Nov. 8, 2008
by Jeff Bechthold
Each visit by a Dennis Erickson-coached team to Husky Stadium brings to mind the incredible number of connections he brings to the both the UW program and the regional football scene.
Back in 1995, Erickson, ASU's second-year head coach, was the brand new coach of the Seattle Seahawks, having already been the man in charge at Idaho, Wyoming, Washington State and Miami (Fla.).
Over at Montlake, former Husky player and longtime assistant coach Jim Lambright was entering his third season as the head coach at his alma mater. Across the state in Pullman, Mike Price was set to begin his seventh season in charge of the Washington State Cougars.
And, down the coast in Berkeley, Keith Gilbertson, also a former head coach at Idaho and the offensive mind behind the high-flying 1991 Huskies, was entering his fourth year as the head coach at California.
What's amazing about all of that is the connection that those four men share. It was Lambright, the oldest of the four, who led the way, earning a scholarship to the UW in the early 1960s despite being undersized even for the era. By the end of his career, he was an All-Coast selection and was on his way to a career in football.
Lambright grew up in the same neighborhood as both Price and Erickson. Erickson's dad, Robert "Pinky" Erickson was head coach at Cascade High in Everett, though his son played at rival Everett High, same as Lambright and Price. Dennis went on to earn all-conference honors as a quarterback at Montana State.
Price, whose father Walt was the football coach at Everett CC, played safety at Everett High as Erickson's teammate. He played for his father, then at both WSU and Puget Sound.
Finally, the youngest of the four, Gilbertson grew up in nearby Snohomish, son of another football coach, Keith Sr., the longtime head man at Snohomish High (he's still an assistant basketball coach for the Panthers). The younger Gilbertson was a standout player on his dad's team before playing at Central Washington and Hawai'i.
Their career paths are so inter-mingled and complex that the space on these pages doesn't allow for a full review. In short, Gilbertson was an assistant on Erickson's highly successful staff at Idaho before succeeding him as the Vandals' head coach. When Erickson left WSU to take the job at Miami, he recommended his old friend Price as his replacement. Price went on to lead the Cougars to more success than they'd ever experienced before or since.
Meanwhile, Lambright spent year after year at the UW, eventually earning notoriety as the architect of a new, attacking style of defense that revolutionized the game and led to the Huskies' 1991 dominance. Frequently, during the fall and in the off-season, at the office or in social settings, Lambright and Gilbertson would pick one another's brains, countering from their opposite mindsets -- Lambright's purely defense and Gilbertson's on the offensive side of the ball.
What's more, Erickson's late cousin Dick is a Husky legend. A member of the Husky Hall of Fame men's varsity eight rowing crew that beat a Soviet team behind the Iron Curtain before moving on to a legendary career as the Washington rowing coach.
And, after all that, Erickson has been on the other side of the field on a number of memorable Husky football Saturdays, both good and bad. There was the infamous 1989 Apple Cup that ended with fans being sprayed with mace on the Husky Stadium turf. There was the much more pleasant (to Husky fans) memory of the "Whammy in Miami," when Lambright's 1994 Dawgs broke Miami's 58-game home winning streak in the Orange Bowl.
In 2000, on the way to a Rose Bowl win and an 11-1 record, the Dawgs edged Erickson's Beavers 33-30, OSU's only loss that season.
Memories are one of the things that college football Saturday afternoons are all about. And as much as just about anyone can be without ever actually being a part of the program, Dennis Erickson has woven himself into Husky football history.
So, welcome to Coach Erickson, who today leads his fourth different team against the Huskies. Maybe today will be another memorable one.