Over the past several decades, Oregon has had a number of offensive coordinators with rates of success all over the board. Most of us are familiar with College Football Hall of Fame recent inductee Mike Bellotti, Chip Kelly and Mark Helfrich, who eventually became Oregon head coaches, and Jeff Tedford and Dirk Koetter, who left the Ducks to take over the reins at Cal and ASU, respectively.
But whatever happened to the others who left Oregon — sometimes voluntarily and sometimes involuntarily? Oregon did not officially designate one of its assistant coaches as offensive coordinator until 1973, the last year of Dick Enright’s tenure as head coach, when Jesse Branch became the Ducks’ first. An interesting character, he had been a halfback/defensive back for Arkansas in the early 1960s, being named to the All-Southwest Conference team, in 1962.
After Arkansas, he played three seasons for the Calgary Stampeders and Edmonton Eskimos. Following his playing career, he landed his first coaching job at Mississippi State, coaching running backs. After a single season there, he coached the Kansas State secondary for four seasons. The last season he also served as defensive coordinator.
Branch arrived in Eugene, in 1972, as secondary coach and defensive coordinator. After one season he moved to offensive coordinator for one season before returning to Kansas State. He then moved to Arkansas in 1975, where he served as an assistant coach and administrator. He later served as head coach at Missouri State University and Henderson State. Branch is a member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame and the Missouri State University Hall of Fame.
Next up was Joe Wade, who played for the Oregon State College Beavers in the late 1950s as a center/linebacker. After college, he had a long career coaching at the high school and junior college levels in Compton, California. Enright initially hired Wade in 1972 to coach the offensive guards and centers.
With the elevation of Don Read to head coach in 1974, Wade was named Oregon’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. He lasted one season and does not appear to have coached at any other major college after 1974. His son, Joe Wade, Jr., is the current running backs coach for Fresno State.
Wade was followed by Gene Dahlquist, who had been a quarterback and punter for Arizona in the early 1960s. After his collegiate career, Dahlquist played quarterback and punter for the Norfolk Neptunes of the Continental Football League. He started his college coaching career in 1968, as the offensive coordinator for Idaho State. After three years there, Dahlquist moved to Utah where he coached the receivers for three years.
Read hired Dahlquist in 1974 to coach Oregon’s wide receivers. With the departure of Wade, Dahlquist was elevated to offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach/wide receivers coach, where he served two seasons in that capacity. With the firing of Read following the 1976 season, Rich Brooks was hired as head coach.
Brooks brought in his own coaching staff, which meant Dahlquist was out of job. Dahlquist, however, landed on his feet, becoming the offensive coordinator for Boise State. During his tenure with the Broncos, they won an FCS championship. From Boise State, he moved on to offensive coordinator jobs at Iowa State, Illinois, Texas, and UNLV. Switching to the pros in 2001, Dahlquist took over the head coaching job with the Scottish Claymores of the NFL Europe League, a job he held for three seasons.
Following his stint in Scotland, he became a consultant, but, unable to resist the lure of coaching, he returned to the sidelines as the quarterback coach for the Omaha Nighthawks of the UFL, in 2012. Earlier this year, Dahlquist was named quarterback coach for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Brooks selected John Becker to be his first offensive coordinator. In 1977 and 1978, Becker also coached the quarterbacks and wide receivers. In 1979, he coached the running backs, while serving as offensive coordinator. Becker had started his college coaching career at UCLA in 1970, followed by stints at New Mexico and New Mexico State.
In 1974, he was hired as the head coach for Los Angeles Valley College. His success at Los Angeles Valley, along with the fact that he and Brooks had both been on the UCLA staff in 1970, is probably what led to Becker joining the Oregon staff.
The lure of professional football led Becker to leave Oregon following the 1979 season. His first pro coaching job was with the Philadelphia Eagles as the quarterbacks and wide receivers coach. He moved on to other franchises, including Buffalo, Indianapolis and Seattle, serving as offensive coordinator at the last two stops. Leaving the coaching ranks after the 1991 season, he moved to the front office of several franchises, most recently with the San Francisco 49ers.
Erik Widmark followed Becker. He had played wide receiver for Cal Western University in the late 1960s and began his coaching career as a graduate assistant for Cal Western, in 1970. He moved on to the University of San Diego for a year, before assuming the duties of offensive coordinator for Cal Poly, in 1973. Widmark was serving as the head coach of Pasadena City College, in 1978, when Brooks selected him to be his quarterbacks/wide receivers coach, in 1979.
With Becker’s departure, Widmark was promoted to offensive coordinator, a position he held for three seasons. After leaving the Ducks, Widmark worked in the NFL, most recently as the personnel director for the Arizona Cardinals. Since leaving that job, in 1994, he has been the Executive Director of the Grand Canyon State Games. An interesting tidbit is that Widmark’s son-in-law is former Duck offensive lineman Adam Snyder.
Widmark was the last Oregon assistant coach promoted from a position coach role to offensive coordinator until Scott Frost was promoted from wide receivers coach to offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2013. With Widmark’s departure, Brooks went outside the program and hired Bob Toledo, who had been a star quarterback for San Francisco State in 1966 and 1967.
Toledo’s first collegiate coaching job was at UC Riverside, in 1973, moving into the head coaching job in 1974. From there, he moved on to USC for three seasons, where he coached the secondary. In 1979, he was named the head coach at Pacific, a position he held for four seasons. That was followed by the Oregon job, one that he held through the 1988 season. During his last two seasons at Oregon, Toledo also served as assistant head coach.
Toledo is largely credited with the development of Chris Miller and Bill Musgrave, during Musgrave’s first two seasons. He left the Ducks for the offensive coordinator position with Texas A&M, followed by the same position at UCLA, where he was named head coach in 1996, a position he held until 2002.
After several years out of coaching, Toledo was hired as the offensive coordinator at New Mexico, followed a year later by the head coaching job at Tulane, which lasted for four seasons. More recently, Toledo was hired as the offensive coordinator at San Diego State, replacing another former Duck offensive coordinator, Andy Ludwig.
Of the offensive coordinators before Mike Bellotti, Bob Toledo was the most successful at Oregon. But even during the not-so-glory years, Oregon was cranking out more than its share of excellent offensive coaches. Their problem was that Oregon simply lacked the offensive talent — particularly in the 1970s — that we have come to enjoy and expect in the new millennium.
Top Photo by John Gustina
Jim currently resides in Ellensburg, Washington where he has had the opportunity to watch former Ducks such as NaDerris Ward and Scott Grady play for Central Washington University, Jim’s alma mater. However, Jim was born in Eugene and attended Howard Elementary School, and what then called Colin Kelly Junior High School before moving to Washington. Jim began following the Ducks during the 1957 season and had the opportunity to watch a number of games at Hayward Field. Over the years, Jim has developed a wealth of knowledge about Oregon sports history. When not editing on Fanbase.com or working in his garden, Jim manages to find time to practice law.
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