Bittersweet loss for football team, Erickson to Whitewater

Former defensive coordinator and assistant head coach for the University of Wisconsin-Platteville football team, Robert Erickson, is parting ways with the Pioneers after seven years at the position.
Erickson recently acquired the position for defensive coordinator/ assistant head coach at the defending national champion program of UW-Whitewater. He began his duties on Monday, March 2.
Erickson started on the Pioneer’s defense in 1996 and played through 1999. He led the team in interceptions each of those years and was voted captain for his senior season.
He graduated from the UW-Stevens Point in Dec. 2003 with a degree in history education. He then went on to earn his masters of general education at Stevens Point in May of 2006.
Erickson was hired on at UW-Platteville in 2008, where he worked with head coach Mike Emendorfer to achieve a seven season cumulative record of 44-28. He went 32-10 over the last four seasons, while earning 2011 Assistant Coach of the Year for the WIAC.
“Coach Emendorfer allowed me to develop in many ways and I wouldn’t be anywhere near where I am today without him,” Erickson said. “[He] and the rest of the football staff were great mentors to me.”
According to Emendorfer, Erickson was contacted the day after Kevin Bullis earned the head coaching position for the Warhawks. Bullis asked Emendorfer if he could reach out to Erickson for the defensive coordinator/ assistant head coaching position.
“We were disappointed about his decision, but I’m happy if he feels that is the next step in his journey,” Emendorfer said. “He has aspirations to become a head coach at a division one program and he felt like UW-Whitewater could give him the greatest possibility of him chasing that dream.”
Erickson and Emendorfer held similar feelings on the reasons as to why a veteran Pioneer would leave for a conference rival university.
“Many factors went into my decision to leave. None of them were because of anything negative UW-Platteville did or didn’t do,” Erickson said. “I felt with all that UW-Whitewater was offering me personally, financially, and for career development, it was very difficult for me and my family to walk away from.”
Prior to his endeavors with the Pioneers, Erickson was the defensive coordinator at Aurora University from 2005-2007 and before that he coordinated the defense for the Pointers from 2003-2004.
Erickson was part of what Emendorfer often refers to as his “starting five.” The group of full-time coaches under Emendorfer included Erickson, Ulz Daeuber, Ryan Munz, Jason Wagner and Matt Janus.
“It’s unique for any program to keep the same nucleus of coaches together for six or seven years because people are always looking for better opportunities, in any business,” Emendorfer said.
Senior linebacker Alex Johnson is a player who has had some success on the field in recent years and was recruited by Erickson.
“I’m happy for Coach [Erickson] and his family for the opportunity that they are going into, but I’m also sad that we are losing a great coach and a great man in the system,” Johnson said.
After Erickson unsuccessfully applied for the head coaching job at UW-Whitewater, Johnson, and many of the other players, were unaware of the other position being offered to him, until he spoke in front of the team on Friday, Feb. 20.
In an article published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Jan. 30 titled UW-Whitewater promotes Kevin Bullis to head football coach, Bullis was quoted saying, “We’ll look to finalize our staff in relatively quick order.”
In less than a month, they had a new defensive coordinator/assistant head coach in Rob Erickson.
“I was caught completely off guard with the news of coach leaving,” Johnson said. “I thought that since he didn’t get the head coaching job at Whitewater, then he wasn’t going to go there for anything else.”
When former Warhawk head coach Lance Leipold left Whitewater for a Division I coaching job at the University of Buffalo, he took with him Brian Borland, whose position Erickson is expected to fill.
According to Redbook, Erickson would actually receive a decrease of $4,928 if he were only to fill the coaching positions occupied by Borland, but the former Warhawk defensive coordinator also worked as a lecturer and received $20,402, on top of the $37,603 from coaching, for the academic responsibility as well.
It is unclear at the moment who will receive Erickson’s position in the Pioneer program, but whoever takes the reigns over the WIAC’s second best defense in 2014, will have high expectations set for them.
Over the seven years at UW-Platteville, Erickson has coached four all-Americans, eight all-region and 42 total all-conference football players. He was also part of the “Playoff Bowl” in 2013 between Platteville and Oshkosh to determine who would proceed with the opportunity to play for an NCAA championship.
“I would say my most memorable moment at UW-Platteville was when Zach Litchfield kicked the game winning field goal versus UW-Oshkosh in 2013,” said Erickson on what he will remember most from his Pioneer coaching. “Getting into the playoffs and watching the reaction of the team on the field immediately after that kick was something special and a moment I will never forget.”
The feeling is bittersweet as the Pioneers have been with Erickson for over half a decade and, according to Emendorfer, plan to have the position filled by as soon as mid-April, so the new coach can be a part of the offseason training.
“I am excited to see what the future holds for the defensive coordinator job,” said Johnson. “I believe that change is good and an outside person will bring in new ideas and ways to mix things up.”
Emendorfer views this transition as an opportunity more than a tragedy. He said that he was excited for someone new with a fresh set of eyes to look at talent, schemes and all aspects that go into building a winning football team.
Both Johnson and Emendorfer realize the magnitude of Erickson’s impact on the Pioneer football program, but it seems that they, along with the rest of the team are ready to move on, fill the vacant position and prepare for next year.  With four of Emendorfer’s “starting five” returning, along with a handful of starting players from last season, and a newcomer who is sure to make an immediate impact, the Pioneers say goodbye to Erickson and focus on the 2015 team.
“He made a large impact in our program,” Emendorfer said. “We thank him for the sweat and tears and hard work that he gave us and I wish him the best of luck, except for one week out of the season.”