ALBANY — Dennis Erickson has seen plenty of highs and lows in the world of football.
But the veteran coach says he hasn’t had this much fun in a long time.
Erickson has spent the last week on the practice field with the South Albany High football program as a volunteer assistant.
His son, Bryce, is the Rebels’ first-year head coach.
“This is back to the roots of coaching right here,” Erickson said Wednesday as South prepared for Friday’s season opener at McKay in Salem. “Just seeing them improve and get better is what it’s all about.”
The former Oregon State football coach, sporting a Rebels T-shirt and visor and trademark black sunglasses, has been spreading himself around the Rebels’ practices. Basically everywhere.
“He just kind of floats around and helps us wherever he’s needed. It’s been great,” said Bryce Erickson, who was a graduate assistant and later an assistant under his father the past five seasons at Arizona State.
“He’s a football coach. He’s always been a football coach, no matter what level he’s at. He jumped right in and got involved.”
Dennis Erickson, now 65, was fired in November but allowed to stay on for the Sun Devils’ bowl game, a 56-24 loss to Boise State in the Maaco Bowl in Las Vegas.
He’s spent much of the time since then back at home in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, away from the sport that has consumed most of his life the past 40-plus years. This summer he filled many hours fishing and golfing.
“The last six or seven months have been real good for me,” said Erickson who has been the head coach of six college and two NFL teams. “The last three years have been stressful in that business.”
Which made getting back on the field — away from the business aspect of football — even more enjoyable.
Dennis Erickson’s prescence has provided a much-needed spark for a program that didn’t win a varsity game last year.
He’s spent a significant amount of practice time working with the offense and specifically the quarterbacks, including senior Tanner Tibbett.
Tibbett said the biggest help has come in reading coverages.
“In the past I had no idea,” Tibbett said. “He’s helped me read a defense, see where the blitzes are coming from.”
Tibbett said at first it was easy to get star struck by whom he was getting coached. But that eventually wore off some, letting the focus be more on football.
Joining the elder Erickson at South practices twice so far has been Gregg Smith, an assistant under Dennis for 27 years.
“Just a huge impact, too,” Bryce Erickson, 37, said of Smith, who spent time with coaches and players answering questions and helping make corrections and small adjustments.
Dennis Erickson has also made a couple quick stops at other football camps recently.
Last week, Erickson was in his former hometown of Everett, Wash., to talk with football players at Cascade High.
Erickson played at Everett High with Burt Cronin, the father of Cascade’s first-year head coach, Joe Cronin. Erickson’s father, Robert “Pink” Erickson, was the first-ever football head coach at Cascade.
He also stopped by an Oregon State practice for about an hour.
“They do a great job. Mike Riley is a great coach,” Erickson said. “I’m excited about their season coming up.”
Erickson said he might go to the Wisconsin at OSU game Sept. 8 game if he can get a ticket. He also hopes to see Washington State — another of the six college teams where he’s been the head coach — play this fall.
He plans to head for Coeur d’Alene after South’s home game against North Eugene next week to take care of some business matters.
Erickson said he still isn’t sure if he’ll be a head coach again.
“I don’t know if I will or I won’t.”
He says it’s all about opportunities, which he admits don’t come around as frequently as when he was younger.
If it doesn’t work out, he’ll continue helping out his son at South Albany and enjoying life with a little less stress.