Scathing Coaches Comments: “… It is a lack of discipline …”

My friends, this article might be the most informative about the current situation of Oregon football as you will read, yet while I wish I could take credit, I cannot as it comes from those who are currently or have retired from being paid to coach football. My reaction and feelings were published yesterday and look to learn in this article from those who know a whole lot more than I about the game.  FishDuck

From the GOC: “The defense is still a mess, with no upside in sight.”  

The Grizzled Ol’ Coach, Mike Morris, started his thoughts with the quote above. He added that “… the addition of  Troy Dye and A. J. Hotchkins [to the defense] definitely helped – Dye a lot and Hotchkins a little. And Reggie Daniels was the best Duck on the field – when he played. Offensively, they also still have no consistent “identity” and both groups [the offense and defense] don’t know what to do when the going gets tough.”

“I can’t imagine ANYONE who thinks the Ducks are well coached. And too many of them [fans] get more joy out of pointing that out than they do watching a win.”

(FishDuck Note: Unfortunately, the coach can be upfront about many subjects and his observation of some Oregon fans does ring true. Ouch!)

From Ryan Mitchell: (former Oregon Safety) “We look good when we pay attention to detail.”

“First and foremost we should be 4-0 right now, and our loss to Nebraska was because of poor execution, and our loss to Colorado was not only because of poor execution, but our attitude at a pivotal moment in the game. So our issues are part players, and part coaches.

Former Oregon Safety, Ryan Mitchell.

Ryan Mitchell

Former Oregon safety, Ryan Mitchell.

“Defensively, we’re just not there yet. I like where we are headed, but this is a new philosophy and it will take time. We have some moments that show promise and some that don’t, and I’ll be excited to see us a play a complete game. But we probably won’t see that until we get the guys we need and that happens when we recruit the players we need. We look good when we pay attention to detail. That tells me that paying attention to detail and the little things are being taught, just not executed consistently throughout the game.

“We will get there though. I don’t have any issues with our staff, however, the only thing I wish we could’ve employed in the Colorado loss was a sense of urgency going into halftime. I think we felt they were just going to let the clock run out, and Colorado attacked us and we weren’t ready. (That to me was the difference in the game.) So if you combine a lack of urgency with poor execution, you get our scenario. We’re just not good enough to not show up on every play and be undisciplined.”

(FishDuck note: Some good kernels of truth being shared there that are both good and bad – I like it.)

From coach Ruskin Fiegenbaum: “Brady Hoke inherited a quagmire of a situation.”

“What stands out to me is Oregon’s defense cannot get off the field, as their third-down defense is 98th in the country in terms of third-down conversions and that is with playing two very bad teams. In 2015, their third-down defense finished the year 90th in the country, while in 2014 their third-down conversion rate was 75th and in Helfrich’s first year it was 72ndSince Helfrich has been the head coach in the 2013 season, the Ducks’ ability to get teams off the field has declined each year.

“In Chip Kelly’s four years the defense’s average finish was 42nd in the country while Helfrich’s three-plus seasons has been 83rd. (FishDuck note: the presence of Jerry Azzinaro, who came with Chip may have been a big part of that.)

Jerry Azzinaro

John Sperry

Jerry Azzinaro

“Now, the third-down conversions stat is not the end-all of all defensive statistics, but it is a great indicator of a defense. (After three-plus seasons, one can start to see trends.) The problem with the Ducks on the field is they do not have a style that they can hang their hat on. If its third-and-long, they play zone coverage and allow an easy dump off that requires them to tackle the ball carrier in space before he gets the first down. And then they often miss the tackle and the opponent picks up the long conversion.”

“When it’s a shorter third-down situation and Oregon plays man coverage and they are out of position a lot of times, thus this leads to either a completion or a frustrating penalty resulting in a first down.”

“The biggest problem to me is the tackling from the linebackers. Too many times they are missing tackles or getting dragged for yards after contact by the opponents.”

“Oregon’s defense is not playing consistently well, that is for sure – but they show glimpses. Great defenses are able to get a pass rush with just four rushers; I have seen Oregon get home [the sack] with four a couple of times, but again, it is inconsistent. If Oregon can get a pass rush with just four, it will help pass coverage tremendously since they can drop seven in coverage and still get pressure.

“I think Brady Hoke inherited a quagmire of a situation and is trying to get things turned around. The 2015 defense was one of the worst Power 5 defenses and that’s with a NFL first-round defensive lineman. I think it’s only fair to Hoke to give him at least one recruiting cycle, since the culture of defense has really slipped since Helfrich has been in charge.”

(FishDuck note: I did not know about the third-down conversion percentage declining like that – fascinating analysis.)

From coach Tom Kaspar: “Tackling, tackling, tackling …”

Was it Chip or Jerry?

Kevin Cline

Was it Chip or Jerry?

“The questions, [we all have] deal with symptoms of recruiting weaknesses that can’t be cured in the short term. Five RS frosh on the O-line is one example, while the most recent recruiting class had but two ESPN-500 players.” (The Chip Kelly norm was six or seven.)

“I see more pain ahead unless the current adversity can be used by coaches to build a brotherhood that plays for each other and to hell with the scoreboard.” 

(FishDuck note: Great observations in areas that we fans would not always think of.)

From Nigel Burton of the Pac-12 Network: “Those things [on defense] have got to get fixed or that thing is going to explode.”

Coach Nigel Burton played corner for the Huskies, was a Division 1 head coach, and was a defensive coordinator himself. I heard him speak at a Coaches Clinic, and he was very knowledgeable and charming, much as he comes across on television. He had some really interesting quotes in his video analysis below, including the title of the entire article. He starts by stating that …

“It is a difficult task – I have been there twice changing a defense from the 3-4 to a 4-3.”

His video below is only a little over two minutes, but it shows us a ton about the problems on defense. He is very clear how, in one example, Oregon had both the defensive tackle and defensive end on one side take the wrong gaps.

The University of Oregon athletic department cannot get annoyed with for publishing some negative when the worst of what I have, came from their own Pac-12 Network!


“I don’t know what is happening with this defense …”  

(FishDuck note: Wow.)

How interesting was all of that? I have never assembled an article quite like this, and appreciate the response from the coaches to my very-late-night email. I personally learned a bunch, and it is so fascinating to get the different perspectives from professionals in the game.

We got negative and positive, … despair – and hope. We read a complete gamut of opinions, and I hope you learned some things about football and not just Oregon, that will make us all better fans and enjoy our beloved Ducks and college football that much more.

Charles Fischer   (FishDuck)
College Football Analyst for
Eugene, Oregon

(P.S. Do check in Tuesday for a tasty play analysis of something I thought I would never see come out of the playbook again….)

Top Photo from Video

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Charles Fischer

Charles Fischer

Charles Fischer has been an intense fan of the Ducks for thirty years and has written reports on football boards for over a dozen years. Known as “FishDuck” on those boards, he is acknowledged for providing intense detail in his scrimmage reports and in his Xs and Os play analyses. He and his wife Lois, a daughter, Christine, and their dog (Abbie) reside in Eugene, Oregon, where he has been a financial advisor for 30 years serving clients in seven different states. He does not profess to be a coach or analyst, but simply a “hack” that enjoys sharing what he has learned and invites others to correct or add to this body of Oregon Football! See More...

  • douglas fur

    This reminds me of the political quandry of how to sustain a revolution. Overthrowing the old order and establisting the new is easier than sustaining revolutionary fervor in an established régime. The Oregon Way of treating each day as a fresh start with a 100% potential of greatness is hard to sustain as a day to day practice. There is an inherent contradiction when your tradition, a single path “this is the way we do things”, is a multiple path “we look at each day as a unique opportunity for creativity”.

    Turning over the defense seems a good start to restore the revolution.
    A contrarian example is Stanford’s model of sticking to the same game plan long enough that everyone else changes and you’re left looking revolutionary.


    • dreambeliever11

      Love your analogy Douglas, this is a valid point.

      • Brian Libby

        I love reading the rhetoric comparing Oregon’ predicament to that of political systems and nations — fun stuff to ponder. But think it’s too early to favor burning the house down on defense. By season’s end if we haven’t significantly improved, I’ll sign up for that revolution and it will be time to wipe the defensive coaching staff clean. But I think we’re going to see the Oregon defense get better this year, and I think Hoke can deliver the kind of defense we need in the future if we give him time. Firing the defensive staff just as their changes start to bear fruit would be a mistake typical to many college programs but hopefully won’t be with ours, especially given how we’ve had great success with favoring long-term stability with coaches.

    • A classic post for this site. Way to get us pondering Doug….interesting thoughts.

  • Brian Libby

    Although there is part of me that after Saturday’s loss felt we have to fire the entire defensive staff at season’s end and effectively burn the house down to start from scratch, after sleeping on it I think we just have to give this defense some time. Plenty of college football teams have real trouble transitioning from a 3-4 to a 4-3, and Hoke has shown himself to be an excellent recruiter in the past. The fate of the Ducks may get worse before it gets better. I see this defense only marginally improving in 2016, which could take us to a pretty dismal record, maybe even a losing season. Given the high number of key players we will lose to graduation, next season may also be sub-par. But I think it’s worth it to give Hoke a chance to recruit his kind of players, and to see if Helfrich can coach his way out of this. Maybe we’ll never have the same faith in Helfrich that we had in Chip Kelly, but the fact of the matter is that Helfich has matched Chip’s achievements step for step. National championship game appearance? Check. Rose Bowl win? Check. In fact, Helfrich’s tenure includes a Heisman and Chip’s doesn’t. We have to let this play out and give him our faith for the time being. If we don’t see real improvement and steps in the right direction by the end of next season, maybe it will be time for a change. But right now we need patience and a little intestinal fortitude as Oregon takes the long road back to greatness.

    • Boggs

      Of course there are two ways to interpret the fact that Helfrich had a Heisman. Either Helf played a role in Mariota’s development, or Helf’s regime was propped up by Mariota. I’m afraid it may be the latter.

      • Brian Libby

        I disagree with the notion of either-or here. Of course Helfrich was put in an ideal position taking over for Chip starting in 2013, with a team that had been to four straight January bowl games. And of course Helfrich recruited Mariota while Kelly was head coach. But Helfrich did something great with what he was given. If not for Mariota’s injury in 2013, Oregon would have been competing for the national championship. In 2014, we got to the title game and got that Heisman. In 2015, if not for Adams’s injuries we’d likely have won the Pac-12 and been in the playoff. You guys of course are correct that Helfrich inherited all the pieces, but he still had to coach the team to success. Kelly was on the other side of the country when that happened. And we can’t guarantee at all that Kelly, if he were Oregon’s coach and never gone to the NFL, would have done any better. There are ways that Kelly is better than Helfrich, but not in every area of coaching. It IS true that Kelly’s defenses were mostly mediocre while Helfrich’s are terrible, and that needs to be fixed. The problem, I think, is we’re in the process of a fix that won’t happen overnight. Eventually Oregon’s 4-3 defense will be better than it is now, and I still think it will be better than the 4-3 defenses we were playing. Helfrich has stumbled defensively, no question. But I respect the fact that he stumbled in part out of loyalty to Don Pellum. I think the pieces are in place now for improvement, but it may take longer than would be necessary to save this particular season.

        • Fantastic rational, reasonable commentary. This whole episode is making me rethink how I want to approach this over time.

          But I really like this kind of article with all the coaches.

    • Mike Green

      new coach had all his success with old coach’s players…

      for just one comparison: DAT vs Charles Nelson as a returner,
      only player better than Chip era is the field goal kicker

    • Well–I may change my thoughts about next year, as we return everybody on defense. (We have one senior, but he is “easily replaceable” and if Springs goes early–then he deserves the low draft pick he would be.

      On offense we know the RBs can do well, because they are now, and with an experienced offensive line, and more than enough wide-outs? We could be scoring a bunch.

      We just need a QB with game experience….. Hmmmm

  • Platypus

    Very good information from the coaches and Nigel. This year seems to be an exact copy of last year where the offense plays well enough to win each week but the defense lacks the ability to make just a couple of crucial stops when it’s needed. We aren’t talking about a massive improvement to turn this around just 2 more stops per game and the Ducks are sitting 4-0.
    I have to believe that Hoke and the other veteran D coaches are teaching the correct techniques but the players just don’t have the ‘Football IQ’ to put them to use. That could be the reason we are seeing so many freshmen playing over upper class-men…

    • Boy…I don’t know. Some of the stuff seems pretty simple to carry out, but there must be more to it than I/we know.

      If the offense can improve by two TDs a game, and the defense hold teams to 26 points a game…we could win games again.

      We have a lot of drama ahead of us!

    • douglas fur

      Re: football IQ. It falls on the coaches to assess their player’s abilities and teach to that level. If the learning doesn’t happen you can’t say that teaching happened.

  • Mile High Duck

    Great post, thanks for sharing. You’ve shown how this defense is struggling to make the transition from 3-4 to 4-3 and that is understandable. Watching the Pac-12 video shows its worse than that. I know players need to execute but if they don’t understand or simply know what their responsibility is then that has to be on the coaches. Chip once said he didn’t understand why coaches drew play diagrams at the end of a basketball game, if you don’t already know what you are doing then you’ve already lost.

    Now our offense…usually not the problem. Please, please, please tell me why that fade, that 50/50 jump ball is called (and BTW it’s only 50/50 when it’s a good throw) when in that situation. 50 seconds, 2 timeouts, down 3. Even if the Ducks scored on that pass you actually give CU time to score, they showed all day they could do just that. A couple years ago the Ducks through that same ridiculous pass to Braalon 5’10” Addison with the game on the line, and it failed too. I just can’t believe they called that play. Inexcusable. I like Helfrich and Lubick but with the TCU game and situations like the end of the CU game, I’m losing trust rapidly! It’s frustrating to lose like THIS.

    • Hey Mile High,

      You and I agree on the players not doing simple assignments–is on the defensive coaches.

      As for the fade….see my answer above. It would be an interesting game to have fans call the plays in advance or predict how a play will do–and get humbled as I have.

      We have a new OC….and there will be times he will be learning at our expense.

    • Michael Ostrom

      Mile high duck you are spot on about the fade route on first and goal. You RUN THE BALL on first and goal especially when time off the clock helps you if u don’t make it.
      That play call is almost as bad as passing the ball on the goal line with Marshawn lynch in the backfield.

  • Boggs

    If Reggie Daniels was the best Duck on the field, it will have been the first time ever. Go back and look at his coverage on the touchdown against him at Nebraska. It’s embarrassing.

    Fantastic article though.

    • Mike Green

      I also thought RD had a great game vs Colorado

      if you want to pick on a bad DB, just look at the tackles that Juwan Williams has missed

  • Mike Green

    I think Helf is a failure:

    recruiting is down, way down,
    worst roster of QBs in just about all of college football,
    getting outplayed just before half and after,
    going from NFL calibur D linemen and linebackers to worst in pac12,

    Ducks still have ‘gimmickie’ offense and crazy uniforms – what changed is that Chip, Azz, Frost, Allioti gone

    I cant bag on Hoke until he gets another season and recruits some of his players

    I wish for the days when Ducks ‘only’ give up 400 yds on defense

    • Damn…you are depressing even me! Below are two music videos that I love when I’m feeling blue…of course they make it worse, but they are really great tunes.

      All of this at… for free!

      • Mike Green

        I re-read my post from last week — yeah that post was very depressing

        maybe some of the younger players on the front 7 will emerge this season — all it takes is a Brandon Bair or Kenny Rowe type of player to start showing some passion

        problem is: the starters (except Dye) are all backup talent, not starting talent

        if Jelks comes back, that will be a big difference maker

  • Mike Green

    here is a sobering thought:

    the best 2 teams in pac12 just won very close victories against mediocre pac12 teams,

    so the rest of the pac12 schedule could potentially be all losses with the way the ducks are playing now

  • N1tr0

    Yes, this team has a lot of work to do but despite the struggles we could have still won both games if it wasn’t for the play calling. Who calls for a pass play on 1st and goal when you are down by just 3 and there is less than 1 minute on the game clock?!!!

    • N1tr0

      We could be 4-0 right now. Sure, we could on to lose 7-8 more games due to our issues but at least we know we called the right plays. Right now, we have crappy defense AND crappy play calling.

      • The real test for a fan is predict before the play whether it will work. You see…a properly thrown fade is a good play for Carrington, and if he scores-we cheer and never give it another thought.

        We only boo the ones that don’t work; I will not defend the coaches in a ton of areas, but play-calling is harder than it looks. We fans don’t know all the little components that make the decision, and sometimes the QB just messes up like we all do.

  • Michael Ostrom

    I see Vegas has the ducks a 2 point favorite against the cougs.
    Oregon was a 10 point favorite last week.
    I’m not sure what Vegas is seeing in Oregon.