In 2008, Chip Kelly created the “Blur Offense,” the likes of which had never been seen. Not only did Kelly’s system propel the Ducks to championship-level heights, but it left a major mark on the entire college football landscape. Today, nearly every team uses some form of up-tempo offense, largely due to the success of Kelly’s Ducks. Now, a decade post-Chip, is another Oregon head coach poised to revolutionize college football with a different strategy?
The Rise of the General Manager
I love the NBA. It’s a fantastic, year-round league in which the GM is as important — if not more important — than the head coach. Bob Myers with the Warriors and Daryl Morey with the Rockets are GMs who built championship-caliber teams on cutting-edge offensive schemes. Steve Kerr and Mike D’Antoni are fantastic day-to-day head coaches who benefit greatly from offensive schemes invented by their GM’s.
When it comes to calling a game, Mario Cristobal leaves a lot to be desired. But when it comes to recruitment and hiring, he may very well be the best in the country. Does a coach need to be an X’s and O’s wizard? Do they need to be able to call plays? Why not hire the best coordinators, let them call plays and run their side of the ball? Yeah, I know what you are asking: “What happens when the coordinators leave?” The answer: You hire new ones.
Cristobal should focus on what he does best: finding great football players, convincing them the University of Oregon is the best school in the country, and getting their signatures on letters of intent. Breaking down film, running drills, looking cool with a whistle? Leave it to others. The only film Cristobal needs to watch is of high school kids who can become future Men of Oregon.
A truly delegatory coaching structure, headed by a GM, does not currently exist in college football. The NBA has been doing it for a while, and the approach has trickled down to college basketball (looking at you Duke). But would it work in college football?
Week to Week or Big Picture?
Football is different from other sports. Teams play one game a week and 12 to 14 a regular season. With fewer games, losses affect standings and postseason qualification more than in other sports. NBA teams, facing an 82-game season followed by a seemingly eternal post-season, practice “Load Management,” endeavoring at all times to peak at playoff time. Both the NBA and MLB regularly rest healthy players. In these leagues, the coaches’ day-to-day and week-to-week management allows the GM to maintain a season-long focus.
College football should be looked at the same way. It is the sport with the smallest percentage of teams to make the post-season, with a selection process based not on wins and losses but on the opinions of people, people who can’t possibly watch every game. Given the fragility of college football playoff aspirations, if there is a sport that warrants a delegatory management structure, it’s college football.
There are other advantages to such a structure beside allowing the head-coach-turned-GM a bird’s eye view. First, it allows the head coach to focus on recruiting. Unlike college basketball, where you can recruit three to six kids a season, college football teams must find 20 to 30 new players every year. The correlation between recruiting success and championships has become painfully obvious over the last decade.
The head coach who delegates the responsibilities of breaking down film, game planning, and teaching fundamentals has more time to broaden and deepen the program’s recruiting efforts and develop “big picture” strategies that will maximize his team’s playoff chances. Such an approach would also increase staff responsibility, perhaps leading to happier and longer-tenured coordinators and assistants. Same could be said for the GM, absolved of his 25-hour-a-day micro-managing responsibility.
Delegatory head coaching is the future of college football, and it’s time for another Oregon coach to put his stamp on the game and change it for the better. Cristobal could become a great head coach, or he could have a forgettable career. But wouldn’t it sure wouldn’t be forgettable if he went down in history as college football’s first general manager.
And who knows, maybe with with total control of the program, Cristobal brings back our flashy uniforms too!
Wilsonville, Oregon Top Photo by Eugene Johnson
Phil Anderson, the FishDuck.com Volunteer editor for this article, is a trial lawyer in Bend Oregon.
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