The VD Special, over at Building the Dam, had a great post giving a short history of the Oregon State program and I thought it would be a good time to reflect on some moments over the same timeframe at Oregon. Oregon has had long-tenured coaches during the last 60 years including Len Casanova, Rich Brooks and Mike Bellotti. This will be a look into each of those eras (and some in between).
Our story starts off in 1947. Jim Aiken was the coach of the Oregon Football team playing in the Pacific Coast Conference. Leo Harris, the athletic director at the U of O, had just formed an agreement with Walt Disney to use Donald Duck as the official mascot. Who was the mascot before you ask? Why who could forget Puddles the live duck who was escorted to football and basketball games by the frats! Jim had a good initial record, including trips to the cotton bowl and a conference championship. However, the Korean War started to take its toll across the nation and in 1950; Oregon posted a record of 1-9.
Len Casanova took over the Oregon program in 1951. Len presided over the Oregon Ducks football program from 1951 until 1966, compiling the best record for Oregon until Rich Brooks. He is often credited as the man that built the foundation for Oregon's national rise. Oregon played in one of the earliest nationally-televised games against Nebraska and had a close 10-7 loss against #1 Ohio State in the Rose Bowl in 1958. Len also went on to serve as Athletic Director from 1967 to 1970, assisting in the completion of Autzen Stadium.
In the early and mid 70's, Oregon experienced some lean years under Jerry Frei, Dick Enright, and Don Reid. An interesting thing to note about Jerry Frei, he wanted to change the Donald mascot slightly to become more "intimidating". He portrayed the Oregon Football team as the "Fighting Ducks" and wanted Donald to sport teeth and look mean. Only Roboduck would prove to be crazier in the evolution of the mascot. Miserable years would last into the mid-80's, well into Rich Brooks' tenure with the team.
Rich Brooks took over the program in 1977 and guided the Ducks to both dismal failure and unprecedented success. Brooks was a graduate of Oregon State, playing defensive back for OSU and served as an assistant from 1965-1970 and 1973. The first 7 years at Oregon were spent looking up at the rest of the conference. Brooks only won 22 games combined over 7 seasons. The toilet bowl, the shooting at Autzen; these were dark times for the program. The only reason Brooks remained popular in Eugene was by compiled a record of 15-3-1 against Oregon State and even those games could be miserable to watch for both sides. Things began to turn around towards the end of his tenure as he led the Ducks to their first outright conference title in the school's history, a berth in the Rose Bowl during the 1994-95 season and was manning the sidelines for a certain play. To this day, the field at Autzen is still named after him.
Mike Bellotti was an assistant under Rich Brooks and took over the head coaching job in 1995. During his tenure, he has compiled the most wins out of any Oregon football coach, winning 72% of his games. We have wins in a Fiesta Bowl, Holiday Bowl and 2 Sun Bowls since 1999 with only one losing season coming in 2004 when the ducks went 5-6.
Like Oregon State, Oregon has had a ton of success in the last decade. Losing seasons seem out of the question now. It isn't a matter of whether or not we even go to a bowl, it is a matter of WHICH ONE we are going to. To put it in perspective, since 1995, we have gone to 12 bowl games missing only one in 2004. From 1917 to 1994, we went to 9 bowl games. 12 bowls in 13 years vs. 9 bowls in 77 years. Quite the difference! Our recruiting is up, we have national recognition, Heisman talk almost every year, amazing facilities and a stadium expansion with sold out games. After going back and reminding myself where we had been and where we are now, I couldn't be happier with the place we're in....high expectations and meeting them more often than not.
The Apple Cup of this year could seem eerily familiar to that game 25 years ago. If for nothing else, that should remind Oregon and Oregon State fans just how far we have come TOGETHER in that quarter century