It’s becoming almost an embarrassment of recruiting riches in Eugene under Mario Cristobal. Last week we learned that Oregon has reportedly hired Bryan McClendon as passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach. Though McClendon looks to have considerable coaching chops, the real weight of this hire may be less on the coaching side and more on the recruiting side. This is the major recruiting coup of the week in college football as Coach Cristobal continues his success at bringing high-powered recruiters in to help him stock Oregon’s talent cupboard.
True to what is becoming a hallmark of Cristobal’s hiring program, McClendon has deep roots in the SEC. Beginning his coaching career at his alma mater (Georgia), the former Bulldog wide receiver initially coached running backs, later moved to wide receivers, and eventually added the duties of recruiting coordinator. The title of recruiting coordinator turned out to be a good fit—McClendon garnered national recruiter of the year honors in 2014 after landing Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, one of the most productive running back duos in college football history.
McClendon is one of only a few assistant coaches that can lay claim to landing five 5-Star recruits in his recruiting career. In his most notable year at Georgia (2014), McClendon brought in nine total recruits including three 5-Star players and four 4-Star players. With three of his 5-Star commits coming from Georgia, two from North Carolina, and one from Florida, McClendon clearly knows his way around some of the country’s most productive recruiting grounds. This knowledge will be critical to Cristobal’s drive to consistently bring top talent from the Southeast across the country to Autzen Stadium.
Consistency was undoubtedly one of the things Cristobal noticed in McClendon’s recruiting resume. Well before 2014’s award-winning masterstroke, McClendon had tallied current NFL superstar Todd Gurley, Washington Redskins running back Keith Marshall , and 2011 SEC Freshman of the Year Isaiah Crowell, setting up almost half a decade of backfield dominance for the Bulldogs. McClendon continued to pull in top talent after leaving Georgia in 2015 to become co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach for the South Carolina Gamecocks.
In four-plus years with the Gamecocks, McClendon brought in five 4-star commits and was the secondary recruiter for six more, including quarterback Ryan Hilinksi. Clearly, McClendon’s 2014 performance wasn’t just a flash in the recruiting pan or solely a product of recruiting from the Georgia platform—in 2017, McClendon finished among Rivals.com‘s top 25 college recruiters.
Despite COVID-19 Shutdown, McClendon Likely to Hit the Ground Running
If we know anything about Coach Cristobal’s program priorities, we know he values committed, hard-working recruiters. These values were evident in Joe Moorhead‘s transition from Mississippi State to Oregon, which saw Moorhead veer northeast to Baltimore, Md., to visit 2021 4-star receiver Dont’e Thornton before joining Cristobal in Eugene to be announced as the Ducks’ new offensive coordinator. With Thursday’s news that Oregon has offered 2022 4-star and No. 1 dual-threat QB Gunner Stockton, a Georgia high-schooler and South Carolina Gamecocks target, we may well see the same type of working transition with McClendon, who as of Thursday was still featured on South Carolina’s website.
Is Better Recruiting the Silver Bullet for Oregon’s Wide Receiver Woes?
As might be expected under the Cristobal regime, our new receivers coach and passing game coordinator has strong ties to a fertile recruiting ground and proven ability to secure high-level talent. But will recruiting alone fill the gaps in Oregon’s wide receiver program? While there’s no question that a lack of go-to receivers has been one of Oregon’s biggest challenges in recent years, we’ve also seen signs that coaching may play a role in our receiver corps issues.
The receiving unit appeared to make progress last year under Jovon Bouknight, and many hope Moorhead’s new offensive scheme will help veterans like Johnny Johnson III and Jaylon Redd increase their production while catalyzing the emergence of one or two breakout stars among younger players like Mycah Pittman, Josh Delgado, Lance Wilhoite, Bryan Addison, and newcomer Devon Williams. That said, we know that coaching is critical to wide receiver development, and in Cristobal’s blue-collar coaching world, McClendon will not only be expected to recruit, but to bring player-development consistency to an area that has seen everything but consistency over the past few years.
If We Need More Than Recruiting, Are We Getting More Than a High-Level Recruiter?
Is McClendon up to the task? We can take some comfort in Coach Cristobal’s thorough approach to hiring, and in knowing that, despite his focus on recruiting, Cristobal values substance over flash and actions over words. Thankfully, though, it’s also readily apparent that McClendon does have what it takes to bring consistency to this area. For one, McClendon knows the game—he played for four years of wide receiver with the Georgia Bulldogs, winning two SEC championships and three bowl games as part of the winningest senior class in Georgia football history.
For another, highly-regarded recruits like Todd Gurley, Sony Michele, and Nick Chubb didn’t enter McClendon’s coaching program only to flame-out well short of their potential—their development in college was commensurate with their high-school promise. At South Carolina, which faced receiver issues eerily similar to what we’ve seen at Oregon over the past few years, McClendon was credited with the development of receivers like current San Francisco 49er Deebo Samuel and career receptions and receiving-yards leader Bryan Edwards, a top receiver prospect in the 2020 NFL draft until breaking his foot in a pre-combine workout.
Although McClendon’s two-season performance as the Gamecocks’ offensive coordinator generated mixed reviews and ended with a demotion, few in the business question his ability as a position coach. In fact, reports surfaced in February that the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers were poised to make McClendon their wide receivers coach.
Wait, Wait, Wait, and See
McClendon steps into the position at Oregon with superior credentials in both recruiting and coaching. He’s played and coached at the highest levels—however painful it may be to admit, there’s no arguing that the SEC is the gold standard for college football in 2020. Oregon has a new offense and a number of talented receivers already in the program. Coach Cristobal and crew are in the hunt for several high-profile wide receivers for 2021, and McClendon could play a key role in securing them. Despite his mixed record as offensive coordinator at South Carolina, McClendon the position coach and ace recruiter is a significant get for Cristobal.
To reiterate, in the last few months Coach Cristobal has added an acknowledged offensive savant and a second recruiter of the year awardee to the Duck football coaching ranks. All expectations are that both recruiting and offensive production will advance significantly with these hires; all there is to do now is wait (argh!) to watch it unfold.
Top Photo from South Carolina Athletics Video
Brad Nye, the FishDuck.com Volunteer editor for this article, is a land conservation attorney in Central Oregon.
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