Scott Frost Was Absolutely Right About Recruiting to Oregon

David Marsh Editorials 43 Comments

Oregon is hot on the recruiting trail right now. Just last week, Oregon landed 2022 recruit Andre Dollar over Scott Frost and Nebraska. This has, yet again, led people to dig up Frost’s 2016 interview with USA Today, during his first year with UCF, where he notoriously stated:

It’s hard in those places [Oregon] because we’re just not in close proximity, Oregon wasn’t and isn’t in close proximity to the fertile recruiting ground. At the end of the day, recruits have to decide to leave Southern California, or Georgia, or Florida, or Texas, where there some other pretty good schools and go all the way to Eugene.

And Frost was absolutely right.

The Challenges of Recruiting to Oregon

It is hard to recruit to Oregon. The State of Oregon doesn’t produce a great amount of Division I-ready athletes. The two major universities, Oregon and Oregon State, are effectively a two-hour drive from the main population hub of Portland.

Craig Strobeck

Remember: Marcus Mariota was under-recruited and an incredible find for Oregon.

Eugene has its charms, but anyone who has been in Eugene during the summer knows it is a completely different place than it is during the school year. Eugene doesn’t have the flash compared to much larger cities. Eugene, and Corvallis for that matter, are the definition of college towns: quiet during the summer, with the universities as the main social hubs for students.

The University of Washington, USC and UCLA, on the other hand, have traditionally had a much stronger recruiting draw than Oregon. A major reason why is their respective home cities. These major metropolitan areas have plenty of things to do that are not connected to the university.

Students don’t go to the University of Oregon for Eugene. They go for the university and the culture surrounding the university.

Amazing Moments Photography

Chip Kelly and Scott Frost saw Oregon reach new heights.

On top of all of that, Oregon’s status as a football powerhouse is only about fifteen years old (if we are being generous). Mike Bellotti, Chip Kelly and even Mark Helfrich played significant roles in Oregon’s ascension to a football power.

Belotti oversaw the rise of the Oregon program, picking up where Rich Brooks left off, and he helped build Oregon into a respectable program that consistently fielded good teams. Kelly gave Oregon its first shot at a National Championship and its first Rose Bowl win since 1917. Then, Helfrich brought Oregon back to the National Championship Game and oversaw the development of Marcus Mariota, Oregon’s first and only Heisman winner.

Oregon today was built on the shoulders of all these coaches who came before, who succeeded with good, but not great, recruiting. Yes, Oregon would bring in a five-star recruit every now and then, but the notion of bringing in a five-star recruit yearly, let alone two in one recruiting cycle, was an unthinkable prospect.

Most five-star recruits tend to gravitate toward the blue-blood programs that can give them the most publicity and the best shot at winning a National Championship, the Heisman and other major awards. These programs tend to be nestled right in the middle of prime recruiting country.

Tom Corno

Kayvon Thibodeaux is one of the best recruits ever to sign with Oregon.

Recruiting to Oregon was, and still is, difficult. So what changed?

Mario Cristobal came to Oregon.

Cristobal’s Unprecedented Success

Cristobal has done wonders with recruiting at Oregon, overseeing some of the best classes in Oregon history. And this year’s class might be the best yet, currently ranked No. 3 on Rivals. With more four- and five-star recruits committed than three-stars, it is tempting to think that recruiting to Oregon has become easier.

Cristobal is one of the best recruiters in the country and he does that through sheer hard work. In interviews, Cristobal describes how he is up at four in the morning and is fueled by Cuban coffee. It may seem excessive, but if Oregon is going to be a competitive recruiting power nationwide, Cristobal and company are going to have to get up early. If it is 4 a.m. on the West Coast, then it is 7 a.m. on the East Coast, and making connections with prospective recruits is a time-consuming job.

The most important aspect of recruiting isn’t salesmanship: it’s building relationships. Almost every recruit that signs with Oregon says they do so because the program feels like a family. This is almost a cliche, but in order for this to happen, relationships have to be built with trust and respect.

Twitter

Mario Cristobal and Penei Sewell celebrate after a win.

When 5-star recruit Noah Sewell signed with Oregon, his explanation for his decision (in an interview with Andrew Nemec) was, “He’s [Cristobal] like a second father figure to me, because he takes care of my brother, Penei [Sewell]. And just seeing their relationship is just something I want with a coach.

Creating a family feel isn’t only about building relationships with potential recruits, but maintaining current relationships. It is about building a culture of trust and honesty throughout the entire program. And there hasn’t been a major scandal around the Oregon football program since Cristobal took over. That is only achievable by building a strong culture.

There is a reason why there are undercurrents of resentment toward Oregon from other Pac-12 coaches. Cristobal continues to make Oregon one of the hottest destinations for top recruits, pulling in top talent from all over the country. Is Oregon easy to recruit to? Or does Cristobal simply outwork everyone and make it look easy?

David Marsh
Portland, Oregon
Top Photo from Twitter

Andrew Mueller, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in higher education in Chicago, Illinois.

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oregon111

how about this… Cristobal gives Oregon its first A+ recruiter as head coach. Chip, Helf, Bellotti: they couldn’t bring in the high school kids that matched the product on the field – Cristobal can

Players want to play in relevant games. Players want to play on ranked teams that have big games and a shot at the playoffs.

College football is all about the glory.

Haywarduck

Cristobal realized the interest created by the past Ducks, facilities and innovative reputation. Other coaches, Basketball, Track and Field have already done this. Kelly Graves is the perfect example of creating an elite program at Oregon while leveraging the facilities, and innovative reputation. If you build it they will come, if you ask. We are getting coaches who will ask, come to Oregon and thrive.

duckcardinal

The topic of recruiting challenges, and Dumpster’s comments Re women’s BB missed opportunity cause me to consider other elite programs at Oregon that are imperiled by the lockdowns’ financial impact.

This century the combined Track and Field teams have likely won more national championships than the total of all the rest of the varsity sports, and have consistently seen more alums move on to successful pro careers in their disciplines than football, Men’s BB, and Women’s BB combined. All this on a total of 30 full scholarships/year (18 women, 12 men).

While the state of Oregon does have above average HS track and field programs, it is not near the level to sustain national championship contending teams, and elite sprinters are as rare in the Beaver State as 5 star defensive tackles. Plus, T&F is now dealing with the possibility of two full recruiting cycles being compromised by the 1) Hayward Field rebuild, and 2) lockdowns.

Without the T&F teams’ half century plus of excellence, there would be no Phil Knight & Nike story, and UO would likely have spent the last 40 years scuffling along with OSU & WSU for even a whiff of national attention.

This is another huge chip on the table for the Pac12(11) administrators and ‘management’.

DumpsterFire

And it’s duckcardinal with the investigative Duckalism (<–because who doesn’t like making up new words).

You’re right though…we wouldn’t be who we are without T&F. It’s never going to be the cash-cow for the university that men’s football and basketball are, but I’ll be honest…it’s nice to see them get at least the same treatment with the “Holy COW!!! Look at Oregon’s facilities” that those two get. Heck, even the baseball, softball and soccer/lacrosse facilities were better than Haward Field has been for years. That can’t exactly be said anymore…

30Duck

https://www.saturdaydownsouth.com/college-football/report-pac-12-could-be-reduced-to-11-teams-in-2020-fall-season/

Since the Big Ten’s decision to play a fall season, many have looked to the Pac-12 to see if all Power 5 conferences will end up playing football in 2020.

Friday was the reported deadline for an Oct. 31 start to be approved. That deadline came and went, but Dan Patrick shared Saturday that he’s “hearing from [a] source that Pac-12 will begin playing football on Nov. 7 and teams will play 6 games, followed by championship weekend in which every team plays in seeded format like Big Ten.”

Those conference plans could be complicated, however, according to a 247Sports report.
R.J. Abeyita reports that Stanford has emerged as “lead dissenter” on return to football:

[S]ources from within the conference are saying the primary objector posing the most formidable impediment is Stanford.

And sources are indicating that, if Stanford remains uncompromising, the conference could be forced to consider proceeding with a fall football season without the Cardinal.

Stanford’s issue with returning to play is reportedly less about COVID-19 and more about football players returning to campus when other students are not allowed:

The argument is that football players, as student-athletes, should not receive preferential treatment over other students – and in this case, very simply, be allowed on campus to participate in a university activity when other students are not.

It will be interesting to see if we have a Pac-12 (or Pac-11) playing football this fall.

duckcardinal

I think Stanford’s concerns are tendon to be overwrought and disingenuous.

Last edited 1 month ago by duckcardinal
duckcardinal

Grad students, particularly in the sciences who work in labs, have been on campus since summer. That’s a ‘special needs’ group that they have already bent the rules for.

So, this certainly has the look of showboating. There are many in the Stanford community who would be fine with a transition to an Ivy League type institution. There are many others who are aghast at how this thinking has worked out for the reputations of schools like…Yale.

DumpsterFire

To be fair, Stanford (the university) is by all rights an Ivy League school in academics. The part that I pay attention to (sports) is no Stanford…they’re 100% “the ‘Furd”…and always will be. They’re like the Beavs when they were good (WOW!!! Total flashback memory popped in my head…anyone remember them being ranked #2 in the preseason polls years back? I could be totally wrong, but for whatever reason I remember that….maybe it was in #2 in the PAC…)…they produce some good years, only to fall back to who they are. Funny how they’re both associated with trees.

Last edited 1 month ago by DumpsterFire
30Duck

Back in 2001, in SI’s Top 25 Pre-season issue, Joey is on the cover, and peering over his shoulder is Beav, RB, Ken Simonton, the headline was, “Oregon, A State Of War!” ot sure if the Beavs have ever been #2 in football, they did get to #1 in Basketball with Gary Payton.

Interesting contrast between the Beavs & the Tree. OS would love to get back to the Riley years, and of course their best team was coached by Dennis Erickson. Stanford? I don’t see passion for sports from them or Cal. Stanford kind of makes fun of the sports with their band, and have produced great teams, but it’s still ancillary. Cal, I feel is more purposeful in building a team capable of getting to the Rose Bowl, but I don’t now how many Cal fans realize the season hasn’t started yet.

duckcardinal

Don’t see that Stanford & Cal can be lumped into the same category Re undergraduate sports support/interest in general. The meager turnout for late night / weekday football games, or those before students are on campus (or on holiday breaks) can be misleading.

Stanford easily leads the nation with somewhere north of 125 total NCAA national championships, seeming to pick up 1-3 every year these days and recently 5 – in a single year. Though Cal has roughly 30,000 undergrad students to Stanford’s 7,000, the Bears’ state school status/budget precludes them from fielding nearly as many competitive teams as The Cardinal.

Stanford’s roster of past Olympic medal winners is greater than most countries. Prior to Covid they were fielding 36 varsity sports via having a large number of Olympic sports athletes qualify for academic scholarships (many endowed) so they could afford it. Their recent drop down to ‘only’ 25 sports still leaves them in the zone of Ohio State, Michigan, Florida, & Texas.

Most of those teams have small, but devoted fan and alumni support. Lots of sugar daddies and mommies for crew, fencing, water polo, etc., and their large, devoted, and vocal following for women’s hoops is well known.

So, it will be very interesting to see if Stanford simply decides to sit this one out for the rest of 2020. They are uniquely situated to do just that. And if the Pac12 wobbles off the rails they might go the Big East route and just drop D-1 football while continuing to compete in that level with their many other sports.

DumpsterFire

Yeah, agreed it is a legit gripe…but who said life is fair? I mean the ‘Furd’s band does things no one else does, or can do…they should be used to the equality of inequality by now, right?

DumpsterFire

My money is on we play.

30Duck

I think so too, and the Pac-12, (11) would just be like the B1G 10, (14) & Big 12, (10).

Charles Fischer

I had a quibble about major Oregon football beginning in the last 15 years considering our No. 2 final ranking in 2001, and everyone who is Greybeard age believes in the transformational impact of “The Pick.”

But those are also examples of a difference of opinion.

David, I love this article because you really capture how Cristobal is special when it comes to recruiting. You made me truly appreciate Mario all the more; thanks!

DumpsterFire

Well, if I’m going to be honest, as great as all of that was, without an idea and a waffle iron we’d likely still be battling the Beavs to see who can maintain being in the middle of the PAC the longest before falling to the bottom again. None of what Oregon has become today would be anywhere near possible without the Swoosh.

No complaints from me though, because when you take a look around the nation, us being the first, and the knocks we took from almost every other program in the country…it’s impossible to deny that without our favorite aunt and uncle, Oregon could never have first impacted, then permanently change the entire college football world.

Haywarduck

We got a lot of complaints about the billboard in New York City promoting Joey Heisman. ‘The money could have been spent in better ways,’ but it wasn’t the athletic department which led on this, it was private donors.

The Athletic Department has benefited from the donors, and the Knights have led the way, but many others have helped create the machine. Cristobal, Altman, and Johnson have leveraged this energy to become dominant forces in their fields. Arguably Kelly Graves might be the best at leveraging what the Oregon Athletic Department is.

Cristobal has done some great things, but he isn’t the only one at Oregon hitting it out of the park.

DumpsterFire

Oh I totally agree. Graves has built up a tremendous thing. Honestly that’s the one thing that I’m truly upset about missing out on with this whole beer virus thing…not getting to see the women make a legitimate run at the crown. Hopefully this year we see it, because they have a very legitimate shot at it again.

Haywarduck

I also think it is important to put what Cristobal is doing in perspective. Is he leading the football team into territory no other program is able to do?

Some places, like Kentucky, only really compete in Basketball. Oregon has an athletic department, and alumni, which create an environment where kids want to come and compete while receiving a great education.

I would say Helfrich underperformed and Cristobal is performing a bit beyond expectations. If you look at the other programs I think we can expect another football coach to exceed what most programs do.

30Duck

It’s hard to say which was more profound, Helfrich’s underperforming or Cristobal’s overperforming, except to say that Cristobal pulled Oregon out of the oooze left in Helfrich’s wake.

The Kentucky example is interesting, not many schools are as deep across the sports spectrum as is Oregon; with its sweep of the conference championships in football, and Men’s & Women’s basketball the last season.

SEC is putting some good basketball both Men’s & Women’s, Ohio State in the B1G, and Softball is split nicely between the Pac-12, Big 12 & SEC, and Lombardi has the team back on track, with great recruiting.

Last edited 1 month ago by 30Duck
DumpsterFire

I’m actually not so sure Helfrich underperformed. I think he was a good coach…where I think he went wrong is that he wasn’t Mark Helfrich, he was trying to be Chip Kelley. Things may have been different had he been himself rather than trying to be someone he isn’t. The problem was he couldn’t be himself…Chipster was just too much to follow to abandon what worked with him.

Here’s an interesting thought….would Mario Cristobal be the same if he had directly followed Chip Kelley rather than come in when the program is in shambles from one coach trying to be the previous coach and then another one trying to be, well a coach?

I’m actually starting to think that because the Ducks were so lost for identity after three years of Helfrich then the year of SWII (who himself always talked about how much he followed the Harbaugh’s) it was about as prime of a moment as could be for someone to come in with fresh ideas. There is so little left of what the Blur Oregon team was that it really can’t even be compared. It still has a hint of “Oregon” flavor, but this isn’t your father’s Ducks.

I don’t think Cristobal’s Ducks would have worked if he would have showed up here in 2013.

Last edited 1 month ago by DumpsterFire
DumpsterFire

Yeah, Pellum was such a disappointment. I really liked that guy, but talk about in over your head…

Mike West

Very interesting take. I for one can’t fathom why people don’t give Helfrich credit for single handedly getting the Ducks to the CFP. Did people forget Helfrich started pushing the defense to perform better? That was Helfrich being himself.

Too bad he didn’t take control in the title game as well. Perhaps the middle linebackers might have stopped leaving gaping holes on cutbacks because they ran too far to the edge on those gashing runs in the second half.

I also agree Cristobal would have had a tough time grinding the Offense to a halt if he immediately followed Chip. Talk about a PR nightmare trying to sell the disaster THAT would have been.

Following a legend is always tricky. Helfrich AND his staff fell due to a incredible amount of hubris. They forgot the adage that teams will find ways “to slow you roll”. Not to mention shred your defense if you hire inexperienced coordinators.

DumpsterFire

You’re right, people do seem to forget that. Yes, it was still the end of the Chipster’s recruits, and with mostly his scheming and especially the temp thing, but he still had to coach, still had to make the calls on which direction the team was going to go…and still had to win the games. He didn’t do a horrible job…just not a great one.

30Duck

Well, yeah, we won’t know what would have happened if it had been Cristobal instead of Helfrich following Kelly; and again we can’t say this as fact, I believe that Cristobal would have avoided the hole we both believe Helfrich fell in, of not being himself I have always felt that was Helfrich’s biggest problem.

He wasn’t even really picked to be Kelly’s successor, he was just left there and Oregon desperately wanted to keep Kelly there, and Helfrich was the easiest coach they could find who would be willing to fill the suit.

DumpsterFire

Agreed…we’ll never know the what if scenario…just an interesting thought. I also agree on Helfrich…he did have a pretty tough act to follow…that’s for sure.

What’s almost funny, not even Chip Kelley can follow in his own footsteps. I think everyone was expecting to see the Bruins be more than just a team that has an iconic football stadium everyone knows, but forgets they play there like six times a year…just never when it counts.

Last edited 1 month ago by DumpsterFire
30Duck

Of all the Beliefs in sports, the one I believe has the most substance is that you never want to be the guy to follow the legend, be it a player or coach. The image of the legend is still there hovering over the successor.

So, Cristobal definitely lucked out in a way by getting the job when he did, and bonus, Kelly struggling at UCLA. SC certainly hasn’t replaced Carroll, and W is still clinging to the Don James era for sustained relevance.

DumpsterFire

DON’T DO THAT!!! I’ll suffer the consequences of breaking the “cancel-culture” banning rules on this site if you ever refer to those purple things up north with the letter “W” again! Use “L” any time you want when referring to them, but never again use the “W”….that’s reserved for winners!!!! Never just give them a “W”….

hehe

Last edited 1 month ago by DumpsterFire
30Duck

Okay, I understand the outrage! Don’t think for a minute that my hate & loathing for the, “purple things up north” is ever waning. When it comes to an instance of identification only, being necessary, a W fills the requirement. To go to the trouble of coming up with something else in its place is to give the, “purple things up north” more attention than deserved. Hey, Ryan Appleby!!

Annie

Wish I could remember who, but there was at least one player at Oregon who came from CA (LA area, I think) who was looking forward to going fishing up here. :)

DumpsterFire

You mean none other than DAT himself?

Jon Joseph

David, it is difficult with the difficulty compounded by an insolvent, dysfunctional network.

On the other hand, Oregon, with NIKE’s dramatic assistance, used avant garde methods to market ‘the product’ and this paid off in national recognition of the Oregon brand. How many other Pac-12 schools would have had the audacity to go big with Joey Harrington in Times Square? When it comes to ‘Q factor’ and brand recognition, Oregon and USC are WAY ahead of the Pac-12 curve.

Nevertheless, spot on on Oregon being a tough place to recruit to. Mario, based on the location is, IMO, the top recruiter in the USA.

The good news? No one has brought this many highly rated players to Oregon. The bad news? Michigan State is paying $5.5M a year to a guy who in one season at CU went 5-7.

OT – The bonuses paid to Larry et al are beyond scandalous; especially, in the midst of a pandemic that have caused layoffs and budget cuts across the board.

I am finding it more and more difficult to give a whip about Pac-12 football.

Oregon has to find a way to greener pastures where the management is not a pack of fools.

Haywarduck

I would say Cristobal leveraged the innovative, unprecedented support the coaches and athletes receive at Oregon. The Joey Heisman billboard highlighted the way this has worked over the years.

From innovative cartoons for recruits, to facilities second to none, Oregon supports its players and coaches. It just took Cristobal to leverage this.

Frost and Helfrich didn’t see this, nor use this, but, thankfully, Cristobal has, and set up Oregon for the next great run.

Last edited 1 month ago by Haywarduck
30Duck

David, great work with the title! At first, I choked a bit on the Cap’n Crunch I was having for breakfast, but then, as I kept on reading, everything started going down easy. Frost did say that, for all the reasons you laid out.

Mario is dealing with the same, and even more now, obstacles. The difference is that instead of curling up and crying, “it’s too hard”, Mario is overcoming he challenges and bringing in #1players and top echelon classes.

Not surprisingly, Scott at historic laden Nebraska isn’t breaking recruiting records either. The rest of the Pac-12 resented Oregon under Chip, who hated recruiting; they seethe thinking about Cristobal; delusions spouting from Lake at Washington, a columnist in LA called out USC for letting Oregon come in and take studs from their own backyard. SC has picked up its recruiting lately; with the addition of one of Oregon’s best recruiters to their staff. But the Ducks still reign supreme in the Pac-12, and will be doing so as long as Cristobal is here.

DumpsterFire

Ahh…see now this is kind of what I’ve been saying when people freak out about, as I believe I said, a potential mass exodus of players and coaches. I’m not sure if the people saying that understand the connection the current players have with the coaching staff, or the staff with the area. No, I don’t fully understand it either since I don’t know any of them, and the last one any of my kids were even remotely acquainted with at Sheldon is now in the NFL, but I’m observant enough to see there is a cultural change with the program unlike we’ve ever seen and only rarely even though could be possible.

You can see it in the recruiting trail if you just open your eyes to what’s right there. Back even like five years ago when someone like Kayvon Thibodeux would visit Oregon they would usually always say something nice about their official visit, and there would be speculation from hopeful fans about what our chances were, but deep down I’m sure we all knew that we had a better chance of finding the lost city of Atlantis in our back yard while digging for pirate treasure in the kids’ sandbox. That niceness was quickly lost in other news, and even the most die-hard fans moved on to other subjects, other recruits to speculate about.

Enter Mario Cristobal. He didn’t sell the Oregon football brand that every other coach tried to sell…which come on, we know what brand that is, and what that swoosh looks like…no, he sold/sells the Oregon family…not as a sales pitch, but as a legitimate family.

While yes, Eugene is a college town, there really is something special about it. Heck, I couldn’t wait to leave when I was in high school, so I ran off and joined the Marines. A funny thing happened though, once I was gone, and even with some of the amazing (and not so amazing) places I was stationed at or visited, I couldn’t wait to come back home.

I moved to Florida for a couple years recently, and guess what, I’m back in Eugene. It’s special, and I’ve see that since I left the fist time.

When Mario Cristobal said that he wanted to be here when he was interviewing for the HC job, I believed him…and I believe he still does want to be here. Maybe this is like Mr. Joseph said to me yesterday and it’s the eternal optimist in me, but I think we really do have a coach that’s here for the long haul, not just as a stepping stone…and because of that, recruiting to the family is easy…

oregon111

I spent a day in Eugene kayaking the Willamette river. I didn’t think it was anything to get excited about. The university area did seem pretty nice.

DumpsterFire

If I had to lived in Portland, I may have stayed in Florida…hehe