Ducks WBB: ‘Is the System Blinking Red?’

Don Marsh Editorials

There are losses and then, well, there are losses.

As a fan of Oregon Women’s basketball, I have had concerns for some time now per the health of the program. But losing to the Portland Pilots? By 91-60? I can be pretty doom-and-gloom, but I wasn’t ready for that one. About all you can say is props to the Pilots. Well done, ladies.

Following the loss to the Pilots on November 20th, the Lady Ducks winged their way south to Waco, Texas to take on the 13th ranked Baylor Bears. No question the Lady Bears are a high-level program and have an excellent team this year as reflected by their high ranking. I was not surprised when the Ducks lost by 20 on December 3rd. What was, for me, a bit of a head-scratcher, was Coach Kelly Graves postgame comment. “I thought we played well.” We lost by 20 and Graves’ comment is “We played well.” I just began to wonder, “Is the system blinking red?

I have zero technical expertise when it comes to the game of basketball, and I do not consider myself to be knowledgeable per the nuances of the game. I am just a fan, albeit a dispassionate one. Some of what follows is documented. Some of it is opinion. Some of it is conjecture. All of it is leading up to the question, “Is it time for a change in leadership at the top of this program?”

My introduction to the OWBB came through the men’s portal if you will. It was the era when the students (Famously referred to as “Deranged Idiots” by then UCLA coach Gene Bartow in 1977) would line-up outside Mac Court, some even spending the night. (Yes, I did that on occasion.) This was Dick Harter and Kamikaze OBB. The women’s team was used as a warm-up-act of sorts prior to the men’s game, which was clearly the main event. However, it did begin to generate some interest in OWBB.

Jody Runge had quite a time at Oregon. (Screenshot from Oregon Womens Basketball on Facebook)

Elwin Heiny was the coach at the time, and he enjoyed some early success. It is also fair to say that some of that success could be attributed to the fact that the level of competition was not all that strong. Many schools were not recognizing women’s athletics. Once Title-IX forced the issue, Heiny did not keep up with the times and Oregon’s early success soon became a thing of the past. It is also true that you could not have met a nicer person than Coach Heiny.

Full disclosure…I loved Jody Runge. Yes, she was a very flawed individual, like all of us though some of us more than others. I know that. Really, I do.

Runge took over the program in 1994. It was her first time as a head coach. She inherited a program that had gone 9-18 the previous year. Runge turned the Ducks into winners immediately and in her eight years as head coach, she never had a losing season. She led the Ducks to the NCAA tournament in each of her eight years, won the regular season conference championship twice, was also Pac-12 Coach of the Year twice and had a winning percentage of .687.

More than that, Runge fought for equality for the program inside the athletic department. She fought for things like equal practice times, equal number of pictures of female athletes, better press coverage and lots more. Most importantly, insisted on stand-alone games. All of that cannot have been easy.

It’s fair to say there was some amount of controversy per circumstances surrounding the UO’s Athletic Department and Jody Runge’s decision to part company.

Bev Smith was a great player as well as coach at Oregon. (Screenshot from Pac-12 Video)

Bev Smith followed Runge and who doesn’t love Bev Smith? Success on the hardwood was, well, mixed. Smith took the Ducks to the NCAA once and ended up with a winning percentage of .504. One interesting footnote on this era would be that, as I recall, the first game Bev coached for the Ducks was a preliminary event prior to an Oregon volleyball match. Perhaps this was just the athletic department promoting two women’s sports programs at once. It did have a bit of a full circle feel to it dating back to the Elwin Heiny time.

Paul Westhead succeeded Bev and survived five years. His winning percentage was .418. (Notice the trend?) It has been reported that written into Westhead’s contract was the stipulation that he would be allowed to live in his “preferred hometown” of San Diego six months of the year. I get it, I guess. Just seems odd that a coach would be allowed to live half the year a thousand miles away. Does not feel like a real strong commitment to the program. But who knows?

It is good to look at the history of Oregon Womens Basketball, and the coaches that guided the program in today’s article. With this background we look tomorrow at the case at hand, Oregon Women’s Head Basketball Coach, Kelly Graves.  Thoughts about our Oregon Womens Basketball history? Go to the only civilized, free, forum-with-decorum to discuss.

Don March
Eugene, Oregon
Top Screenshot from Video

New 2024 FishDuck Publishing Schedule….

During the off-season the publishing schedule will consist of articles on Mondays and Tuesdays. Do keep checking as new articles could be published during the week when a writer has something to say.

In mid-August of 2024, we will go back to the seven-days-a-week of articles during the football season as we did in the football season of 2023.

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