The big story at USC on Monday quickly shifted from the coach the Trojans fired to the coach they would get to replace him.
Or, perhaps, the one that got away.
According to numerous sources, Oregon State's Dennis Erickson has spurned an overture to come to USC. The university was prepared to offer him in the neighborhood of $7.2 million over five years, the sources said.
USC Athletic Director Mike Garrett declined comment on the offer. Erickson, who was traveling, could not be reached.
Word of the unsuccessful bid surfaced only hours after Garrett and the coach he fired, Paul Hackett, held news conferences on the university campus. Garrett announced the start of his search for a replacement but acknowledged already having some contact with potential candidates.
"People have called to express interest and we have listened," he said.
While there is no timetable for making a hire, Garrett wants to complete his search as soon as possible. When Erickson's name was mentioned, he said only, "I think he is someone I should look up."
Erickson this season guided the Beavers to their first victory over USC in 33 years. Sources said he and members of his close-knit staff did not want to move to Southern California. However, the coach is reportedly interested in the opening at Arizona State.
Meanwhile, Oregon State Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart is still finalizing a contract extension aimed at keeping Erickson in Corvallis, Ore., where the Beavers finished the regular season with a 10-1 record and a share of the Pacific 10 Conference championship.
"We have no intention of giving up on what I think is an outstanding coach and coaching staff," he said.
No matter who the Trojans eventually hire, they will probably have to pay dearly.
When John Robinson was fired in 1997, he received a reported $600,000 buyout. Hackett was scheduled to make $800,000 next season.
As evidenced by the offer to Erickson, the new coach could pull down about $1 million a year.
"I wouldn't be afraid to talk to him," the athletic director said.
Alvarez, on a recruiting trip after the Badgers' regular-season finale Saturday at Hawaii, could not be reached. Sources close to the coach doubted that he would be interested in coming to Los Angeles.
Garrett also responded favorably to the mention of San Diego Charger Coach Mike Riley, a former USC assistant who laid the groundwork for Erickson's success at Oregon State. The Chargers' 1-11 record this season was not a deterrent.
"I think Mike's a great coach," Garrett said. "I would not be afraid to consider Mike Riley."
As for Riley, he said he is committed to completing the remaining three years on his contract.
"I owe it to this team," he said. "I'd like to get this turned around before I leave or I have to leave."
With so many firings in recent weeks, athletic directors are busy across the nation wooing, or trying to hold onto, coaches.
Frank Beamer turned down North Carolina and a reported $1.4 million to remain at Virginia Tech, but Miami's Butch Davis will interview this week for the opening at Alabama.
The Pac-10 has openings at Arizona State and Arizona.
Nevertheless, Garrett expressed confidence that the USC opening would attract plenty of qualified candidates. He said the Trojans will not consider a promising offensive or defensive coordinator--such as Florida State's Mark Richt--preferring someone with a proven record as a head coach.
"We're still 'SC with a great tradition," he said. "The calls we did get were from people who were pretty reputable."
He did not rule out choosing someone from the NFL. In addition to Riley, Norv Turner of the Washington Redskins has been mentioned as a possible candidate. Like Riley, Turner is a former USC assistant.
Garrett, a former Heisman Trophy-winning tailback, also said he would be willing to consider coaches who do not share his preference for the running game.
"If he can run a no-back offense and win," Garrett said, "I'm going to be interested."
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BY THE NUMBERS
19-18 Trojan record under Hackett
3-3 Hackett's record vs. Notre Dame and UCLA
11 Years since USC has finished in top 10 in final AP pol
.514 Hackett's win percentage as Trojan coach
.691 Trojans' all-time win percentage
Alums Finally Got
What They Wanted
Paul Hackett was surprised by the verbal and physical hostility that he felt from the fans at games in the Coliseum, T.J. Simers writes. D2