Move the Goalpost: Who Changed Your Opinion Most?

Ryan Robertson Editorials

So many of the “Greybeard” Oregon fans on the Our Beloved Forum recall the days in the 1970s, when both Oregon and Oregon State were equally bad. I was chatting with Mr. FishDuck and pulled him from his fun at sports betting online to ask him who, among our many coaches, changed his opinion most about the direction of the Oregon football?

In 1995, the year of my birth, Mike Bellotti took over as the head coach of the Oregon Ducks. Bellotti was a younger, innovative offensive mind taking over a Ducks program that had rarely seen success prior to his tenure. His reign signified the real beginning of the modern era for Oregon football, and he remains the winningest coach in program history to this day.

He took over for Rich Brooks, who changed Oregon from a bottom tier Pacific Conference program to a respectable team, though Brooks was never able to really compete at the highest level. Bellotti was able to take the newly invested in athletic department from respectable all the way to contending for conference and national championships.

Without the guy who I think of as the Godfather of Oregon football, the program would not be anywhere near what it is today.

But is Bellotti the most influential coach in modern Oregon history? For this exercise I am going to remove Brooks from the conversation. Not because he wasn’t an extremely notable coach (the darn field is named after him!), but because he didn’t have the people backing the program that the coaches after him did, so it isn’t fair to compare his accomplishments to anyone else.

The Prodigy

Chip Kelly revolutionized not just Oregon, but all offenses in college football. (Photo by Kevin Cline)

Chip Kelly is far and away the most famous coach in school history. It honestly isn’t close. As someone who hasn’t lived in Oregon consistently since 2014, I can tell you that most casual college football fans still think Oregon is running the Kelly offense, refusing to play defense, and changing to a completely new uniform every Saturday.

If people know anything about Oregon, they know Kelly.

Kelly changed the National perception of the program so much, by winning at a clip that the program has never seen before or since, while running the premier offense in the country, and being one of the most bold play-callers in college football history. His record (46-7) speaks for itself.

Kelly did nothing but make BCS Bowls and win conference championships. The program feels his presence a decade after his departure. Not to mention he very nearly won a national championship.

The Hometown Hero

Mark Helfrich isn’t the most fondly remembered coach in team history. The end of his tenure was marred with a total and complete lack of defense. To the point that the prevailing opinion nationally is the Ducks don’t play defense to this day.

That being said, Helfrich didn’t only have the last two seasons in Eugene. He fielded perhaps the greatest team in program history, and won a playoff game. Had any of the receivers played in the national championship, I am not sure that Oregon doesn’t win the inaugural CFP National Championship.

Helfrich started hot but floundered as he went. Something has to be said for what he was able to accomplish though.

The Short Timer

Willie Taggart did not stay long in Eugene. (Photo by Gary Breedlove)

I would argue that the coach who took over for Helfrich saved the Oregon program from a return to mediocrity when they became coach. I know that isn’t a popular opinion throughout the fanbase, but Willie Taggart did, in fact, right the ship after the disastrous 2016 season.

While not really eligible for a list like this one due to the unceremonious way he left the program, Taggart deserves a mention.

The Bull in the China Shop

Mario Cristobal was not viewed in a very positive light toward the end of his tenure, however, he did something that was unprecedented, difficult, and nearly unthinkable after the finesse era that Oregon had been in since Kelly took over: he changed the identity of the program.

For the first time in modern history, the fanbase was caught up talking about the defense and the offensive line. Cristobal was able to change the very way we were watching the team. Gone was the flash, gone were the days of Stanford standing too strong against our offensive line, or bullying our defensive front, in were the days of overwhelming blocking advantages and getting excited when a carry went for more than twelve yards.

Cristobal had yet another massive coup as coach: he proved that Scott Frost was wrong, you can recruit to Eugene. Propelling the recruiting of the program to match the style that the school is known for, Cristobal modernized the recruiting effort before departing on mostly bad terms due to on-the-field results.

The Progrum Guy

Oregon Ducks football - in Eugene, OR

Dan Lanning inspires both the team and the fanbase for Oregon. (Photo From Eugene Johnson)

Look, I am an optimist about Oregon (unless they just gave up a big play). I go into literally every season thinking that we have a shot to win it all. I unironically thought we had a shot to win in 2016. Pre-season I thought the defense must be better (it wasn’t), the QB play was going to be sustained (it fell off sharply), and the game management was going to improve from Helfrich (remember how Nebraska went?). But NEVER have I felt as confident as I have been since about midway through the 2022 season.

Dan Lanning has returned the hope that was always so prevalent during the Kelly era, but with the recruiting of the Cristobal era, and the likeability of the Bellotti era. These teams just feel like they can win it all. That is what Lanning has brought to Eugene: the belief that we are better than every team in the nation. Not the false belief that we had during the Cristobal era, but a genuine feeling that we are more talented at every position than every single opponent we face. That is how Lanning has changed the program.

So who was it? Who changed your opinion of the program the most? Don’t think of what era you liked the most, think of what you saw and how it changed what you felt about the program as a whole.

Ryan Robertson
Huachuca City, Arizona
Top Photo by: John Giustina

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