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The Homecoming Game

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Retracing his steps after a failed foray into the N.F.L. ranks, Dennis Erickson is going back to where it all began, returning to his coaching roots by accepting the position of head coach at the University of Idaho, where he coached from 1982 to 1985.  

I will confess to complete indifference regarding the Vandals, none of whose five conference affiliations I could have named off the top of my head.  (In order, they are:  Pacific Coast, Big Sky, Big West, Sun Belt, and W.A.C.  I looked it up.)  

However, Coach Erickson's resumption of his old post raises a larger issue, one that was brought home to S.E.C. fans a little over a year ago, when many among the Florida faithful hoped to see Steve Spurrier return to his old Swamping grounds in Gainesville.  

How often are we going to see Dennis Erickson looking like this on the Idaho sideline next fall?  

The question is this:  "When it comes to coaching, can lightning strike twice in the same place or was Thomas Wolfe right that you can't go home again?"  The evidence strongly suggests that a single tour of duty at a particular institution is plenty.  

Pittsburgh's Johnny Majors compiled a four-year record of 33-13-1 from 1973 to 1976, capturing a national championship in his final season before returning to his alma mater in Knoxville.  

After Coach Majors's unceremonious ouster by the University of Tennessee following the 1992 campaign, he resumed his old duties with the Panthers, coaching there for another four-season stretch from 1993 to 1996.  This time around, he put together a 12-32 ledger, almost exactly the reverse of his won-lost record of two decades before.  

Johnny Majors's return to Pitt might have been more successful if, like Lee Majors, he had been transformed into a bionic man in the 1970s.  

Southern Cal's John Robinson had a similar experience with the Trojans.  In his first seven years in L.A., from 1976 to 1982, Coach Robinson compiled a record of 67-14-2, including a trio of Rose Bowl victories.  

Coach Robinson was unable to recapture the old magic during his five-year return engagement between 1993 and 1997, however.  Over the span of that quintet of campaigns, U.S.C. posted a 37-21-2 record and lost to U.C.L.A. five times.  

Some returns to campus at the University of Southern California work out better than others.  

The same held true for Stanford's Bill Walsh.  His tenure at The Farm began impressively enough, with a two-year 17-7 run that included a pair of bowl victories over S.E.C. squads in 1977 and 1978.  

Later, after demonstrating his coaching acumen with the San Francisco 49ers, Coach Walsh went back to Palo Alto and remained there from 1992 to 1994.  For those three years, the Cardinal went 17-17-1, which is about as mediocre as you can get.  

The moral of the story is simple.  You don't put new tread on old tires, you buy new tires.  

I don't know whether Urban Meyer will work out at Florida in the long run.  If, as seems to be the case, Steve Spurrier was the Gators' Vince Dooley and Ron Zook was U.F.'s Ray Goff, it follows that Coach Meyer will prove to be the Orange and Blue's Jim Donnan.  

Seriously, how did we go 1-2 against this dufus?  

Whether Coach Meyer turns out to be an Urban Legend or an Urban Myth, however, Jeremy Foley made the right call when he decided not to bring back the Ol' Ball Coach.  If history is any guide, a second stint by the man once known as "Steve Superior" would have given rise to a new nickname:  "Steve Inferior."  

As a Georgia fan, of course, I would have enjoyed watching the high and mighty brought low had Darth Visor attempted to revive the power of the Dark Side in Gatorland.  As a college football fan, though, I would have found it slightly sad, like watching Larry Holmes fight Mike Tyson in 1988 or seeing Michael Jordan in a Washington Wizards uniform.  

If major league baseball can pretend the 1995 season didn't start with replacement players, why can't the N.B.A. act like this didn't happen?  

I wish Dennis Erickson well in his encore performance in Moscow, but I would remind him of the unfortunate fact that, when it comes to coaching the same team twice, history seldom, if ever, repeats itself.  

Go 'Dawgs!