Selling Duck Football: A Tale of Five Coaches

Jim Hanks Editorials

Coaches as Salesmen

Coach Willie Taggart inherits the legacy of the past five coaches and, as explained below, his ability to sell the program will be a major influence on its success. Signs so far should lead you to be very optimistic.

A football coach sells to sets of customers. Number one, the most important, is the fan base and is measured in tickets (and advertisements) sold. Getting the fan base excited depends on the coach’s ability to sell Duck Football to the second set of customers: players both on the team and being recruited. And finally, the coach must please the administration – the coach’s boss, the people who decide who gets hired and who gets fired.

The Brooks Era- Pre-Nike

John Guistina

Brooks and Bellotti Coached without a Swoosh in Sight

Coach Rich Brooks was the best salesman over the last 40 years. He kept fans interested and reasonably good players coming to play without having the success, facilities, or resources of the coaches since then. He was a master of selling the program to the fan base and they, in return, kept him from being fired. He met with the Oregon Club in Eugene every week during the season. He brought coaches and players to the meetings and showed the play-by play basis in the game film for each game. He regularly drove to the Oregon Clubs in Portland and Medford and discussed the same films.

After every home game, Rich Brooks and his coaches would meet with donors in the Pittman room, where he would give a thorough report of what happened, and who played well. He kept the fans informed, and they kept him employed. When he achieved the on-field success, which led to the first Rose Bowl game in decades, he left the program in much stronger shape than when he began. Remember, that was when we had the worst facilities in the league, and before we had multiple Nike uniforms. Brooks was able to keep his job during an extend period of miserable football because of his relationship with the fans.

The Bellotti Era – Riches and Resources

Coach Mike Bellotti continued the relationship with the fans. At the time when Coach Brooks began Nike, it was hardly a brand. By the time Mike Bellotti was head coach, Nike was large enough and its owner willing enough to contribute mightily to the Oregon team. Bellotti helped persuade The Donor that our facilities were woefully inadequate. We had no space for team meetings we had no practice facilities worthy of the name. Bellotti sold the idea that having the best facilities would help us to get the best players. He convinced the fans including The Donor, to commit to making our facilities the best anywhere. (Time showed that he was right.)

Bellotti had the vision that Oregon should change its style of football. Fans like to watch and players like to play fast, exciting football. To that end, he hired his eventual successor, Chip Kelly, and used him to make Oregon the most exciting offense in the country. This excitement brought some of the best players in the country to Oregon.

Chip Kelly – Brilliant Coach but Not Fan Friendly

Kevin Cline

Coach Kelly Was a Great Coach But Did Not Enjoy Fan Interaction

Coach Chip Kelly is, perhaps, the most creative mind in football.  As with many geniuses, Kelly did not have the desire or patience to glad hand fans or give straight answers to the press. It was not difficult to see that he hated the sales tasks required of a head coach. Kelly stopped meeting regularly with the Oregon Club, he ended the sessions at the Pittman room, he was surly to the press and did not spend much time socializing with his fan base. He came from a small school (University of New Hampshire), where sales was not a big part of the program.

Kelly was like many people who are superb in the technical aspects of a job, but who disdain the elements of the job which require sales and promotion. The fans were happy anyway because his teams were highly successful, he brought great athletes to the school, and he led us to a national championship game. This led him to becoming head coach of two separate NFL teams. (He is now unemployed.) This may have something to do with his lack of desire to sell his product to his bosses and the teams’ fans.  He did not pursue their friendship and thus did not want to save his job.

Mark Helfrich – Might Still Be Here If He Had Developed Fan Support

Coach Mark Helfrich took over when Chip Kelly left off. Helfrich’s first two years were the best first two years of any Oregon coach and among the best in college football history. He probably could have weathered last year’s 4-8 record and kept his job if he been more like Rich Brooks in his relationship with the fans. But when he left, Helfrich left a tradition of excellence and some fairly good returning players for Coach Taggart to work with.

Willie Taggart – Outstanding Start, but Incomplete

Gary Breedlove

Coach Taggart Enjoys Press Conferences

Coach Willie Taggart started without any of the unfriendly fan baggage left from coaches Kelly and Helfrich. Taggart started an openness that has amazed many members of the fan base and all the press. He enjoys answering questions. He is excited and energetic. His communications and marketing skills have brought about more high-level recruit commitments than ever before. Though pre-season commitments are not signed letters of intent, so we will have to wait to see if he can close the deal.

Even so, all signs look good. After a few early missteps, his coaching selections are better than anyone expected.  Selling the team will keep Coach Taggart employed. Selling the aura of Oregon football will keep recruits coming, and the recruits should keep the victories coming.

This should be an exciting year for Duck fans!

Jim Hanks
Eugene, Oregon

Top photo by Kevin Cline

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