Writer's note: This post was bumped, but make sure you check out today's Morning Quack Fix for the latest Oregon news.
The Ducks will take on UCLA this Saturday, and arguably the program's biggest nemesis will be on the opposing team's sideline for the sixth time since 1996 and second as head coach of the Bruins.
We're talking about none other than "Slick Rick" Neuheisel. Or Neuweasel, as Oregon fans so lovingly coined him.
The bitter rivalry between Oregon—and more specifically Mike Bellotti—and Neuheisel has been well-documented. If you need a refresher, here's an explanation from Neuheisel himself:
"It goes back to 1995 [when Neuheisel was Colorado's coach] when I faked a punt, probably ill-advised, late in a bowl game. I was a first-year coach. I'm making no excuses but it was probably a poor decision. That drew their ire. We played them in another bowl game in Hawaii and we ended up on the winning end.
I guess Mike had been in a press conference saying they had the better team. And I said, "Scoreboard -- like Al Davis says, 'Scoreboard, baby.'" And then you add that to I become the head coach to one of their arch-rivals [Washington]. It just kind of took off. I probably wasn't mature enough to handle it the way I should have."
Neuheisel's admission, albeit a decade late, was spot on. His call for a fake punt late in Colorado's 38-6 win over the Ducks during the 1996 Cotton Bowl was classless at best. And the incident set off a decade-long rivalry between Bellotti and Neuheisel.
But that's all in the past now. Sure, Duck fans will continue to hold a grudge against Neuheisel, and why shouldn't we? He's 4-2 all-time against Oregon. But before this weekend's game, we should consider the hypocrisy in continuing to hold that grudge after the stunt pulled by first-year head coach Chip Kelly during last Saturday's 52-6 drubbing of Washington State.
Late in the third quarter, with the Ducks "holding on" to a 45-0 lead, a punt by Wazzu's Reid Forrest was muffed by redshirt freshman Scott Grady and recovered by the Cougars on the Oregon 1-yard line. The Cougars ran two subsequent goal-line run plays, but came up short. On 3rd-and-2, sophomore quarterback Marshall Lobbestael snuck very close to the goalline, and after a few seconds, reached over his head to show he had entered the end zone and the touchdown call was made.
Oregon, 45. Washington State, 6. Hardly a barn-burner.
But Kelly opted to challenge the play. And although the touchdown still stood after official review, the damage was done.
I didn't think much of it at the time, but it was clear to me why he did it. He wanted to reward his defense for another stellar performance by preserving the shutout. Just a week earlier, the Ducks' defense had its first "technical" shutout against Cal, giving up only a field goal to start the game after Walter Thurmond III fumbled the opening kickoff in Cal territory. This was a chance for the Ducks to potentially preserve a shutout.
But in retrospect, it really was a classless move on par with Neuheisel's, and one that demands an apology.
From Washington State head coach Paul Wulff's comments in yesterday's Spokesman Review, I'd say he agrees:
Finally, Wulff was asked about Chip Kelly challenging the Cougars’ touchdown with the score 45-0 and whether he agreed that it was kind of strange. "I would tend to agree with that too," Wulff said. "There were some things like that happen. You know, let me just say this. In my first season and a little bit, particularly in that game, there’s been something that have happened. We’re down right now, we know that. But there are some chips being thrown on our players and coaches’ shoulders right now that we are going to carry with us for a while. So, we have a lot of motivation. And we’re getting pieces of motivation from time to time and we’ll have plenty of motivation moving forward." So you’re going to remember this? "Yes."
I think it's fair to chalk Kelly's error in judgment up to inexperience. After all, Neuheisel later admitted the same. But it was too little too late. The Karma Police eventually caught up to Neuheisel, and two highly respected football programs went down with him: First, Colorado, then Washington.
But Kelly has the chance to avoid this trend and do what took nearly a decade for Neuheisel to do: apologize.
I'm not saying there isn't some justification for why Kelly did it. And sure, Wulff may not even be the coach in Pullman in a season or two. But that's not a good enough reason not to do the right thing.
And with all that's happened so far in his first year at the helm of an FBS program, it would seem Kelly could use all the karma he can get.
[UPDATE] George Schroeder gave his take on this situation in this morning's Register-Guard.
[UPDATE] Here's a video of the play in question: