Blame It on Marcus Mariota

Mike Merrell Editorials

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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