Erickson named head football coach at Idaho

MOSCOW, Idaho -- Dennis Erickson returned to Idaho on Wednesday to become head coach at the school that gave him his start.

Erickson, 58, who won two national championships at Miami, got his first head coaching job at Idaho in 1982. He left after the '85 season for a string of college jobs and eventually ended up in the NFL.

His last stop was San Francisco, where after two disappointing seasons with the 49ers he was fired in January 2005.

"I just thought it was an opportunity for me to come back, give back and get back to coaching college football ... my first love," Erickson said at a news conference.

At Idaho, he succeeds Nick Holt, who returned to Southern California as defensive coordinator after changing his mind about becoming an assistant with the St. Louis Rams.

Erickson signed a five-year contract worth about $200,000 a year, but with bonuses, it could be worth a total of about $1.5 million over the duration the contract, athletic director Rob Spear said.

Idaho is entering its second season in the Western Athletic Conference. The Vandals were 5-18 in two years under Holt, including 2-9 last season.

Despite the struggles, Erickson called Moscow "a good fit" for him.

Erickson has been unemployed since the 49ers fired him. He still receives $2.5 million per year from the 49ers. He was fired with three years left on his five-year, $12.5 million contract.

Erickson turned Idaho into one of the nation's top Division I-AA teams during his first stint with the Vandals. He was 144-57-1 as a head coach at Idaho, Wyoming, Washington State, Miami and Oregon State. His Miami teams won national championships in 1989 and 1991.

He had less success in the NFL, going 31-33 in four years at the helm of the Seattle Seahawks and 9-23 with the 49ers.

Between NFL jobs he revived a foundering Oregon State program, directing the Beavers to a 31-17 record, including a school-best mark of 11-1 and a 41-9 victory over Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl in the 2000 season.

"The challenge here is to win, to compete for the conference championship and to go to bowl games," Erickson said. "Yeah, I love it here. I came here because I'm a football coach and I want to help the University of Idaho become successful."

Some of the Idaho players who watched the news conference from the balcony of a new weight room are getting their third head coach in five years.

Erickson said he met with the players Wednesday and talked about the work they will have to do to be competitive in the WAC.

"I looked in these guys' eyes and they are ready to go and get it done," he said.

Erickson said he planned to meet with current Vandals assistants but said some of his former assistants have expressed interest in joining him.

The Vandals' first three games next season are against Michigan State, where former Idaho coach John L. Smith is head coach; Washington State and Oregon State, both teams Erickson formerly coached.

Spear said Erickson's return first came up last fall, when he ran into Erickson at a resort and asked if he would be interested in coaching in a non-Bowl Championship Series conference.

When he got word recently that Holt might be leaving, he called Erickson to remind him of their earlier conversation, Spear said.