Over the years, several things have intrigued me about sports, but one of the most intriguing aspects is how well they function as a slice of life. We see the whole gamut of emotions and behavior, don’t we? ABC’s Wide World of Sports captured it so iconically years ago with “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” being voiced over while watching a brutal windmill fall by a ski jumper. (Ouch, I still cringe whenever I replay that clip in my mind’s eye.)
But then, on the non-physical side of things, for those of us who were alive to witness it, who could forget the Tonya Harding–Nancy Kerrigan drama? From “Eddie the Eagle” to Pete Rose, from the Miracle on Ice in 1980, to Mike “The Ear” Tyson, from the Woodlawn Alabama High School football team to the New Orleans Saints Bounty Scandal, the world of sports has given us plenty to digest over the years.
A Tale of Two Coaches
Sports give us the privilege of witnessing incredible nobility of spirit on one hand, yet glimpses into the dark and ignoble aspects of human behavior on the other. A few years ago, at the Southern California high school I teach at, I was privy (via our athletic director) to a story that involved the two head coaches of the Pac-12 schools in the LA area. It showcased behavior from both sides of this spectrum.
A linebacker on our football team was being highly recruited nationally, and both coaches came to different home games in order to see the young man. One coach behaved so atrociously over-the-top that he finally had to be escorted off the field.
The coach showed up unannounced in a helicopter after kickoff and circled the field, disrupting the game. Seeing no helipad, he landed elsewhere, heading to a back gate that led onto the field, expecting to be red-carpeted to the sidelines. When that didn’t happen, he tried barging through. Eviction time.
His rival, the other LA-area coach, in stark contrast, acted with quiet dignity and character. He came to the school’s reception area, got a visitor’s pass and went to ask our athletic director for permission to see the young man. The AD happened to be momentarily out of his office, so the coach waited patiently in the foyer until the AD’s return.
He didn’t expect special treatment. He paid for his ticket to the game, and watched it from the bleachers so as to not be a distraction to the game. For whatever it’s worth, the latter coach is currently enjoying a successful NFL career while the former has been out of coaching for some time now.
Character Counts, Integrity Matters
There is something wholesome and magnetic about folks that have it. We can trust them instinctively. We want to be around it. We want to be shaped by it. For many of us it’s a game changer: winning without honor is not only not worth the cost, it’s not even on the table.
Which brings us to Mario Cristobal. Most everyone who has met him has come away with the impression that he exudes it. In post-commitment interviews, recruit after recruit, as well as parents of recruits, have remarked about how much of an impact Cristobal made on them simply by the quality of his character, merely by being who he is: a man of integrity.
Organizations tend to take on the personality of the leadership, creating an organizational culture. If Oregon Football’s culture looks more and more like Cristobal, then folks, I am all in. If we are increasingly going to see the cultivation of honesty (with oneself as well as with others), work ethic, dependability, accountability, discipline and dedication to being a catalyst for the success of others, then my optimism will continue. These, in my opinion, are necessary (albeit not sufficient) foundation stones for a winning program in the long-term. They are not gimmicky. They are not transitory. They are not glamorous.
Chip Kelly’s successful tenure at Oregon was built in no small measure upon his being ahead of the curve in matters like tempo, scheme, practices and conditioning. Previous articles posted here at FishDuck.com (see for example Darren Perkins’ excellent article), have dealt with the issue of the long-term unsustainability of success based on those factors without the accompanying recruitment of top-tier talent.
Successful programs must have both Xs and Os and Jimmies and Joes. Defenses have caught up. Opposing programs aren’t nearly as often being caught flat-footed conditioning wise. What Coach Cristobal has committed himself to building at Oregon, however, has a high expectation of sustainability. In the article linked above, Darren rightly observes: “recruiting is king.”
Location, Location, Location
I met for a few hours recently with a running back in the 2019 class who was being recruited this year by a few Pac-12 and Mountain West schools, among others. He and his mother both spoke about how sleazy and slimy the recruiting process was at some schools, whereas it was like a breath of fresh air at others. The contrast was painfully obvious. Most parents want to know that the head coach is going to be as concerned about the growth and maturity of their son as they are. They want to know that the coach’s concern doesn’t end when the game or the practice is over. They are entrusting their son to the integrity of that coach, to be in loco parentis.
Maybe that helps explain why Cristobal has been such a successful recruiter over the years, and in all probability will continue to be. No gimmicks. No tricks. Just an honest man who is able to communicate the “I-Factor” (Integrity) to recruits and parents alike. I believe he will continue to successfully recruit to the “O,” with the “I-Factor.” And, for that reason, along with a few others, I am optimistic. A lot of potential for blue ski ahead exists for our dear Green and Yellow.
Fontana, California Top Photo From Twitter
Chris Brouilette, the FishDuck.com Volunteer editor for this article, is a current student at the University of Oregon from Sterling, Illinois.
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