Sometimes the game just passes you by.
There isn't really much to say as to why Dennis Erickson is finished with the Arizona St. Sun Devils. The man never lost the grip on his team like Rick Neuheisel, and never berated his team like Mike Stoops, and never flat out coached a crap team like Paul Wulff. Erickson was never as bad a coach as the other guys on the hot seat--his teams always had decent performances in victory or defeat.
Nonetheless, when it came to wins and losses, he underachieved.
Year after year, despite having a good bit of talent, ASU seemed to come up short in critical stages, particularly in the mental aspects of playing football. His teams would play hard, competitive matches against the best of the conference--and lose. Then they would play the bottom-dwellers and have trouble pulling those games out. There was no consistency from this team, and they drove Sun Devil fans crazy year after year.
The play of the Devils would at times look explosive, and at times look like the aftermath of an explosion. There were big 20 yard gains followed by 10-15 yard penalties bringing them back. There were late hits galore to keep the Devils going offensively. There were the unconscionable turnovers that killed the team's momentum and practically handed it to the other side. There was the questionable game management that took Erickson's team out of games.
This year was Exhibit A of Erickson's inability to adjust to Pac-12 play. Erickson had perhaps the easiest path to the Pac-12 South title, a strong collection of talent, a good quarterback who knew how to run the offense, a talented defense. Even with the assorted injuries the team suffered in the offseason and through the fall grind, ASU still should have been able to summon victories against teams like Washington State and Arizona and give themselves a rematch with Oregon in this Friday's title game.
But the Devils wouldn't take those gifts. They made mistake after mistake after mistake. They blew a winnable contest in Oregon because the Ducks made one or two mistakes while the Devils piled theirs up. They gave up huge passing plays against the likes of Kevin Prince and Connor Halliday. Brock Osweiler had good games, and then he threw bad interceptions. Cameron Marshall had big gamebreaking runs, only to get shut down against some of the worst rushing defenses in the conference. Pass protection had its breakdowns despite having an offensive line full of returning starters, making it five for five for Erickson's teams having bad offensive lines trying to win (and usually lose) the battles in the trenches.
And the penalties, the personal fouls, the mental mistakes. The constants of ASU football under Erickson, the constants of Erickson teams almost anywhere. Those things can't be around if you expect to build a program into a title contender, and the ASU teams of the past half-decade have fallen well short of that mark.
Erickson's teams were always competitive, fought hard, and gave us entertaining football. But it was anarchic, and order is needed to bring Arizona State into the conference's elite.