Idaho's ticket sales explode after Erickson hiring

Updated: February 9, 2006, 10:02 PM ET
Associated Press

MOSCOW, Idaho -- Nothing like a little star power to get people into the Kibbie Dome.

After six consecutive losing seasons, Idaho has lured former coach Dennis Erickson back to the Palouse, bringing instant cachet to the Vandals' woeful football program.

Rob Spear has been athletic director for only two years, but is savvy enough to know the well-traveled Erickson, who turned around the fortunes of Idaho and Washington State in the 1980s and Oregon State in the late 1990s, is a legend in these parts.

The Vandals already are getting a return on their investment in the 58-year-old Erickson, Spear said Thursday. Erickson was signed Wednesday to a five-year contract, worth a maximum $1.5 million, including incentives.

"It's unbelievable. Our ticket sales are going like hotcakes," Spear said, noting the school's athletics Web site was temporarily shut down by increased activity on Wednesday.

About 3,500 season nonstudent tickets were sold last season. In two days this week after Erickson's hiring was first reported as a possibility, 350 season tickets were sold, Spear said.

"Better tell people to buy their season tickets soon," he said.

John Yarno, a first team All-America lineman who played for the Vandals when Erickson was an assistant coach here in the mid-70s, predicted "The Dennis Erickson Show" in the 17,000-seat wooden dome will become the biggest draw in Moscow.

"It's not always easy to be an Idaho Vandal. They are always kind of the underdog," Yarno said. " ... But getting Dennis Erickson has gotten everybody's attention."

News of Erickson's return sent a jolt through the Vandal faithful.

"We just had people calling and saying they haven't had season tickets for five years, now they're getting tickets," Spear said after Erickson was introduced as the Vandals new head coach. "They said they haven't contributed to the scholarship program in five years and now they want to contribute to that, too."

Idaho athletic officials met Thursday afternoon to map a marketing strategy for their new attraction, including newspaper advertisements touting Erickson.

For Erickson, the job offers a chance to get back to his first love: coaching college football players.

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 built a reputation for building winners from foundering programs.

"Back in '82 when I got here [as head coach], it was all about the Big Sky Conference and I-AA, and we had a great deal of success in that atmosphere," Erickson said Wednesday. "Now it's about winning the WAC championship ... that's what it's all about. Now it's about competing in Division I, and taking it to another level."

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

Erickson left Idaho after the '85 season for his string of other college jobs, eventually ending up in the NFL. He had less success there, going 31-33 in four years at the helm of the Seattle Seahawks and 9-23 with the 49ers, where he was fired in January 2005.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press