A Real Casanova — Looking Back at One of Oregon’s Greatest Ducks

Len Cas

Set the way-back machine to 1951 and get your DeLoreans up to 88 MPH. We’re going back to look at a famous Duck from Oregon‘s rich history. While Oregon has had many great coaches over the years, I think we can all agree that the coolest name of them all belongs to Len Casanova. Known as Cas to his friends, he was the head coach of our Oregon Ducks for 16 years (1951-1966) and athletic director for four (1967-1970).

One of the legends of Oregon Football.


One of the legends of Oregon Football.

Before the 1950 season, Casanova was the head coach of his alma mater, Santa Clara, for four seasons. Despite Santa Clara being an absolutely tiny school, Casanova was able to lead them to an Orange Bowl upset of Bear Bryant‘s Kentucky Wildcats. This was Casanova’s last season in Santa Clara, as the tiny college’s football program became a victim of cost cutting measures.

But because of his success at Santa Clara, Casanova was able to get the head coaching job at the University of Pittsburgh. However, after just one year at Pitt, Casanova found himself missing the west coast, which led him to leave Pitt and accept the head coaching job at Oregon.

Despite having some good players, including phenom QB/DB George Shaw — a future 1st-round pick in the NFL – Casanova won only two games in his first two seasons in Eugene. Casanova upgraded from terrible to mediocre in his third season at Oregon, going 4-5-1.

In 1955, Casanova and his Ducks looked to be off to a great start – 5-1 in their first 6 games. Unfortunately, they then went on a three-game losing streak, which led some obviously disgusted students to hang Casanova in effigy prior to the last game of the season. The 5-4 record added further fuel to the already blazing inferno leading up to the Civil War game against Oregon State. However, Casanova secured his first winning season by triumphing over the hated Beavers in a 28-0 blowout.

The Casanova Center

FishDuck Staff

The Casanova Center

Casanova reached the peak of his career as Oregon’s head coach in 1957, going 6-2 in the Pac-8 and 7-4 overall. Oregon also clinched a berth in the Rose Bowl against the No. 1-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes, benefiting from the “no-repeat rule” preventing Oregon State (who were also 6-2 in the conference and had a better overall record) from playing in the Rose Bowl two years in a row.

In the game, Oregon did something that no one expected — they kept the game close. Going into the game as two-touchdown underdogs, the fact that Oregon kept the game tied through three quarters was amazing to most. In the end, the Ducks lost to the Buckeyes by a single field goal, 10-7.

After retiring from his largely successful career as Oregon’s head coach in 1966, Casanova spent four years as Oregon’s athletic director. During this period the now-iconic Autzen Stadium was constructed. Even though he stepped down as the athletic director in 1970, Casanova’s presence was still very much a part of Oregon football.

A large number of Oregon’s current athletic facilities owe their existence to the fundraising and projects led by Casanova. For this reason, Oregon’s new athletic department complex was christened the Len Casanova Center in 1991. Also, the Len Casanova Award is given to the best freshman or other newcomer on the Oregon football team.

While Casanova may not be Chip Kelly,Chip Kelly might not have been Chip Kelly without Casanova

Kevin Cline

While Casanova may not be Chip Kelly, Chip Kelly might not have been Chip Kelly without Casanova.

Along with being a presence at Oregon, Casanova was also a force in the NCAA at large, serving from 1969 through 1973 on the NCAA football rules committee. For his success as a coach and athletic director, Casanova was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1977, cementing his legacy as one of the game’s all-time greats.

While he never won a Rose Bowl or went to a national championship, Casanova is one of the greatest Oregon coaches of all time. Without him, the modern Oregon Ducks program as we know it would likely not exist.

It is fitting that his name is kept alive by the Casanova Center, because he is truly the bedrock upon which every subsequent coach and athletic director has built upon. And while he did not have the success of Chip Kelly or Mark Helfrich, Casanova is well worth remembering for building the foundation that allowed Kelly and Helfrich to be successful.Libby Tales from Sidelines

Top Photo from John Giustina

Article Inspiration from Tales from the Oregon Ducks Sideline by Brian Libby (Order one for a gift here)

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Noah Smith

Noah Smith

Noah is an undergraduate student from just outside of New Orleans, Louisiana. Noah is currently pursuing a communications degree with the goal of becoming a sports journalist. Noah is a die hard Duck fan, mainly because of his obsession with football's X's and O's. In his free time he enjoys watching both pro and college football games,playing and listening to music, and drawing up his own playbooks.

  • Michael Oaks

    I remember those teams under the coaching of Len Casanova. What a great coach he was. I listened to the Cotton Bowl in 1948 and a full 10 years later we were privy to be able to watch the “Green Machine from Eugene” go up against mighty Woody Hayes Ohio State Buckeyes. We didn’t expect the ducks to win, but the more the game advanced into the fourth quarter, we were all pretty giddy. Ron Stover played the game of his life, and Jack Crabtree our QB was the best QB on the field.

    We had players like Jim Shanley from Marshfield I believe, Jack Morris from Medford who spent a stint in the Korean War and was into his 20’s age wise. That Rose Bowl Game left all ducks with a sense of pride never before felt as our gallant ducks actually played Ohio State even up until the last of the Fourth when a field goal won it for them. BUT! for the first time in the history of the Rose Bowl, the losing QB won the most valuable player award and it was well deserved. His receivers were catching everything thrown their way. Many times Stover would catch the ball only to be immediately submarined, rear end over tea kettle, but amazingly he held on to the ball. Shanley and Morris were more than the equal to those Ohio State backs. Yes sir: It was the most exciting and meaningful game I can remember watching on my little 12 inch black and white.GE television . Thanks for the memories.

  • worldwidewebfoot

    On top of all of Len Casanova’s football and character talents, his beautiful daughter Andrea was a cheerleader at South Eugene High School. Bella questa Italiana!

  • Rick

    My dad and “Cas” were personal friends and I was fortunate to be able to spend some time with him at various get-togethers when I was in grade school and high school. I remember being instantly impressed by him – by his commanding presence and at the same, his time low-key and friendly demeanor. Clearly a man of integrity and high character. I always looked forward to being around him.

    One of the memories I have of the 1958 Rose Bowl, is about Ron Stover. We lived across the street from campus back then and Ron would come over and have dinner with us periodically – and always treated me like a younger brother, so I became a huge fan. I listened to the 1958 Rose Bowl on the radio and can remember doing so like it was yesterday. Ron (who was a tight end) made multiple catches that day … mostly on slant passes across the middle and most in critical 3rd down situations. As indicated in the post by M. Oaks, Ron got rocked hard after every catch. Late in the game with Oregon driving deep into Buckeye territory, Ron finally fumbled one of those slant passes and it was recovered by Ohio State.

    I also can still recall many of the players from that team – Stover, Crabtree, and Morris (who also ran track – 110 hurdles I think, and I can still remember him being partially bald and always smiling when he ran – I was told Bowerman told him to do that),