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Brian Murphy: Ex-Vandal the best man for the job

Idaho athletic director Rob Spear's wish list for his next football coach should begin and end with one name: Dennis Erickson.

At stake is the Vandals' momentum and, if this hire is not successful, possibly their future in Division I-A.

The Vandals lost more than just their head coach when Nick Holt resigned after two seasons to become an assistant coach with the St. Louis Rams. They also lost a great deal of the momentum Holt had brought to the program since arriving after the 2003 season.

Under the ever-intense Holt, a former assistant at Southern California, the Vandals' program began to take steps in the right direction.

Then again, there was nowhere else to go.

"The program was in shambles," said Holt, one of the few coaches willing to take on the rebuilding job in Moscow.

Holt went just 5-18 in two seasons with the Vandals, but he improved the caliber of player in the program. And Idaho made significant gains off the field with the construction of a practice facility, improvements to important summer camps and increased fund raising.

"We leave this program better than when we got here," Holt said during a press conference Monday afternoon at the Kibbie Dome in Moscow.

But the timing of Holt's departure, four days after National Signing Day, means the next head coach will be hard pressed to sustain that momentum.

Unless it's Erickson.

He's got name recognition, especially in the Northwest and California, thanks to stints with Seattle and San Francisco in the NFL and collegiate success with Miami, Washington State and Oregon State.

He's a former Vandal — Erickson went 32-15 in four seasons with Idaho from 1982 to 1985.

And the 58-year-old apparently is itching to get back into coaching after being fired by the 49ers after the 2004 season. Erickson, who lives outside of San Jose, interviewed for the San Diego State job in December and has not been shy about his desire to get back in the game.

"Coaching is in my blood," Erickson told his hometown newspaper, The (Everett, Wash.) Herald, in December. "I don't know of anybody who has as much passion for the game as I do. And when you're out of it for a year, it makes you appreciate the opportunities you had as a coach and as a player. And it makes you miss it even more."

Luring Erickson, who coached Miami to national championships in 1989 and 1991, would mean an immediate surge in attendance, financial giving and media attention.

Though he's not recovering from any scandal, Erickson's impact would be similar to that of Mike Price at UTEP and George O'Leary at Central Florida — a jolt of instant credibility to a football program that has not had a winning season this decade.

"We are not looking for a place-holder coach. We are looking for an individual who has had competitive success at the college level," said Idaho president Tim White, who was at Oregon State at the same time as Erickson in the early 1990s.

Check and check.

This could be Erickson's last stand, a place to where he would be beloved — despite his success, he's never engendered that type of support, perhaps because of his vagabond career — and coach until his heart's content. Already Vandal fans have become enamored with the idea of Erickson back on the sidelines.

He could be the centerpiece of the Vandals' facility upgrade, the pitchman delivering big dollars, something else the Vandals are sorely lacking.

Spear said Monday that the next coach's salary would be "comparable" to the roughly $205,000 package that Holt was being paid. Erickson, even after collecting all of the $7.5 million due him by San Francisco at the time of his dismissal, surely would command more. Spear hinted Idaho might be able to find a bit more change under the seat cushions.

"We're in a position to work with the new head coach," Spear said.

Find the money. And find it quick.

An opportunity like this is rare and fleeting. And it's one Spear can't afford to let slip away.