SPOKANE, Wash. -- Dennis Erickson is back.
The Idaho Vandals begin spring practices on Saturday, their first under Erickson, who is returning to the place where he got his start as a head coach, after a year's hiatus from football.
"No question about it. It seems like I haven't been on the field in a long time, which I haven't," Erickson said Wednesday in a teleconference from the Kibbie Dome in Moscow, Idaho. Erickson sat out last season after being fired as head coach of the NFL's San Francisco 49ers.
Erickson, who turned Idaho into one of the top Division I-AA teams in the nation during his first stint with the team from 1982-85, said he is happy to get back to coaching college athletes.
"It's exciting just to get out there, number one, but more than anything, just to see where we're at," Erickson said. "We've got to find out who the players are. To me, the most exciting time, the most fun time, is practice. So I'm looking forward to it."
The Vandals posted a 2-9 record last season under Nick Holt. Erickson's hiring last month invigorated Vandals fans, who suffered through six losing seasons under Holt and former coach Tom Cable.
"It's fun to see the enthusiasm out there right now as far as the Vandals are concerned. They deserve that enthusiasm after the things they've gone through the last few years," Erickson said.
Asked what he was looking forward to after a year out of football, Erickson said it was being with players and coaches again.
"Just being around the players and coaches; the camaraderie of the game; to see them learn and get better, improve all the time; and being around the coaches and coaching football, which is what I do best," Erickson said. "Probably the most fun is to see them get better as a football team and as individuals."
This time around, Erickson must learn a new set of NCAA Division I-A rules and a new league, the Western Athletic Conference.
"When I first came here, it was a great challenge: Big Sky and I-AA and that was great," he said. "Now, I see it as a totally different challenge: the WAC, we've got bowl opportunities, we've got TV opportunities. I mean, it's totally different than it was when I was here the first time."
What remains the same is evaluating players' talent and instituting the pass-oriented offense that Erickson helped perfect.
"The strengths and weaknesses of a football team, right now you really don't know until you play your first game," Erickson said, adding, "We've got a lot of work to do.
"I haven't seen them on the field," Erickson said. "When you look at it on tape, when you win two football games, you haven't done a lot of good things, to be honest."
Erickson praised the Vandals' biggest rival, Boise State, saying Idaho will work to match the Broncos' level of talent to make the annual intrastate game better.
"We're going to be competitive next year. We've got guys who are pretty darn good football players on this team and if you stay healthy, we'll be very competitive," Erickson said. "In a year or two, we'll be competitive to compete for that (WAC) championship. That's what our goal is the next three or four years."