This past Sunday night was nothing short of tumultuous for Oregon fans. While Coach Chip Kelly’s decision to stay in Eugene generates some obvious outcomes, it also carries long-reaching, yet subtler, recruiting effects. As an observer and Duck fan, I immediately gravitated towards a pair of conclusions.
To begin, Kelly’s rejection of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ offer indicates his commitment to the spread-option offense. Oregon’s play-caller has openly discussed how Oregon’s spread variation would translate to the professional ranks, indicating that he would take “elements,” yet not completely integrate his offense into an NFL playbook.
“I’d use elements of it, but I’m running what we run at Oregon because it suits our personnel at Oregon.” – Chip Kelly (Radio interview with John Canzano – 750AM The Game)
Many college teams run variations of the spread, but Kelly’s implementation of his own personal take on the scheme often requires a special breed of athlete not readily seen in other programs. (Case in point – De’Anthony Thomas lining up as the TAZR, a Kelly creation born out of the spread). With recruits scouring the country for what they deem as the “best fit program” for their talent sets, Kelly’s decision may have guaranteed Oregon to be the perennial front-runner for skill-position players looking to get reps in a razzle/dazzle offense.
Recruits, especially running backs and pure athletes, are no longer asking, “What teams are running the spread,” but rather “What new wrinkle has Chip Kelly added to the spread?” and perhaps most importantly for Oregon, “How do I fit into Kelly’s Frankenstein creation?”
Sunday night’s “Kelly-mania” brought another aspect of recruiting to my mind. What attracts a recruit to a program? Coaches, facilities, location, program-history; the list of potential factors goes on and on. In the same interview with John Canzano on 750AM The Game mentioned previously, Kelly alluded to his mindset and that of Oregon’s where no one player or individual defines a program.
In the wake of initial news of Kelly’s “finalized” departure, several Oregon commits responded to the news. The Ducks lost a recruit in four-star linebacker Jeremy Castro moments after sources broke the first Kelly report. However, it is not readily clear if the Murrieta, CA product’s decision to suit up for UCLA rather than Oregon was based on Kelly’s situation due in large part to virtually synchronous announcements and Castro’s official Bruin visit this past weekend.
Playing foil to Castro, Plano-West 3-star defensive end Bryce Cottrell reiterated his commitment to Oregon and kept a solid defensive line recruit-set intact. Incoming quarterback commit Jeff Lockie of Monte Vista, CA reportedly was “disappointed” after hearing the news, but indicated he was making no sudden changes of plans in regards to his college choice. Oregon may have received its biggest recruiting scare of the night when 2013 5-star running back Thomas Tyner openly questioned his commitment to the Ducks via twitter.
Much like Kelly’s rethought decision to stay in Eugene, Tyner appeased Oregon fans Monday morning saying his rash tweet hit the internet “because he was upset” and called Kelly “a great coach.”
As a whole, Oregon did not witness a mass-exodus of recruits (even though Eugene was effectively, yet prematurely considered “Kelly-less” for only half a dozen hours). This proves the Ducks program and recruiting power is more than just “The Man in the Visor.”
Kelly put all doubters to rest with an issued statement through the University of Oregon Monday morning…
“I am flattered by the interest of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ organization. I enjoyed meeting with the Glazer family and General Manager Mark Dominik but after numerous discussions, I concluded that I have some unfinished business to complete at the University of Oregon.” – Chip Kelly
Early Monday saw more than just “Kelly turns down Bucs.” National Top-5 and #1-rated safety Shaq Thompson, a California commit, directly tweeted LaMichael James asking about the perks and experience of Oregon.
James’ strong case for his alma mater and the recent departure of California’s defensive line coach and super-recruiter, Tosh Lupoi, have prompted many to believe Thompson may opt out of his verbal commitment to the hometown Bears and head north to Eugene come signing day.
Visits this upcoming week will be headlined by four Oregon commits; 4-star running back Byron Marshall, 3-star junior college defensive end brother of Duck legend Brandon, Stetzon Bair; and local 4-star defensive end Alex Balducci.
Oregon currently has 18 confirmed verbal commitments, with 25 slots available per NCAA rules not including greyshirts, meaning there will be a handful of decisions to be made by recruits in the coming days as to their future. It is only one week until signing day, with slots available coaches are making their final in-home visits and working the phones heavily to secure the coveted athletes still available. Some remaining slots in this year’s recruiting class may not be known until next Wednesday as the letters of intent are faxed into the Casanova Center.
With a 75-68 comeback victory against UCLA on Saturday, Dana Altman’s Ducks (16-5, 6-2) sit alongside California in a first place PAC-12 tie. I’m still not completely sold on Altman’s “wow-factor” as a coach, but none can deny that he’s getting results from a patchwork squad made up of transfers and cast-offs. In his second season, the Ducks’ success on the hardwood is finally paying dividends in attention from recruits. In Altman’s first two recruiting classes he has managed to gain commitments from highly-rated talent as well as acquire quality transfers, when unfortunately players decided to prematurely leave the program.
Last week, Findlay Prep’s (Nevada) Anthony Bennett whittled down his program choices and kept Oregon in the mix among his finalists for his 6’8 low-post athleticism. Oregon already has a commitment from Bennett’s prep teammate, 4-star point guard Dominic Artis. However, coming out of thin air on the recruiting trail is a third Findlay starter, small forward Winston Shepard. Rated as a 4-star prospect and 10th overall at his position nationally, Shepard is a shifty passer who can get to the rim and create his own shot.
The trio of Shepard, Artis, and Bennett has elevated Findlay to a #2 ranking in the Powerade FAB-50 and recently generated tremendous hype in a win last Wednesday against cross-city rival and Oregon signee Ben Carter’s Bishop Gorman High.