Blame It on Marcus Mariota

There are some things that everybody who has anything to do with athletics should learn, and this holds true for athletes, coaches, friends, family and fans. Two of these things are winning with grace and losing with grace.

The Ducks won this weekend, taking down Colorado, 41-24. The win was a relief after the previous week’s drubbing from Utah, but for many fans it still just wasn’t good enough — and they are letting the world know by disrespecting both Colorado and their own team — the Oregon Ducks.

There are at least two kinds of disrespect — trash talking that is for better or worse part of the game, and true disrespect. Sometimes true disrespect is deserved — Steve Sarkisian’s drunken rant comes to mind — but it really does behoove us to think twice before heaping it on our own program, and this is the subject of this week’s Three-and-Out.

1. What do you hope to gain? If you are calling for the head of one or more Oregon coaches, humor me with one minor concession: Coaches who take their team to the National Championship Game and produce a Heisman winner don’t get fired in the middle of the next season because they only started out 3-2.

Mark Helfrich is 23-6 as a head coach and has two bowl wins to his credit.

Kevin Cline

Mark Helfrich is 23-6 as a head coach and has two bowl wins to his credit.

No, it does not happen. Never — unless a coach does something absolutely bizarre and probably immoral on top of it.

Taking recruits to a strip club, being pulled over for drunk driving with a car full of underage co-eds — that sort of thing would probably get the job done. Starting the season 3-2 — no. No program in the country would fire a single coach for that.

Taking a team to the National Championship Game and ending the last season ranked second in the country buys a coaching staff some slack.

So please ask yourself what you — as a fan — hope to gain by calling for a coach’s head at this point. One of the elements of Oregon’s success is continuity of the coaching staff.

Throw it away because of a 3-2 start — or even because of an entire off year following a peak year like last year? Who would you find to hire? Who would want the job, knowing that there is no tolerance for so much as one less-than-championship season?

Consider also that if you are calling for coaches’ heads — essentially telling the world that Oregon’s coaches are no good — how does this affect recruiting? Hopefully not at all, because recruits don’t see the world the way you do.

But under no conditions are your actions helping recruiting, which is the future of the program. So if you want a bright future, the best you can hope for is that nobody takes you seriously.

The only benefit I can see that anyone calling for coaches’ heads at this point is gaining the belief that they know what is best for the program, that they can say, “I told you so,” if the program falls into fail mode.

Unfortunately, they can also take some joy in knowing that they helped make it happen by casting the negativity. That is not what good fans do.

2. Trust in the program. At this point last year the program was in a mess. The Ducks had barely beaten Washington State and had just lost to Arizona to stand at 4-1. This was with the eventual Heisman winner at quarterback and a strong, experienced defensive secondary.

Fans were up in arms.

But a funny thing happened. Injured players started returning to the lineup and the coaches shored up weaknesses. The coaching staff did a remarkable job of working through injuries to get the team to the National Championship Game. But hey, forget that. What have they done for you lately?

Don Pellum coached one of the Pac-12s best scoring defenses as recently as last year.

Craig Strobeck

Don Pellum coached one of the Pac-12s best scoring defenses as recently as last year.

This year the Ducks have started out at 3-2, with a third-string walk-on at quarterback and a young, inexperienced secondary. Record-wise, the difference between this year’s start and last year’s is Michigan State on the road instead of at home.

To what degree the coaches turn the program toward excellence this year remains to be seen. I am frankly impressed with what they are getting out of Taylor Alie, a walk-on QB who nobody wanted.

It looks to me that the coaches are coaching him up pretty good, so if you really must blame somebody for Oregon’s predicament, maybe you should blame Marcus Mariota. After all, if he hadn’t been hogging the starting QB role for three years, who knows what recruits might have seen Oregon as a better opportunity?

The coaches understand that winning is expected at Oregon, and the powers-that-be understand that Heisman winners and trips to the National Championship Game are not going to come around every year. The coaches are not going to get dumped because of a couple of down games, a down season, or maybe even two or three down seasons.

At some point, enough losing would put the coaches’ jobs at risk. But because of a 3-2 start the year after taking a team to the National Championship Game and producing a Heisman winner? No. And if you think otherwise it is time to stop being delusional.

3. Respect yourself. As I said, one thing everybody who has anything to do with sports should learn is how to lose with grace. Take the bitter with the sweet without getting all up in arms. If you want to see how you are coming across to the national media when you call for canning the coaching staff, click here and ESPN’s Ted Miller will tell you all about it.

Loyalty based on winning or else is not loyalty at all.

Gary Breedlove

Loyalty based on winning or else is not loyalty at all.

So if you are putting it out there that Oregon’s coaches are just inept and should be fired — even though they have made their contribution to an FBS-leading seven straight double digit winning seasons — then do yourself a favor and keep it to yourself.

I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but you’re not making yourself — or the Oregon fan base — look good.

We all want the Ducks to win, and when they don’t we would all like to do our part to reverse the fortunes. Unfortunately, as fans there’s a real limit to what we can do, and this is frustrating.

Lashing out at coaches who have earned some slack is not losing with grace. And a 3-2 start is hardly the acme of losing to start with.

Here are some high school kids who have it figured out way better than a lot of Duck fans.

Turning on your coaches and team — or anybody — the instant something goes wrong lacks loyalty, and loyalty is a worthwhile quality to hang onto. Be true to your school.

Top photo by Kevin Cline

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Mike Merrell

Mike Merrell

Mike (Editor-in-Chief) is a 1970 graduate of the University of Oregon where he attended the Honors College and received all-conference honors as a swimmer. After college, Mike ran for the Oregon Track Club and narrowly missed qualifying for the US Olympic Trials in the marathon. He continues his involvement in sports with near-daily swimming or running workouts, occasional masters swim competition (where he has received two Top-10 World rankings), providing volunteer coaching to local triathletes and helping out with Mike lives on 28 acres in the forest near Sandpoint, Idaho, where he has served as a certified public accountant for most of his working career. His current night job is writing novels about Abby Westminster, the only known illegitimate daughter of Britain's finest secret agent who has to bring down arch-villains plotting dastardly deeds. And, yes, Abby is also a DUCK!

  • Dfb

    Losing by 42 at home in a game you were favored, especially a season after a National Championship game, will never produce rational responses from a fan base. Fans were embarrassed by a national TV meltdown and there is no way to mitigate that.
    But the university is also responsible to a degree. They have raised ticket prices to such a degree that the average fan can’t afford to go to a game because they need to compete with the Alabamas and Ohio States of the world. Well that means you can’t lose by 42 at home on national TV….

    • Mike Merrell

      Dfb –

      Thanks for reading and commenting. Yes, that Utah game was a debacle not seen in recent history. It was personally rough on me — drove 550 miles the day before to see the game, suffered through it, happened to be walking by the Oregon coaches’ booth in the press box section and just happened to be the only one there when Don Pellum came out. Then I suffered through six Utah players gushing at the post-game press conference before staying up until 1:30 getting a story written — and then driving home 550 miles the next day. I understand pain.

      The issue of ticket prices and live viewing experience vs. television will certainly be an issue for time to come. When I was at Oregon it was free student seating all the way to the west 45.

      There is no denying that the Ducks fell into a hole against Utah. The coaches know it is their responsibility to get the team out of that hole — and one of the things I like about this group of coaches is that they accept this and act rationally. Not all coaches do; e.g., Jim Mora. Certainly they have an emotional reaction — I saw this first hand on Don Pellum’s face. They face the situation from the perspective that they are going to do everything within their power to fix it.

      I would prefer to see the fans take as high road approach as the coaches. First — show a little gratitude and loyalty to these guys who treated you to a trip to the National Championship Game last year. Second, recognize that they are going to be here for the rest of the season doing their best to make the Ducks the best team it can be, while working on next year’s recruiting class. Third — don’t work against them by throwing rocks — undermining recruiting and creating a dismal national reputation for Oregon fans, as pointed out by Ted Miller. If you haven’t, hit the link to his article. His portrayal of Oregon fans is not flattering.

      The coaches don’t want to lose. The A.D. doesn’t want to lose. Phil Knight doesn’t want to lose. If the coaches put together a long losing streak, like everybody else in the profession they will be gone. Their longest losing streak so far stands at one game. That’s why Ted Miller says the thing he says about a certain group of Oregon fans. Avoiding this sort of national reputation is the one thing that we fans can do anything about, so let’s do it!

  • Dfb

    I am not a Johnny-come-lately as a Duck fan. My parents took me to my first game as a baby when the Ducks still played at Hayward Field for football and Bob Berry was QB. I was at Autzen for the infamous 5-0 loss to San Jose St.
    But if the university is going to treat fans as an income production then fans will reciprocate by treating the team as simple win producers. It’s pretty hard to be loyal to a team when they won’t even allow longtime fans to watch a practice….unless of course you’re rich and can buy access.

    • Mike Merrell

      As an Oregon letterman in a sport (swimming) that the University can no longer afford to support, I share your disdain for the degree to which college athletics has gone from providing opportunities to develop excellence to being married to big business. That is an issue much bigger than Oregon — really, getting down to the core of modern American values — and we all have to make up our minds, consciously or unconsciously, where we stand on the issue and what, if anything, we are going to do about it.

      I just don’t really see how beating up on your home team for not winning enough is going to lead toward a solution.

  • Anthony Joseph Gomes

    the loss to utah by 42 was ONE loss….just that………..ONE LOSS. the reason the game got that far out of control was bad luck to some degree and maybe the fact that utah is better than anyone thought.

    there will always be an element of the media that will use any excuse to say the ducks are finished. if they win by 50 they should have won by 55. i have been hearing this kind of crap for the last 10 years so you can imagine how gleeful certain elements of the media were when the ducks lost a game by a lot of points.

    the biggest fixable problem the ducks have is helfrich and frost do not do a good job of in game play selection…but they did better against colorado..especially in the second half. its like…first and 10…ok i know royce is going to run into the pile….now second and 10…..they dont trust lockie to throw to the center of the field so they will try a short ball to get close for a third down try….chip used the whole playbook and helfrich needs to do that too if the ducks are going to win the tough ones.

  • Scott Million

    Say what you will, but players giving up the way they did vs. Utah was a coaching issue. You just don’t let your boys throw the towel in like that. That aside, I respect what Mark has done and hope he figures out the next steps for Oregon. Leadership on both sides of the ball seem to be void at present, though it was nice to see Oregon go back to the think tank and generate the innovation @ Colorado that we saw almost every game during Chip’s reign. I’ve been going to games since I was 7 so I’m not on (or off) the bandwagon no matter what happens. I was hoping Oregon would remain a top 25 team program (doesn’t have to be top 5 every year lol), but perhaps that was just wishful thinking in a special era. Fact is, the spread’s super common now and teams are prepped for it. What made Oregon special was its speed and execution and they just don’t have the right guy for that at present (or perhaps injured or to be developed). You can see now how important those milliseconds were (and ball placement) that we took for granted during Mariota’s reign. Can the Ducks rebound this year? Probably not. At least, not to a team we’ve seen in the last six years. I’ll be happy with a 6 win season with what they’re about to face as long as the defense grows. It’s gonna be a rough one, fans, but perhaps this is the kind of season Oregon needs to move forward. A little humility to realize what needs to be worked on. Go Ducks!