Marcus Mariota is the greatest Oregon football player of all time. He won Oregon its first Heisman Trophy and still holds most of the quarterback records for Oregon. Tragically, though, Mariota suffered the all-too-frequent fate of many great college players; he was drafted early by a team that had no idea what to do with him.
At Tennessee, he played in a system that refused to use his unique skill set and was sacked far too often. An NFL quarterback cannot take consistent hits without significant physical repercussions. Mariota escaped from Tennessee and is now with the Las Vegas Raiders, where he has spent most of his time recovering from past injuries. These injuries have limited Mariota’s NFL success and, as a Duck fan, it would be great to see him fully heal and claim the starting job with the Raiders. However, with each passing week this feels less and less likely.
This last Sunday the Las Vegas Raiders played the Los Angeles Chargers in a game many Duck fans had once hoped would feature dueling Oregon quarterbacks. After the game there was a moment, captured in the image below, that changed the way I look at Mariota and made me believe he has the leadership skills to become a great coach.
Mariota is not a stereotypical leader in the NFL but his teammates and coaches have praised his leadership. He builds personal connections with his teammates and leads by example.
So, after another crushing loss for the Chargers, Justin Herbert and Mariota met on the field after the game. Mariota comforted Herbert as he understood the struggles of a difficult rookie year. For Oregon fans, it has been heartbreaking to watch Herbert give it his all with the Chargers only to watch the Chargers fall sort week-after-week. Herbert, like Mariota at Tennessee, is better than the team that drafted him.
College coaches are different than NFL coaches. College coaches must recruit players and develop deeper bonds with them than is typical in the NFL. NFL teams pursue the best talent they can whether that is through drafting, trading, or signing. Some players may stay with a team for years while others will sign with multiple teams in a single off season—that is simply the nature of professional football. College football, however, requires coaches to build relationships and develop talent, even five-star talent, into the best possible players.
Mariota has proven he has the skills, experience, and compassion needed to become a great college coach.
He knows what it’s like to be the star of the team but also knows the value of being a part of the scout team. Mariota is a team player and a great scout team player must learn and understand how offenses work and then be able to execute that offense. This is not a skill every player can do at a high level and it requires a deep knowledge of X’s and O’s.
So at what point does Mariota take his skills and experiences and translate them into a coaching career? He still has another year on his contract with the Raiders so nothing will happen until the end of the 2021-22 season, but it does seem like a matter of when, not if, Mariota will become a coach.
And as Oregon fans wouldn’t we all love to see Mariota return to the sideline at Autzen Stadium?
Top Photo by: John Giustina
Brad Nye, the FishDuck.com Volunteer editor for this article, is a land conservation attorney in Central Oregon.
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