Ducks DC: Rocky Long … An Impossible Dream?

Coach Morris Coach's Opinion

A couple of weeks ago I wrote an article advocating for the hiring of Osia Lewis as the next Oregon defensive coordinator. Last night, I was dreaming – while awake – and had a “What if … ?” moment. Even in the reality of the next day, I have a better candidate and plan. Are you willing to come along on my [maybe fantasy, but maybe not] ride?

Osia Lewis

Osia Lewis

Why the change?  First, the amount of money the University of Oregon and Phil Knight appear to be willing to pay to fix this depressingly ailing football team. If money is no object, you can usually get some real good stuff.  Maybe a great defensive coordinator, and a plan to fix the Ducks’ defense?  So here’s the plan.

To me the best DC in college football is Rocky Long, currently the head coach and defensive coordinator at San Diego State. As I’ve frequently said, there’s no such thing as the “perfect” defensive coordinator or scheme. But Long is as close as it gets to being an innovative defensive genius. This article won’t be making that argument. You’ll have to look up the stats and watch the Aztecs play to see the evidence. You’ll also have to believe that as a 25-year, very successful, high school DC and a 50-year studier of football defenses, I know what I’m talking about.

Also, in analyzing Long’s career, I realize that this version of his defense is only in its third year. After the 2013 season, Long had a back-to-the-drawing-board period when he and his staff [including the previously mentioned Osia Lewis] re-invented the San Diego State defensive system. The resultant defensive statistics over the last three years have been spectacular, especially considering the level of talent SDSU has to work with.

Coach Long’s recent success and the beauty of watching his defenses play was the “major” reason I thought his former chief assistant and long-time protege, Osia Lewis, would be a great hire as the next Oregon DC. But what if the Ducks could do even better? What if they could actually hire the mentor, Rocky Long, as their next defensive coordinator?

Coach Rocky Long of San Diego State

Coach Rocky Long of San Diego State

But why would coach Long give up a head coaching job to be an assistant coach at Oregon?  Two big reasons:

  1. The money

Long is now making $800,000 a year as the head coach at SDSU.  To put that into perspective: Brady Hoke is now making $600,000. The highest paid DC in college football, Will Muschamp of Auburn, is making $1.6 million;eight current DCs are making at least $1 million. The offensive coordinator at friggin’ Arizona State is making $900,000;while financial gain is not at the top of almost all football coaches’ wish lists, it’s definitely great for a coach’s ego – and his family’s security – to earn big time bucks. San Diego State doesn’t have the money to venture into a financial war with Oregon for Long’s services.

2.  The challenge [more importantly]

Long will be 67 next fall. He’s accomplished everything he can at SDSU. He knows well he has only a few years left to complete his legacy.  What better way to end it than by rebuilding Oregon’s defense to national prominence, to create the kind of under-the-national-radar statistics he’s achieved at SDSU?

He wouldn’t have to worry about the offense or all the head coach bullshit. Just crank out a great defense, against great offenses, in front of the whole nation. More than just a challenge, it’s a wonderful “opportunity” to be judged as great by more than just other coaches. I don’t think coach Long could pass up that opportunity.

The rest of the plan:

If Long is 67, he can’t last long, and we’re back to where we started from.” Not hardly; not only would Oregon’s football program be rescued, there’d be a follow-up plan already started.

Michigan head coach Brady Hoke chats with San Diego State head coach Rocky Long

Michigan head coach Brady Hoke chats with San Diego State head coach Rocky Long

Long’s first act would be to hire his long-time protege, Lewis, as his chief assistant. Lewis would leave Vanderbilt - where I’m sure he’s learned a lot from another great defensive coach, Derek Mason - to join his mentor in the building of a Ducks’ defensive system, with a lot more talent than they ever had at San Diego State. When Long rides off into the sunset, who better to leave in charge of the defense he created than his under-study, Osia Lewis?

What about the rest of the defensive staff?

Long wouldn’t coach a position, which can be a real good thing with his knowledge of his system. Lewis would coach the LBs. A real good case could be made for retaining Hoke:

  1. Long and Lewis have coached with Hoke and have known him well for 25 years.
  2. Hoke is a much better defensive line coach than he is a coordinator. His players seem to genuinely respect him.
  3. Hoke would greatly help in the transition: providing knowledge of how things were done, the players’ strengths and weaknesses, and a respected link to the already recruited players.

The defensive back coach would be the final piece of the puzzle.

Coach Don Pellum

Coach Don Pellum

I’d be surprised if Long thought he could do better than John Neal, who is hopeful of bringing in an excellent recruiting class to join a potentially very improved group of DBs. Although Long should have his pick of the best man for the job – both Neal’s and Hoke’s.

Yeah, there’d be buy-outs, starting with Long. Ron Aiken and Don Pellum each have another year on their contracts, but that money has been well-earned. Keeping Hoke and Neal would save a lot of money. The offensive staff should remain intact. Most importantly, the main man, Mark Helfrich, would have an opportunity to build on Justin Herbert’s legacy, to bring back the good old days of Oregon football.

So that’s my current dream Duck coaching scenario. I don’t think it’s unrealistic, and besides, as Bloody Mary sang in South Pacific, “If you don’t have a dream, how ya ever gonna make a dream come true?”

Retired Coach Mike Morris  (Grizzled Ol’ Coach)
Pleasant Hill, Oregon

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