That is a note scribbled in the margins of what became Bill Walsh’s book Finding the Winning Edge. ESPN the Magazine recently examined the impact of that book on current football coaches. The most interesting quote from the Mark Helfrich introductory press conference was this: “We will attack in all phases. We will embrace innovation. And we will strive our best to win each and every day.” In the “Win The Day” era, Oregon became recognized for the flash of their uniforms and the success of their offense. There is a depth beyond the glam of points and apple green jerseys.
The Ducks have a philosophy of putting pressure on your opponent on offense, defense and special teams. That “WTD” message doesn’t die outside the gridiron. Watch the Ducks leave the field in the pregame; they do so in numerical order. The players fall into those numeric columns effortlessly. Their commitment to their philosophy is expressed by the teams willingness to adopt the coaches message.
Oregon has a plan — that is to be the most creative attack-minded team in the country. But everyone has a plan, everyone has a belief. Former Colorado Coach Jon Embree said: “Never underestimate the heart of a Buffalo.” He was teary eyed and speaking after his team’s only win of the 2012 Season. The point is, Embree believed in what they were building at Colorado. Unfortunately, his belief developed into a record of 4-21 over the course of 2 seasons. While much has been made about Oregon’s Win The Day approach, the reality is the players make the difference. That difference is developed not by recruiting the top players or highest rated players, but by recruiting and developing players who best fit the needs of their program.
The archetype for this is, obviously, Alabama. Nick Saban essentially gets to choose the 20-25 players who will be scholarship members of the Crimson Tide. In the last 5 years, their recruiting classes have ranked #4, #7, #2 and # 8 according to Scout.com’s Team Rankings. Additionally, the 2012 Alabama roster featured 49 players from the state of Alabama. Alabama finishes 13th in production of NFL players. Alabama isn’t trying to be the best team in February. They are building a program that compete for the national title every year. Their roster seems to imply that Saban realizes sometimes a 4-start kid from Mobile can be a more productive of the Crimson Tide than a 5-Star kid from Houston.
As the experts love to say, recruiting is an inexact science. Apply science to any industry, and the title becomes more venerable; boxing isn’t people getting punched — it is the sweet science. Recruiting analysis isn’t basing projections on YouTube clips; it is an inexact science. A school can improve their chances by being consistent with the approach, and the application of the philosophy of their program. Oregon, in my opinion, has developed just such a strategy of finding “Oregon Guys.” Much has been made of the 2 -star success stories Marcus Mariota and Patrick Chung, or former 3-Star defensive back recruit Jeff Maehl. To drill this down, I wanted to look specifically at Oregon recruiting in the State of Texas.
Texas produces the 2nd most; California is #1, in terms of NFL talent of any state. According to ESPN the Magazine, over the last 5 years there have been 137 ESPN Top 150 kids from Texas. 52 of that 137 have gone on to accept scholarships from the University of Texas. That is a nearly 40% success rate in one of the most competitive states in the country. Mack Brown and his staff typically accept verbal commitments from the top juniors as early as February. For the class of 2013, Texas had seven verbal commitments by March of 2012. The point is, the Longhorns get the cream of the Texas crop.
Oregon has had some well publicized recruiting in Texas . LaMichael James, Darron Thomas, and Josh Huff have all came to Eugene and produced in significant ways. On the other hand, Lache Seastrunk, Anthony Wallace and Tra Carson have decided the Oregon rain is just too much to overcome. Yet all three have been photographed flashing the Hook’em Horns hand sign. University Texas Football has become a symbol of pride for all citizens of the Lone Star State. Neither James, Thomas nor Huff were offered scholarships to the University of Texas.
One could argue that inability to get the top end recruits from Texas forces the Ducks to take the 5’9” James instead of the 4-Star Jeremy Hills. Conversely, you could argue that Texas hasn’t done enough scouting. They haven’t used their sizeable in state advantage to their own benefit.
Oregon finished with a class of 19 kids, and a class ranking between 16-26 based on the service you follow. Most of those kids won’t show on field results until 2015-16. The class resembles most of those from the “WTD” era: the top kid from the state of Oregon, a set of twins, tall defensive linemen and tons of speed. Hopefully the continued commitment to recruiting the right guys will be delivered in another trip to a three-letter bowl, and double digit wins. The ability to express your philosophy through actions — not words — is a marker of success. The Ducks have used their commitment to attack to attract kids from across the country. The coaching staff find themselves in the enviable position of being able to go into living rooms comfortable and confident in their message
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