Dennis Erickson, Part Deux.
The transition continues.
And it’s unlikely that anybody other than San Diego coach Bobby Ross can fully comprehend the anguish Erickson felt while getting blown out, 34-10, by Kansas City in his first NFL game.
Because he suffered through the same grim experience.
As Erickson is now, Ross was a college coach making the leap to the NFL in 1992.
In his opener, Ross’ Chargers lost to Kansas City by a 24-10 count.
Lopsided losses stacked up, four in a row, and critics circled, telling one and all how college coaches could not make it in the NFL.
But under the guidance of the steady Ross, the Chargers won 11 of their final 12 games to take the AFC West.
“(The abuse) is something I haven’t forgotten,” said Ross, whose Chargers play host to the Seahawks today at Jack Murphy Stadium.
His teams have gone 8-8 and 11-5, and made it to last year’s Super Bowl since that false-start in 1992, but Ross can’t shake the stinging early response from the fans.
“There were doubters; that’s human nature,” he said. “We were lucky that we had strong internal leadership on our team and that kept us from veering off in the wrong direction.”
That’s humbly minimizing his impact. Which players who lived through it will not allow.
“The way he handled that losing streak really said something to the players about him,” said All-Pro linebacker Junior Seau. “He wasn’t pointing fingers or blaming anyone, he just kept his head in the game and moved on.”
The key to the turnaround, Ross said, was nothing terribly complex - and maybe that’s why it was so effective.
“Developing good practice habits and good work habits, that was one thing I put a tremendous amount of work into,” he said.
Ross also shrugs off the notion that his success has made it easier for NFL owners to hire college coaches such as Erickson.
“I don’t think my success had much to do with it. I think Jimmy Johnson (at Dallas) paved the way for college coaches,” Ross said. “Dennis Erickson is a fine football coach with a proven track record and it doesn’t matter where he is. He wasn’t playing patsies (at Miami), so he’s fully prepared for the job he has.”
Erickson and Ross never coached against one another in college, although they combined on a “streak” of NCAA national championships.
Erickson’s Hurricanes won or shared the title in 1989 and 1991, while Ross’ Georgia Tech team shared the crown with Colorado in 1990.
Ross’ health became an issue this summer when he was hospitalized for abdominal surgery. He has recovered his strength - if not the 15 pounds he lost.
“I’m feeling a lot better now; I didn’t feel real good last week,” Ross said, allowing that the 17-7 season-opening loss to Oakland didn’t help his condition. “Basically, I had old scar tissue from an appendectomy 41 years ago, and they needed to clear out the blockage from that.”
Erickson has some problems with blockage, too.
From his offensive line.
Once again, the Hawks will have to somehow deal with Chargers’ defensive end Leslie O’Neal, who has flattened Seahawks quarterbacks for the last nine years.
In 14 games against the Hawks, O’Neal has 18 sacks.
When it comes to taking credit (or blame) for the scheme to block O’Neal and Seau, Erickson defers to veteran Hawks line coach Howard Mudd.
“Howard Mudd has blocked Leslie O’Neal and Junior Seau - or tried to - for years,” Erickson said. “He decides who we’re going to double and who we’re going to run away from. That’s obviously one of the reasons we retained a few (incumbent coaches off Tom Flores’ staff).”
Seau doesn’t like the looks of the offense Erickson has brought to the Seahawks because the spread attack “takes me out of the box,” he said, meaning he’s not always in the middle of the action.
And by taking Pro Bowl rusher Chris Warren out of the backfield and into receiving patterns, the Hawks force opponents to make difficult decisions.
“Erickson is trying to get him the ball more often and they’re doing a good job with it. I can see why he’s doing what he’s doing,” said Seau, who has been unanimously voted to four straight Pro Bowls.
“Warren is the most underrated running back in the league,” Seau said. “He has a different style of running; it’s deceiving because he looks like he’s running straight up, but he’s really moving.”
The Chargers have their own Pro Bowl running back in Natrone Means, whose 1,350 yards last year set a team record.
“He’s big and fast and hard to tackle,” Erickson said of Means. “He’s a guy who’s going to wear you down and keep coming at you the whole game. You have to try to do something to him at the line of scrimmage because once he gets going up the field, he can create a lot of problems for you. If you get him going to the sidelines, you’ve got a chance.”
Means rushed for 190 yards in two games against the Hawks last year, but had only 60 in the opener against the Raiders as the Chargers totaled a meager 77 yards on 20 carries.
“We didn’t run the ball worth a tinker’s damn,” Ross said. , DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: HAWKS VS. CHARGERS The game: 1 p.m. at Jack Murphy Stadium. Coaches: Seattle - Dennis Erickson, 0-1, first season. San Diego - Bobby Ross, 30-19, fourth season. Records: Seattle 0-1. San Diego 0-1. The series: Chargers lead 17-15. Last week: Seattle fell 34-10 to Kansas City in the Kingdome. The Chargers dropped a 17-7 decision to Oakland in the Raiders’ return to Bay Area. The line: San Diego by 9. On the air Television: NBC with Jim Lampley and Bob Golic. Radio: KXLY (920 AM) with Steve Thomas and Steve Raible.
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