My friends–we have progressed as a site because such an amazing group of Oregon fans who have turned the comments below articles into a “high-brow” discussion of Oregon sports that will always be “TROLL-FREE.”
I am always interested in a short article to start a discussion, a “Ponder-Point” if you will, and a reader brought us a tremendous topic for us to consider. If you have a topic–email it to me and we’ll publish it. And do support a fellow reader and give us your thoughts on this very important subject below. Charles Fischer
Ya simply gotta know past history if you’re gonna make judgments about the future.
In ’94, Oregon’s Rich Brooks won the most games he ever had in his long tenure — nine. That success ended at the Rose Bowl, but hey, it was the Rose Bowl! The next season, Mike Bellotti took over and kept “9” in the win column; it would take this lauded coach four years to repeat that number of wins – including a sophomore slump of 6-5. But that was the nadir: the Ducks ascended annually from ’96 forward, to 7, 8, 9, 10, and, in 2001, 11 wins, including a Fiesta Bowl thrashing of Colorado. (Side note: the previous year at the same venue showcased the Beavers beating up on — wait for it — Notre Dame. Oh, yes, how the mighty have fallen.)
Thence came several less successful years, until the faithful once again could rise up in 2005, celebrating 10 wins (incidentally, the year before had but five in the win column). The Dennis Dixon years were highly exciting ones, though his unfortunate injury during 2007 led to nine wins and fans wondering to this day what could have been: no one was stopping that guy, and pundits overwhelmingly had the Ducks in a championship run.
Bellotti finished up his career with 10 wins in 2008, laying the groundwork for the miraculous Chip Kelly era of seasons with 10, 12, 12 and 12 wins, including a shot (oh, such a close one!) at winning the national championship trophy!
Well then, what of the much-maligned Kelly successor, Mark Helfrich? Coach Helf did nothing other than take the team to 11, 13, and nine wins his first three years — including a championship shot in his second year. His fourth and last year saw the team slump to its worst record since ’91, and poor Mark could not survive it, no matter how stellar first three years of his tenure.
So what to make of all of this?
The Ducks indeed have a modern history of gridiron success, even ultra-success. The school, over many years, developed a reputation for great quarterbacking, and certainly that tradition has continued. But what put the Oregon Ducks at the top of the “excitement” poll of college football hasn’t just been the stars at one position — it’s been the exciting style of play, the all-out attack on offense with the multiple explosion plays that for many years saw opposing defenses defeated and dragging before halftime. The much-discussed and copied uniforms are nothing if not the physical embodiment of the Duck swagger, speed, and innovation.
That’s not an insignificant persona, to let blow away like autumn leaves, or to incinerate in a pile.
It is true that the Ducks broke a long tradition in hiring outside coaching with Willie Taggart, which led to the subsequent elevation of Mario Cristobal to head coach. Neither had stellar credentials: Cristobal’s are especially lean. As a former lineman and line coach, is it surprising that Mario would seek to instill a hard-nosed running ethic into the team?
Any offensive lineman will tell you he’d much rather run-block than pass protect. Yet, ironically, Cristobal’s scheme, so far, has managed to make a mediocrity of the running game that had either led or been near the top of the PAC-12 for over a decade.
It ain’t broken, so let’s break it?
Even the best coaches’ teams have lulls, experience down years. I can easily understand the hiring of Taggart; he brought the promise of an exciting offense coupled with superior recruiting skill. But I have to scratch my head at Rob Mullens’ decision to elevate Cristobal. Was the seismic systemic change really necessary or circumspect, given that its designers and implementer have no track record of success with it?
At this point, we’re committed to a program overhaul of such magnitude that a year or two won’t be enough. The bar it needs to meet isn’t just one of success, however. You can’t expect fans accustomed to both flash and winning to get enthused with what appears to be pre-2000 Nebraska Cornhusker football. We aren’t all former offensive linemen, after all!
Top Photo by Dillon Vibes
Jayme Vasconcellos has been a football fanatic since his father took him to his first game, the Minnesota Vikings inaugural regular season opener against the Bears (9/17/’61) in freezing cold Bloomington Stadium (the Vikings won!). Fran Tarkenton, Hugh McElhenny, and Tommy Mason starred for Coach (and former Duck) Norm van Brocklin in his first job after retiring as a star NFL quarterback
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