browns.
Burnett threw for a then-school record 3,131 yards in 1987. Hoffman caught 69 passes from Burnett and led the team with 799 receiving yards. Loving was the team's leading kickoff returner, averaging 17.1 yards per return. Sargent was the top threat on the punt return, averaging 7.6 yards per attempt.
Remember, in those days, there wasn't first, second, third teams and honorable mentions at season's end. If there was, more names would've appeared on this list. Many of these guys, however, did make it on our "Who wore it best" list.
Have your thoughts on Erickson changed at all?
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