Putting Lanning’s Second Year into Perspective

David Marsh Editorials

This football season was a success for Oregon football. Now, it doesn’t feel that way because it was just a few points short of being so much more, but we have to remember that this is only Dan Lanning’s second year as a head coach, anywhere. In his first two seasons at Oregon he has put together a 22-5 record with a Fiesta Bowl victory and Bo Nix became a Heisman finalist.

By comparison, Chip Kelly was 22-4 in his first two years, but without any major bowl victories. However, Kelly did bring the Ducks back to the Rose Bowl in 2009-10 and in Year 2 brought Oregon to the verge of a National Championship — and came up just short. In 2010, Oregon also had a Heisman finalist in LaMichael James.

Kelly’s successor, Mark Helfrich, was also successful in his first two years as the head coach at Oregon, going 24-4. The 2014 season is still the best season in Oregon football history with the Ducks winning a conference championship, a playoff semifinal Rose Bowl, making a National Championship appearance and Marcus Mariota winning the Heisman. The only way to top this season is for the Ducks to win a National Championship.

In Willie Taggart’s only season as Oregon’s head coach, he went 7-5 and then didn’t stick around long enough to even coach the Ducks bowl game that year. That was in mid-December. In Taggart’s single season he accumulated more losses than Lanning has across two years. Taggart wasn’t a good fit for Oregon and it showed, as he wasn’t here long enough to warrant a second paragraph on his accomplishments (or lack thereof).

This brings us to perhaps the most controversial head coach in recent Oregon history, Mario Cristobal. In his first two seasons at Oregon his record was 21-6; however, if you were to include the 2017 Las Vegas Bowl he coached as the interim coach, he would be 21-7.

Cristobal’s second year as Oregon’s head coach was by far his best, as the Ducks went 12-2, won the Pac-12 Conference Championship and won the Rose Bowl. Cristobal’s following seasons saw the Ducks win a second conference championship, lose the Fiesta Bowl, and appear in another conference championship, before he bolted to Miami.

Mark Helfrich coaching during the 2014 Pac-12 Championship Game.
(Photo By Kevin Cline)

This is where comparing Lanning’s achievements gets more intangible for Duck fans. Kelly, Helfrich and Cristobal all accomplished more in their second year than Lanning. However, it is important to remember how much college football has changed in just a short time. The transfer portal and NIL have created a wholly different recruiting environment, even compared to the way recruiting was done in 2019.

Additionally, the Oregon blur offense used by both Kelly and Helfrich is no longer as deadly. It is still an effective offense, but defenses have figured out ways to mitigate its explosiveness.

As for Cristobal’s special 2019 season, he was buoyed by Justin Herbert and that offense stiffed his ability. The 2019 Oregon team could have made a run at the playoff if not for some poor coaching against Auburn and Arizona State.

In 2024 it is clear that Kelly has not been able to replicate what he accomplished in 2010 for Oregon at his new team, UCLA. Helfrich is no longer coaching but he couldn’t get the Ducks back into a New Year’s Six bowl game after 2014, though it does make you wonder if Vernon Adams hadn’t broken his finger in 2015. As for Cristobal, we as Duck fans have taken far too much glee from the pain Miami fans are suffering these days.

So even if Lanning hasn’t accomplished as much as his predecessors in Year 2, the bigger question to ask right now is what the feeling is around Lanning after his second year.

Right now it feels like there is more optimism around Lanning than any other coach besides Kelly heading into Year 3. He has found a replacement at quarterback and continues to stack the roster with talent. He just needs to take that next step.

In the end it doesn’t really matter how you compare Lanning to those who came before him because it isn’t the same game. What matters is how Lanning stacks up against the rest of the college football world right now.

So how do you feel Lanning is doing after his second season?

David Marsh 
Portland, Oregon
Top Photo By Tom Corno


Natalie Liebhaber, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in technology in SLC, Utah.

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