Earlier this year, UW-Platteville Defensive Coordinator Rob Erickson put his hat in the ring for the Head Football Coach position at UW-Whitewater. He proved to be a strong candidate as, by all accounts, he was impressive throughout the interview process. While Erickson didn’t ultimately get the job, he landed only one office away. In March, after seven seasons at the Assistant Head Coach and Defensive Coordinator at UW-Platteville, Erickson was hired as the Assistant Head Coach, Defensive Coordinator, and Defensive Backs Coach at Whitewater.
Here is the transcript of an interview with Coach Erickson held after the conclusion of spring practices.
What is your initial impression of the current UW-Whitewater players?
The players’ attitudes have been fantastic. The kids get along really well. They are listening to us coaches and they are open to change. All the players really, really like Kevin (Head Coach Kevin Bullis). Not that they didn’t like anyone else, but Kevin is the guy they trust and they know. Kevin is the guy they believe in and they know he is the one who knows the path and the way. They believe he will lead us there and that is huge. The confidence the kids have in Kevin is great.
What are your impressions of the coaching staff that has been put together at UW-W?
We all get along really well. We all have the same vision and we all want to win. We are all really competitive. We have our own way of doing things and we feed off of each other. We all have our different experiences that we bring to the job. Coach Rindahl has experiences recruiting scholarship type athletes and he brings that experience with him. Craig and I have been in the WIAC for 7 or 8 years and we know how the coaches recruit here and we have relationships with coaches in our recruiting area. Brent Allen has some experience recruiting from a private school model and he brings some ideas there that can help us be more creative in the recruiting model. We all get along great. We all work really hard and believe in being professional, but we also can relax and razz one another and have a good time. We all get along really well. I just think the chemistry among the coaches is really, really good.
On the field, what type of changes do you see being brought about by the new staff.
We are all bringing together new ideas. Brent is bringing back some things from three or four years ago that we got away from that we believe are big staples. On the defensive side, we are adding to our cover four umbrella.
You coached against the Warhawks for seven seasons. What was your perception of UW-W while at Platteville and how is reality different from that perception?
There was a lot of jealousy as an outsider and jealousy brought hatred. We are all competitive and it was easy to say, “I hate those guys. We have to find a way to knock them off the hill." We had two choices. We could either copy their model or try to create our own model. Every institution had to make their own decision. At Platteville, we were fine not being Whitewater. We were going to be Platteville and do it our way to try to knock off Whitewater.
What we saw was an institution that had a lot of resources. Great facilities, great people. Everything we do here at Whitewater is top of the line. When I interviewed on campus for the head job and came back for the DC job, every time I stepped foot on campus, I thought "Everything here is done first class, just like we thought." And it pushes the envelope for every other school in the state to keep up or catch up.
The perception is just the reality. Everybody sees that we are going to have the biggest stadium, we are going to have really nice things, we are going to travel first class, we are going to treat our players like they are D-1 and give them every resource they need to be successful and be happy. We are going to pay the coaches well and work them evenly and give them time off and treat them right. As an outsider, we could see what Whitewater had and, for me, nothing has changed. It is first class in everything we do.
What are some things you look forward to coaching at Whitewater?
One thing I’ve always respected about Whitewater is that we will always take everyone’s best punch every week and we have to be up for the challenge. We have to have our players ready EVERY WEEK. I know when I coached at Platteville or Stevens Point and we would play a Whitewater, that week was different. Even thought the coaches would try not to treat it differently, the players knew it was a big deal. They knew they were playing against one of the top one or two teams in the country and they were going to take their very best shot. Here, we just take the punches and we deliver them back, you win, and go on to the next week and take another big punch and you just keep going. To sustain this success week in and week out is just incredible.
How did you feel spring practice went?
I think it went well. We started off kind of slow. When offense and defense would do 7 on 7 or different drills, there is a certain speed we are used to going. I think between the new coaches offensively and new coaches defensively, we were a little slower and it took some time to get into rhythm. But towards the end, I felt like we really understood three or four base calls that we wanted to leave spring ball understanding. And we had some techniques we taught that are a little bit different. But the kids caught on really, really well and the last three or four practices, we practiced really, really well. There were some times early on where we kept saying “We aren’t there yet, we aren’t dropping on our pass coverages right, we aren’t doing this right, we aren’t doing that right.” We were a little more critical early and a little more nervous. But we really came together at the end. I talked to a few of the players at the end of spring and there was a sense of confidence that, ‘We are good. We can do this.’
Do you see a difference between the athletes at Whitewater and the athletes you coached at Platteville?
It’s hard to tell without pads, to be honest with you. I’m intrigued to see the depth. I think when outsiders look at Whitewater, they talk about their depth. The first, second, and third string players are all really good football players at Whitewater. Maybe at other schools, the first and second team players are all really good and you start seeing a drop off after that where there are some kids that need to be developed. I think our depth here is really good. Obviously, our star players are really good, too. But I can’t really tell in the spring if there is a big gap. I’d like to think coming from Platteville that we had some pretty good players and that we were close. I can’t really tell in the spring if there is a big gap.
As difficult as it is to tell without pads, do you have a feel for the strength of the position groups?
At linebacker, we were without two starters this spring as Paul Foster and Matt Seitz were recovering from injuries. That gave a few of the younger guys an opportunity to step up and get time this spring. In the middle, Justin Dischler looked really good and I would put him up against anybody. He understands all the calls and is a good leader in there.
The offensive and defensive lines, you really can’t tell anything without pads. You don’t get to hit, you don’t really get to do anything. On the defensive line, we are going to stay with the model of playing a lot of kids to develop players and keep guys fresh. We still have many of our key players. Zach Franz, (John) Flood, and (Brandon) Tamsett are all back. Kevon Clunis, we are hoping will be fully recovered. The report sounds good, but if he needs time, he may be a role player early on until he is 100%. We really have most of our main guys back, which is pretty exciting.
As far as the D-backs, without Brady (Grayvold), Marcus (McLin), and (Zach) Nellis, we had to develop some new guys. (Ryan) Winske is a natural leader. He is getting guys lined up and getting them in the right spots. I think the DB position got stronger as spring went on, but early on we were trying to find ourselves a little bit. There is talent there, but we just have to find out who are going to be our guys and stepping into those roles. Dylan Morang and Shilcox and some of the other seniors want to be the guy and are ready to be the guy. They just have to prove they ARE the guy.
Obviously, you want to get the best out of your group of defensive players. How do you go about doing that?
I am a believer in really getting to know the kids and care about them. I am a big believer in relationships. When I get to know a kid, I do my best to figure out, “How can I make him successful?” Then, hopefully, he will reciprocate with his very best effort. I don’t have to yell and scream at them a lot because we both understand the plan. And the plan is to be the very best we can and we are both here to help each other.
Yes, there are times we need a little kick in the rump, a player or group may need a little extra motivation. If I am yelling at somebody? The guys will know we are not playing very well. I am not a coach who yells all the time, so the kids won’t be deaf to it.
I have always believed in explaining the “why”. Over the years, Coach Emendorfer always emphasized, “If you are going to put a coverage in, emphasize the ‘why.’ If you are going to put a blitz in explain when and why you are going to use it and why it is going to make them successful.” One thing I already got good feedback from the kids here after spring camp is “Coach, the coverages you put in were pretty much the same as we ran in the past, but now we understand more of how we fit in with the seven guys in front of us and we understand why we run the coverages when we do.”
Now I have to say Coach Borland was a legend and did an amazing job with these kids. They are really, really smart. I’m no fool. I know I am inheriting a really well coached group of kids. But if I can give them any insight at all, I am willing to do it. I know that many people are looking at this as Borland’s deal. But very soon it is going to be our defense run by Coach Rindahl, Coach Kishline, Coach Bullis, and myself. It is going to be our deal here soon. We need to find ways to put our imprints on things. Coach Rindahl is unique. He is as good as I’ve come across as far as teaching both individual drills and schemes. His ability to both coach and connect with players at his age is special. He is really, really talented and I feed off of him. If I have him run a drill, it is like watching an NFL drill. My coaching style is that if we have people around us who are talented, which they are, let them do their job.
What is your favorite part of coaching?
Relationships and that chess match on Saturday. That competitor comes out in me where I think I know what you are going to do and try to make the right call. It is great to put the kids in a position to be successful and see them celebrating after they make a play on the field. It is great to see a sack or an interception that you know you helped bring about through preparation. Now you know the kids had to make the play and they are the ones who deserve to do the celebrating, but to know you helped out is great. I get great joy out of seeing the players succeed and seeing the absolute joy they have in playing football. That is why we are here, to see to it that they have fun and to see to it that they are successful.