Assessing Risk: Oregon Football

Steven Smith Editorials

Life is full of uncertainty. Our lives take unexpected twists and turns, hence the need to assess Risk with personal and collective choices. So it also is with Oregon’s football program.

Risk definitions: A situation involving exposure to danger. The possibility of suffering loss or harm. Any event that could compromise organizational assets. The probability of threat, loss, defeat and or failure to achieve stated goals.

Craig Strobeck

Mistakes increase risk factors, diminishing success.

Let’s assess some factors pertaining to risk and reward with Oregon’s football team, considering items directly affecting its climb to the top of the Pac-12. We’ll assign a risk assessment (RA) to each of these items.

Head Coach

This has enormous implications for the ultimate success of our football program. Three head coaches in as many years is a recipe for disaster! Continuity is crucial, and with five head coaches in the past decade, Oregon hasn’t had much of it lately. Each of those coaches have had contrasting styles, personas and schemes, which has made consistency difficult. Is Mario Cristobal the worthy captain and commander who will steer the USS Oregon to ultimate victory on the Pac-12 high seas? RA: Extremely High

Assistant Coaches

Are the assistant coaches meshing with each other and the head coach’s vision? Are they able to cover the blind spots this head coach has (as they all do)?  Are strong intra-staff relationships being built? Are all the assistant coaches buying in?  RA: High 

Gary Breedlove

Coach Mario Cristobal

Will this staff maximize the talent of current players?  Will they reduce the incessant penalties from last season? Can they “coach ’em up” to achieve maximum productivity, both on and off the field?

 Implementation of effective schemes and game management is in question. Getting out-coached is a real fear. Think of the debacle with the Boise State Broncos last December. RA: High

Key Assistants

Key assistants need to stay around a while. Jim Leavitt and Joe Salavea must remain for our “D” to achieve excellence in the North division. Will green grass elsewhere create turnover? Do we have a high-end play caller on offense this fall?  Will the newest coaches integrate new concepts and build team and coach rapport?  RA: High


This staff did a great job of harvesting a top-20 class, despite defections of coaches and last-minute verbal decommits. Oregon’s recruiting trajectory is definitely upward.

Will the Ducks keep these excellent — to date — verbals, and induce other top recruits, with eight or more wins? If so, they will close the deal next February on a top 5-10 class.  RA: Medium


From Video

This hurt recruiting as well as Justin Herbert …

Injuries always have significant impact, but especially so at critical positions. Quarterbacks, linebackers, running backs and defensive linemen, absolutely must remain healthy to make it to the top tier in the conference. It is painful to remember our QB’s fractured collarbone. We were inept at best until he returned healthy. Is this an outlier or harbinger? RA: Medium


Disqualifications due to pilfering, moral turpitude, and certainly academic negligence all cast shade on keeping and maintaining team unity and morale. Retaining happy and eligible players is vital! Who else will we lose this upcoming fall camp? RA: Low collectively, High for a few individual miscreants.

Does Oregon have the pieces in place to perform at the high levels required to own the North?  On offense, the jury is still out. On defense, the LBs, the back end and the D-line need to produce consistently, early and often to shut opposing teams down. RA: High


You may wonder what the risk to success from those who attend and support “Our Heroes” is. Regardless of how stylishly the Ducks play, their many “fair-weather fans” won’t care. Wins and losses is the single most important metric.  RA: Depends on record, anywhere from Zero to Extremely High

There are plenty of loyal mavens of gridiron Duckdom. There are however, many “athletic supporters” who seriously injured themselves and the program by jumping off the Duck Bandwagon. Eight losses and the collapse at Reasor Stadium just two years ago is still fresh in memory. 7-6 last season, meh! This program needs 8-9 wins to bring those avian waverers back into the flock!  Or it will be serious “Danger Zone” time!  RA: Medium to High


Uncle Phil

Kevin Cline

Our Uncle Phil

Let’s face this harsh reality. Oregon’s mega-donor of mega-donors, Uncle Phil Knight, is not going to be around forever. Are there enough new giants coming forward to continue supporting the program at the level we have been accustomed to expect long into the future? RA: Medium

Administration and Support Staff

We are still awaiting a verdict. This is a top-heavy, unwieldy group, full of entitlement and stasis, with an insatiable desire for additional revenue. The team tanks, and they raise season ticket and parking prices, and start selling alcohol in the stadium? Yikes! RA: High  

The Brand

The cool cache of flash and dash has been tarnished with mediocrity. Getting back on top of the  Pac-12 is eminently doable. If they don’t, the national media will stop touting Oregon football. Failure will relegate the program to the “insignificant and marginalized” category. And all Oregon fans loathe the idea of reverting to benthic bottom feeders again!  RA: Medium

In summation, weighing the knowns and the imponderables, how do you assess this program? We will know a whole lot more come December. I would gauge our Ducks’ overall RA as medium to high. To really succeed this year, many positive factors need to fall into place. The opportunity is there. Will we “grab the bull by the horns”, or get “gored and trampled”?

Steve E Smith                                                     
Powell Butte, Oregon

                                                                                                           Top photo by John Sperry

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