TEMPE, Ariz. -- On the final day of media availability for the Arizona State football team this week, coach Dennis Erickson talked of the dietary restrictions he may place on his team for Thanksgiving since the regular-season finale against Cal is scheduled for the following day.
Fully cognizant of his teams three-game losing streak and the precarious position in which that streak has placed his coaching future, Erickson went a familiar route, choosing humor to defuse the tension.
"We've been on a pretty healthy diet the last three games, he said. Maybe we'd better just put them on grease."
The stakes are clear this weekend: If ASU beats Cal while Utah tops Colorado and surging USC beats UCLA -- both of the latter two results are expected -- the Sun Devils will advance to the inaugural Pac-12 title game. Whether they deserve it in light of their current swoon is immaterial. Somebody has to go from the South Division. It might as well be the Sun Devils.
What isnt clear is how long Erickson will accompany the team. There is a growing camp that believes this will be his last game before the axe falls -- or at least his last home game since any postseason games would be played on the road.
If athletic director Lisa Love, also the subject of job speculation, opts to part ways with Erickson, this very well could be his last coaching gig. Hell turn 65 next March, and the recent resume hasnt sparkled like the early years did.
In the unforgiving world of college athletics, most Sun Devil fans will say good riddance, convincing themselves that a program that has never sustained consistent success since joining a major conference can find it with the next coaching hire.
We can argue the merits of that opinion until were blue in the face. Arizona is not considered a fertile recruiting ground by major colleges, no matter what the local high school coaches and fans tell you and no matter what college coaches say when the camera lights and tape recorders come on and they have to play nice.
Arizona State does not have the academic reputation to draw recruits away from Stanford, the facilities to draw recruits away from Oregon or the tradition to draw recruits away from USC.
Arizona State does not have a bevy of wealthy benefactors because the school has not produced them, and Tempe does not project the wondrous weather we imagine, instead conjuring images of intense heat that make semi-informed outsiders wonder why anyone would want to live here.
But this is not an examination of the programs merits. Rabid fans and alumnae will never hear or accept reality, anyway. This is merely a reminder that a Hall of Fame college coach may be walking the Sun Devil Stadium sidelines for the final time this weekend. A man who helped revolutionize offenses and pushed the boundaries of player freedom and trust -- a man who won two national championships may be playing his swan song.
I would be lying if I said that we werent aware of it, quarterback Brock Osweiler said last week. We are. That just goes with the game of football. If you dont win, youre probably going to get fired.
It became clear these past few years that Erickson had grown weary of the fan and media criticism. He became less tolerant of ASUs uncivil message boards, the increasingly pervasive nature of media and its invasive examination of his personal life.
He grew disgusted with opinionated bloggers who ripped him without ever bothering to show up at practice and face the music, without having the guts to ask the tough questions face to face, without ever trying to get to know him and the things they wrote about, without ever exhibiting some shred of basic journalistic integrity before lobbing potshots from the ill-informed safety of their isolated homes.
Multiple times, we were told, he was considering closing practices to the media, but the open nature that has defined his career and personality always won out.
This is not a defense of Ericksons ASU career or a call to retain him as coach. At this level of the game, its all about wins and losses, and nobody knows that better than the well-traveled, uber-experienced Erickson.
ASU did not live up to the expectations set forth by the players, the coaches and the administration this season. With USC postseason-ineligible, a forgiving schedule, the first Pac-12 title game on tap and a fresh marketing blitz promising a new era in Tempe, this was ASUs carpe diem moment, and the Sun Devils let it slip through their fingers.
For that reason, the growing consensus is that Erickson and his staff will and should lose their jobs.
But when Erickson leaves the sidelines -- perhaps for good this Friday -- and heads off to that peaceful cabin he built up in Coeur DAlene, Idaho, its not the wins or losses, the fan vitriol, the irresponsible members of my profession or his two national championships that Ill remember.
Ill remember a guy who made me laugh with a media-savvy supply of one-liners; a guy who never could fully conceal the hurt he absorbed after losses and criticism; a guy who treated those who bothered to show up and get to know him with respect, humility and genuine warmth.
No matter the on-field results or his off-field foibles, Erickson has been a decent man.