Is Mario Cristobal entirely responsible for Oregon’s historic recruiting classes? Are there other people or factors that deserve our thanks, or should all the credit go to the current coaching staff? I’ve been thinking about all the variables that have to fall into place for a top recruit to choose the Ducks, and am curious if others have considered this, too…
Usually, recruits have a predictable list of “dream schools” they’ve compiled since they started playing football. They typically list their parent’s alma mater or the closest regional team as the first one. The second, at least recently, is often Oregon, with prospects sighting the cool uniforms and breakneck offense as reasons for their affinity of the school. When I do the math, a sports-minded kid’s first impressions would be between ages 5 and 8. That means 17- to 18-year-olds today discovered Oregon between 2007 and 2010.
In 2007, the Oregon hype train started rolling down the tracks at blazing speed, with new offensive coordinator Chip Kelly leading the charge. During the present-day recruits’ formative years, the Ducks were the “it” team.
The “non-uniform uniforms” started around 2000, so that was already part of the Oregon DNA. A number of copy cat schools followed. Personally, I hated some of the combinations/colors (11 bananas running around … yuck!), and it took this Greybeard a while to get used to it. What helped me get used to it was the kids loving it and the rest of the college football world badmouthing it.
But there has to be a starting point. When did the Ducks really put themselves on the map? Prior to the ’95 Rose Bowl, Oregon was best known for track. Then, Uncle Phil and Aunt Penny stepped up and asked what it would take to win championships in football. The rest, as they say, is history.
I am going to compile my list of people to thank for today’s top recruits starting with the 1994 season. I think the success of modern day Oregon Football starts about the time we realized Kenny Weaton was going to score. From that point on, we have had many people and entities to thank for the ascent of the program.
In no particular order, except for the first couple on the list, I think some credit may be due to the following:
• Phil and Penny Knight: ‘Nough said, except we can’t THANK YOU enough.
• Rich Brooks, as he laid the foundation for today’s program, gave us our first taste of sustained success, proved a Pac-8 Championship was possible and opened the Knight pocketbook. He and the Ducks stuck together through the thin years. Then, when the thick years were approaching, who could blame him for moving on?
• Mike Belotti for his foresight to go to the spread to even the playing field without many four- and five-star recruits on the roster.
• Gary Crowton for leaving the OC post to open the door for Kelly, whom he may have even recommended to Belotti.
• Kelly has to be on the list. Period.
• Mark Helfrich didn’t get enough credit as Kelly’s offensive coordinator because of the giant shadow he stood in. But man, what a great recruiting trip 3,000 miles west to see St. Louis High’s version of Wally Pipp. His discovery and grooming of Marcus Mariota was one of the most influential events in Oregon football history.
• Eugene for being one of the greatest college towns in the universe.
• Duck fans for being some of the greatest fans and alumni in the universe.
• Autzen for being one of the greatest lack-of-rain stadiums in the universe.
• The current staff for their seemingly unending juice and guns.
• Cristobal is obvious. He turned around a sour situation with Willie Taggart‘s depature, salvaged the recruiting class and brought us the highest ranked Oregon class in history last year.
• And although many would like to forget him, some kudos need to go to Taggart, as he brought us (who we hope is “Super”) Mario and proved Mr. Scott Frost wrong about recruiting to UO.
So, I distribute the credit for Oregon’s recruiting success as follows:
• Phil and Penny Knight get 51 percent. They need more than 50 percent of the credit. Without them, the Mutts would rule.
• Cristobal and staff get 34 percent. I have to give them more than one third due to the ‘ole “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately” mantra.
• Brooks, Belotti and Kelly get 10 percent. They’re the coaching tree that started the trajectory toward success.
• Eugene/Duck Nation/Autzen/Alumni get 5 percent. If you don’t think they’re a factor in acquiring big-time talent, ask Kayvon Thibodeaux.
• Taggart gets two cents. Let’s give the man (or snake) his due.
So who or what would you add as a contributing factor to Oregon’s recruiting success, and how would you distribute the credit across your list? Who should get credit for this wonderful recruiting we’re currently seeing?
Steven A. Smith
Modesto, California Top Photo by Kevin Cline
Andrew Mueller, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in digital marketing in Chicago, Illinois.
Steve is a ’72 graduate of Oregon. He grew up in Stockton, California a rabid Pac 8 fan. When it came time to choose a college, his choices then were: in LA, ‘nough said; in ’68 he wasn’t quite “hip” enough for Cal and Stanford wouldn’t return his calls; all the way North, his sister was at uw, and with that brother/sister thing, the state wasn’t big enough for the both of them; that left the Oregon schools, and as the Knight Templar told Indiana Jones, he “chose wisely”. In ’73 after having won the lottery (No. 1 in the draft and facing induction on Jan 29th), Steve’s new best friend Richard Nixon ended inductions 48 hours earlier on Jan 27th.
After that, he went back to being an X-ray Tech until the early 80’s when he became part owner and manager of a Racquetball club. A crooked general partner put the club in bankruptcy, so he returned to X-ray by day and law school by night while raising a family with two young girls. Now after 30+ years of law, he will be retiring in ’19. Having been fortunate to attend four Oregon Rose Bowls, the BCS Championship Game and the National Championship game, he looks forward to more of these opportunities along with a hefty dose of traveling with his lovely wife of 41 years, Carol, and continuing to spoil his 5 grandducklings.
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