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Utah football's inability to finish in the red zone this season has led to yet another offensive staff shake-up: Offensive co-coordinator Aaron Roderick has been fired, the athletics department announced Friday, and running backs coach Dennis Erickson will retire.
The move sends Utah's longest-tenured assistant, Roderick, packing after two stints as offensive coordinator. Roderick has been with the program for more than a decade, serving as the quarterbacks coach, the receivers coach and the passing game coordinator since joining the program in 2005.
Twice, Roderick accepted other jobs elsewhere at BYU and Washington but then opted to stay at Utah.
As the play-caller in the booth the past two years, Roderick took the heat when Utah (9-4) struggled to convert near the end zone. The team was No. 106 in FBS red zone offense, converting points on 77.8 percent of red zone possessions. The Utes also had the No. 8 scoring offense (29.8 ppg) in the Pac-12, and the No. 9 passing offense (216.7 ypg). Whittingham cited the red zone struggles as the biggest reason for a 1-3 ending to the season.
Also a prominent influence in Utah's offense, Erickson ends a four-year run in which he started as an offensive coordinator in 2013 but was demoted to running backs coach after one year. In an interview with The Tribune on Friday, Erickson said he had been considering retirement for the past year.
It may be Erickson's last college stop in a career that includes head coaching tenures at Miami (where he won two national championships), Oregon State and Arizona State.
"Utah has good coaches and players, and I really loved being around that and helping at this level," he said. "But it was time for me to enjoy the last part of my life and do something else."
The Utes didn't announce any other moves on Friday, indicating that offensive co-coordinator Jim Harding, who serves as the offensive line coach and coached from the field the past two years, is still on staff.
In a school news release, head coach Kyle Whittingham called both Roderick and Erickson "instrumental" to Utah's success, including three straight seasons of nine wins or more.
"Dennis is one of the most respected coaches in the history of college football and the opportunity to work side by side with him and learn from him has been an invaluable experience," Whittingham said. "Aaron has been an incredibly loyal member of our staff for many years and has been an integral part of this program's growth."
Erickson, 69, leaves after cultivating three straight seasons with a 1,000-yard back, getting two from Devontae Booker and another from Joe Williams. He also established a Florida recruiting pipeline, including three freshmen this year Zack Moss, Tyler Huntley and Demari Simpkins who all came from the same high school and all played this season.
Erickson's persuasion was key in bringing back Williams from retirement this season.
"I was able to talk Joe into coming back," he said, "probably because I've done it so many times myself."
But Erickson said he's unlikely to continue at the college level he's more likely to head north to Idaho where his son, Bryce Erickson, is the head football coach at Lake City High. There could be an opening for an offensive assistant, though the contract might not be what Erickson's been used to.
"I might come back in a full circle to where I started," he said. "I just love coaching. That's why I stayed at Utah."
Roderick was not immediately available for comment as news of his firing hit, but Erickson called him "one of the best coaches" he had been around.
"We had some lumps in some games, and others not so much," he said of the season. "I love A-Rod. I know he'll fight back, land on his feet somewhere and be successful. It was a pleasure for me to have the opportunity to work with him, and I wish it were different, but that's the nature of the game now."
Erickson said he had no plans to toast another retirement, which so far has failed to take.
"I've got enough watches already," he said. "I could open a jewelry store. I have a few rings, too."
Offensive coordinator blues
Utah will be going into its ninth offensive coordinator configuration in 10 years after Aaron Roderick's firing. A history of the previous eight:
2005-08 • Andy Ludwig
2009 • Dave Schramm
2010 • Dave Schramm/Aaron Roderick
2011 • Norm Chow
2012 • Brian Johnson
2013 • Dennis Erickson
2014 • Dave Christensen
2015-16 • Aaron Roderick/Jim Harding