Oregon Football Recruiting Manifesto: What Happened in 2012-2013?

This multi-week series will attempt to take a reasonable, logical and unbiased look at Oregon’s recent recruiting successes and failures while analyzing the program’s recruiting philosophy under Chip Kelly.  The series will then look at how that philosophy already has and may continue to evolve under Mark Helfrich before ending with a detailed breakdown of the author’s ideal recruiting blueprint.

Most veteran followers of Oregon football recruiting will tell you that the 2013 cycle was the strangest and most confusing that they’ve ever witnessed.  In an age with more recruiting coverage than ever before (Oregon football has four dedicated recruiting websites), it’s an oddity that the strategic waters were so muddy last year.  Some claim that the coaches have no desire to unveil their philosophies, but when there’s so much access to the recruits themselves – who can give first-hand accounts of their interactions with coaches – a staff’s strategic vision usually becomes clear over time.  This past year, that was not the case.

Usually, when it comes to Oregon recruiting debates, of which there are many, there are two distinct positions.  But ask the question, “What happened last year?” in any Oregon recruiting forum and you’ll notice that there aren’t two such positions; there are 50.  Why is that?  Well, basically, no one really knows; and given the multitude of information available, that’s incredible.  The next couple of articles in this series will contain an analysis of what exactly happened and look at many of the different possibilities.  This article isn’t about what we don’t know, however. This article is about what we do know; what actually happened in the 2013 cycle.

In the spring of 2012, the Oregon program was flying high.  Coming off of a National Championship appearance and Rose Bowl victory in consecutive years, the Ducks were arguably the hottest program in the nation.  Combine that success with being the country’s “sexiest” team and you’ve got the attention of the majority of elite high-school football players.  Whether it was the Nike connection, the beautifully flashy uniforms or the most explosive offense in college football, it seemed like every recruit loved something about Oregon.

In recruiting circles, most fans were very excited.  Oregon had never garnered so much attention from so many blue chip recruits.  At the same time, veterans of the recruiting game – let’s call them “rec-heads” for simplicity’s sake – were tempering expectations by reminding everyone that the most important factors contributing to recruiting success (location, tradition, and NFL talent production) weren’t in Oregon’s favor, no matter how sexy the program.  Nonetheless, even the most hardened realists had trouble containing their excitement when it became apparent that a player by the name of Eddie Vanderdoes was leaning towards a commitment to Oregon.

Arik Armstead and Eddie Vanderdoes

Eddie Vanderdoes was a popular name on Oregon recruiting boards dating back to 2011, when the stud defensive tackle began talking about his serious interest in the program.  When a picture of Vanderdoes standing next to his close friend Arik Armstead at the latter’s announcement ceremony emerged, the internet almost broke.  Word started spreading that Vanderdoes and Armstead made a pact to play together.  Armstead told ESPN’s Brandon Oliver that no matter what happened, Vanderdoes would end up a Duck. When Vanderdoes visited Oregon for the 2012 Spring Game, many thought a commitment was imminent.  That commitment never came.

There were many theories as to why Vanderdoes and Oregon parted ways. Some said that it was because Chip Kelly wouldn’t let him play baseball. Others said that Jerry Azzinaro insisted on Vanderdoes playing nose tackle in Oregon’s defense, while Vanderdoes wanted to be a defensive end.  People even claimed that Vanderdoes didn’t want to play in a 3-4 defense.  Since signing day, more information has come out regarding why Vanderdoes chose to take his talents elsewhere; but when it all went down, there was a lot of misinformation.  Even people “in the know” couldn’t agree on what had happened.  Was it Vanderdoes who moved on or was it the coaches? Was the 3-4 defense really the problem or was it the position Azzinaro was asking Vanderdoes to play?  Why wouldn’t Chip Kelly let him play baseball? There were a lot of unanswered questions, and a lot of confusion.  ”Vander-gate”, as it has since been called, simply foreshadowed what was to come.

By late summer, Oregon fans were in good spirits.  Most had come to terms with the commitment Eddie Vanderdoes had made to USC in early July.  A promising season was on the horizon, and commitments from high profile players like Thomas Tyner, Dontre Wilson, Evan Voeller and Darren Carrington had hopes for the 2013 class soaring.  There was a small minority of rec-heads, however, who were more than a little uneasy.

As spring turned to summer, it became apparent to most rec-heads that much of the interest Oregon was receiving early on had waned.  The reason?  Oregon coaches simply weren’t showing interest in very many prospects.  There were countless debates about why that was.  Some claimed that the coaches were simply taking their time with player evaluations.  Others said that the staff was focused on the season ahead, not recruiting.  A few even suggested that the coaches were lazy, if only to point out their own frustration with the significant number of elite players claiming they wanted to hear more from Oregon.  Regardless of why the staff chose to show interest in such a relatively small number of recruits, many with early interest had moved on by late summer.

*Note that the aim of this article is to look at what actually happened during the 2013 cycle, not to analyze.  The analysis will come in future articles.*

Once the season got going and it became clear that Oregon was, once again, a legitimate National Championship contender, it was a bit surprising to see recruiting remain so low key.  Compared to other PAC-12 programs like USC, UCLA and Washington, there weren’t many official visitors during the regular season, spanning from early September to early December, and only three commitments.  By mid-December, there was a lot of uncertainty.  Fans and recruits alike were unsure whether Chip Kelly would be back.  It was unclear how many relationships Oregon coaches had built and maintained.  Who would fill out the class?  Who was left on their big board?  Who did the coaches covet, if anyone?  High profile tier-1 players like Max Redfield and Gareon Conley, among others who had seemingly serious interest in the program, had been turned away.  Bridges had been burned.  Anyone who claims they had any idea what would happen in the ensuing months is lying.  No one had a clue.

Max Redfield

It was the 2nd week of January, and Oregon fans were holding their collective breath.  The Ducks had just come off of their fourth consecutive BCS bowl game appearance and a Fiesta Bowl victory, finishing the year with a #2 national ranking, tying the school’s highest ever.  Everyone was waiting to see what Chip Kelly would do.  Would he bolt for the NFL as expected or opt to, once again, stay at Oregon?  Despite the general consensus among the “experts”, Oregon fans held on to a slim thread of hope.  Singer and Eugene native Mat Kearney even made a song entitled “Chip Don’t Go”, which registered over 100,000 views on YouTube in 48 hours.  The song was so good that Chip decided to stay, to the elation of not only Duck fans, but also recruits across the country.

After such an odd year of recruiting, Chip Kelly’s flirtation with the NFL in early January changed expectations.  Instead of wanting that elusive “dream class”, rec-heads were just hoping to hang on to the players who’d already committed.  When it was announced that Kelly was staying at Oregon, commits voiced their pleasure and for the first time in a long time, there was a sense of recruiting stability.  In the eyes of many, Oregon was now playing with house money.  Any additional commits were just gravy, and all was well.  That was, until 10 days later.

When reports surfaced that Chip Kelly was heading to Philadelphia, the stability that had been present just a week earlier turned to utter chaos.  For that next week, it looked like Oregon’s 2013 class was going to fall apart.  With only a couple of weeks until National Signing Day, opposing coaches surrounded Oregon commits like a pack of hungry wolves.  Dontre Wilson, Darren Carrington and the Robinson twins all announced plans to visit a number of other schools, something that was particularly significant because this wasn’t allowed under Chip Kelly.  Recruits knew that the remaining Oregon staff was powerless to stop them.

The week following Chip’s surprise departure was a hard one for everyone connected to the program.  It was especially difficult for the coaches who were left to salvage the 2013 class.  No new head coach had been officially named.  No one really knew (and still doesn’t) what kind of impact Kelly’s departure would have on wins and losses.  How much of the culture would leave with Chip?  Would a #WTD attitude remain?  Would Oregon remain among the nation’s elite programs?  For a long, mission-critical week, Oregon was a program without an identity.

The day that Mark Helfrich was announced as the new Head Coach changed everything.  He assured everyone that the Oregon football program was never about one man.  He let people know that almost everything would remain the same.  He answered questions with a poise and confidence that reassured many.  He also let everyone know that his immediate priority was putting together a solid 2013 class.  After his introductory press conference was over, Helfrich immediately embarked on a legendary recruiting road-trip that will forever mark the first chapter of his legacy as an Oregon head coach.

Instead of going on the defensive, Helfrich and his coaches did what Oregon does best: attack.  Helfrich took a group of seven coaches around the country, visiting Oregon commits and assuring them that the program remained, that it was never about Chip Kelly, but about Oregon football.  The national tour was a huge success.  Darren Carrington, the Robinson twins, and Thomas Tyner all stuck with Oregon.  Under Helfrich, the staff was able to keep the entire class together; with one major exception: Dontre Wilson.

Dontre Wilson

Losing Wilson hurt.  He had been committed since the prior spring and by all accounts, was a truly special player, a perfect fit for Oregon’s offense. Ultimately, Urban Meyer and Ohio State were able to flip the talented running back at the 11th hour, despite a steady stream of quotes from his father that he was “all Duck.”  Helfrich and company did a good job of re-recruiting him after Chip’s departure, and Wilson’s relationship with RB coach Gary Campbell was unparalleled, but it wasn’t enough.  Urban Meyer was too good and proved, once again, that he’s one of the best recruiters in college football, at Oregon’s expense.

With Wilson in the rear-view, National Signing Day arrived.  After holding Oregon’s class together, Helfrich and company were able to pick up huge commitments from tier-1 offensive lineman Cameron Hunt and tier-1 OLB/DE hybrid Torrodney Prevot, who picked Oregon over USC, a school he’d been committed to for months.  Oregon also signed tier-1 receiver Devon Allen, who was actually glad Chip Kelly left because it meant getting a scholarship offer.  Being able to keep the pre-departure class together AND add a few more significant pieces was Helrich’s first big win as a head coach. Fans and media heaped praises on Helfrich and his staff for the class they were ultimately able to land in the wake of the Chip Kelly situation.

Looking at the final recruiting rankings, Oregon finished 16th on 247 sports, 17th on Scout and 22nd on Rivals. Using the tier-system created a couple of years ago, here’s a look at Oregon’s class:

Tier E: Thomas Tyner RB

Tier 1: Darren Carrington WR

Torrodney Prevot

Tier 1: Devon Allen WR

Tier 1: Evan Voeller OL

Tier 1: Cameron Hunt OL

Tier 1: Torrodney Prevot DE

Tier 1: Tyrell Robinson LB

Tier 1: Danny Mattingly LB

Tier 1: Tyree Robinson DB

Tier 2: Johnny Mundt TE

The Robinson Twins

Tier 2: Chris Seisay DB

Tier 3: Juwaan Williams DB

Tier 3: Damion Hobbs QB

Tier 3: Kani Benoit RB

Tier 3: Doug Brenner OL

Tier 3: Elijah George OL

Tier 3: Jake Pisarcik OL

Tier 3: Matt Wogan K

It’s hard to find a fan who wasn’t happy with how the class turned out.  Whether it (and future classes) would have been better or worse had Chip Kelly remained is an interesting debate and this series will look at the philosophical differences between Helfrich and him in regard to recruiting.  Next week, however, Part 2 of this manifesto will look at what went wrong during the 2013 cycle and attempt to uncover why.

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Chris Charbonnier

Chris Charbonnier

Chris was born in Montevideo, Uruguay, but made his way to Oregon by the age of five, when he attended his first game at Autzen Stadium. A huge sports fan at a young age, Chris grew up playing football, basketball and golf. Although realizing he isn’t likely to play in the NFL or NBA, Chris still holds on to hopes of being a professional golfer should his unfortunate putting woes take a turn for the better. A bit of a platypus, he attended both Oregon State and Oregon during his collegiate days where he earned a business degree in Finance and Business Administration. Chris works for Daimler Trucks North America in Portland, and plans to get his MBA from the University of Oregon.Chris has been an active member in the recruiting community since 2005. He studies the intricacies of recruiting and is particularly intrigued by talent evaluation techniques. He is currently working on developing his own scouting reports for every scholarship player on the UO roster. Chris lives with his wife, Katrina, and his two-year-old son Lucas (a future dual-threat QB).

  • Loberg

    Great article. Some great information for those of us who aren’t insiders.

  • Charbcity

    Quality article. Fantastic material for anyone who isn’t involved in this whole process.

    • Chris Charbonnier

      Thanks bro!

  • RDuck

    Extremely interesting, Chris. This is a topic that is very interesting to most Duck fans. I will also be interested to hear of things that went wrong in the recruiting process, and of philisophical differences between Coach H. & Coach Kelly… both topics that you already plan to cover.

  • Zach

    Wogan is a tier 1 if not elite. Rating is way too low, I know he is a kicker, but those guys can be kinda important don’t you think?

    • Zach

      other than that, good recap of this past recruiting cycle.

    • Chris Charbonnier

      Keep in mind that the tier system is based on actual recruiting rankings not my own opinion. I actually agree with you; I don’t see why the best kickers shouldn’t be 4-stars.

    • Nate

      Kickers are never ranked high by scouting services. It’s not like the nation’s best kicker is a 5-star and then it cascades down. They’re usually ranked much lower, an exceptional kicker coming out of HS is usually a 3- or 4-star.

  • http://Lbgtmsf.com Ted Werth

    A nice read. I’m looking forward to part 2.

  • http://www.facebook.com/doug.mai.3 Doug Mai

    This is just my opinion, and doesn’t really mean anything, or that I’ve known the Game of Football for 40 year’s. Thank you Chip Kelly, the record, recruiting Philosophy’s you name it. This propelled this program to great Height’s. The only problem’s I had that after you observe somebody and watch them for over 4 year’s you find out really, they can’t hide it, what type of person they are. Chip is NO different than Urban Meyer is when it come’s to being TWO FACE. He said No one person was above the Team, which evidently excluded him. From last year’s flirting with the NFL, to this Year’s Debacle of going to Philly, make’s me say this Chip thought it was all about him, and this is just one of the many reason’s why our recruiting was in a TAILSPIN. Me personally was ready for Marc Helfrich to take the Reign’s and get it to the next level, which is win the Title that Chip was unable to do. I’d say Marc pretty much bettered the Player’s that Chip would of finished with. We lost Wilson, but gained 3 really important good Football Player’s in the process. Azz is gone and some of you will disagree, but the Duck’s up graded the Coaching position by 100 fold with Coach Aiken. He’s a known recruiter who closes on good player’s something Azz was unable to do while here, and am glad he went with Chip. Duck’s got better not worse. Phil Knight is the NO. 1 reason why were at the level right now, not Chip, so think about it. Stability will continue now with a Coach that actually is more educated at most thing’s than Kelly, and will relate to Oregonian’s where Chip Alienated most people he dealt with. I can assuredly say this, the Duck’s will get that elusive Championship with Helfrich.

    • 510duck

      Uh oh, here comes the letter S! Better whip out the apostrophes!

      In all seriousness, we don’t know much about Helf. As soon as Chip got a hold of this program we shot up the college football ladder. Immediately. Now he’s gone, and we’re left with our offensive coordinator, who I’m cautiously optimistic about. And sorry, Chip did not “alienate most people he dealt with”. The players freakin’ loved him, and he them. Chip was just never a fan of the media BS, or stroking the boosters’ egos. Which is perfectly understandable, the guy just wanted to coach and win.

      “Stability will continue now with a Coach that actually is more educated at most thing’s than Kelly”-Really? What’s your basis for this? Chip is a football genius, every duck fan should know that.

      I do agree with you on Aiken, though. Having a former NFL D-Line coach will do wonders for recruiting. Great hire.

    • http://twitter.com/MiKirkham michael kirkham

      Spoken like a true honk. So let me get this straight… you’d trade in a coach that went to 4 straight BCS games, winning two of them, while having created a university wide culture so infamous that its blasted all over national TV; even in non football situations, for an Offensive coordinator with no head coaching experience just because you “think” he can take it to the next level? The next level being what exactly??? Alabama? News flash: Oregon is NOT Alabama.

      Don’t act spoiled. Think about what you are saying and don’t be the first person who wishes Kelly would come back if UO falls off to .500 again. Even tho you are probably that guy…

      • FishStaff

        Chip Kelly inherited a very good Oregon program. The Ducks experienced great success with him at the helm, but CK is hardly the only reason the Ducks experienced that success. The Ducks are unlikely to fall to .500 or under again anytime soon because the vast majority of the pieces in place when CK was here – coaches, facilities, Nike, a sellout fan base – are still here.

        Kelly may have been a hit with players, but players are not the only piece of an athletic organization. There is ample evidence pointing to the pieces that CK did alienate. Ask a booster how much they loved Chip. Don’t downplay boosters – they matter. As we’re going to find out in Chris’ series, Chip’s recruiting methods were often a double edged sword.

        I think that some of the replies to Doug don’t acknowledge Doug’s relief that the CK drama is over – and there is relief, because while CK has been the greatest Oregon coach we’ve had to date, he was never a Duck. Brooks? Duck. Bellotti? Duck? Kelly? Not a Duck.

        – Carl

    • dano

      first….please learn to spell
      second: now you hate chip because he left you, booo hoo.
      Chip wants a challenge, that is his prerogative, he does not owe duck fans anything. In real world terms, he worked for the company for six years, increased visibility, sales, success, culture….and now it’s time to move on. Don’t be a hater.

      • fishduck

        Look who the hater is. Nowadays, anyone who does not suck up to the complete Oregon line is a “hater” even if he speaks the truth as Chris is doing. I of all people can attest to how brilliant Chip is…but he is human and is not perfect.

        The girls around here should skip Chris’s article next week, as they are sure to get their skirts blown up.

  • Scott

    you need to get out of the house more…
    you should come over to my house for beer and pizza.

    • Chris Charbonnier

      I do need to get out of the house more and I happen to enjoy both of those things.

  • Defensive Duck

    Epic read, keep um comin!

  • http://www.facebook.com/michael.giambattista.7 Michael Giambattista

    Great article so far, and I am looking forward to reading the rest. Oregon is entering the great unknown.

    The truth is, nobody knows where this program will be this time next year. Personally, I don’t blame Chip one bit for leaving to coach at the highest level, and I got the impression that he was very thoughtful about everything he did. I think he assumed that the Philly job was off the table because they could not come to an agreement, but the Eagles came a-callin after they realized he was there guy, and offered him whatever it was that prohibited that deal from originally going forward

    As for the recruiting, I expect this seasons on the field performance will be key. If the Ducks can continue their success, without skipping a beat, the program will grow out of this sense of the “Chip Kelly” success, and become more of a “Oregon Program” success.

    I think Oregon has been great at recruiting. To many people count the number of stars next to Recruits names, but don’t stop and think about the type of player Oregon looks for, including character. Oregon has made a living off of top 15 recruiting, and while I would like to see that improve, the developement of the players, and team chemistry, and great coaching, will ultimately decide the Ducks fate…….