Are The Ducks Marching Forward?

Football is months away. Basketball has mercifully ended. That doesn't mean it's going to get quiet here at ATQ. In fact, the month of March may include some of the more eventful off-season days (no football or basketball) ever in the UO athletic department. Huge decisions are looming and the futures of some major programs and significant people hang in the balance.

It's time to break out your crystal ball and tell us how you think it will all play out.

I'll start.

Mike Bellotti: Is he head coach or athletic director on June 1?

My prediction: Head coach.

I think Bellotti will still be head coach. Why? He wants to bring an NCAA championship to Eugene. Momentum, high caliber returning players, a BCS-worthy non-conference schedule and a favorable Pac-10 schedule (USC, Cal & OSU at Autzen) all point to a real opportunity for greatness. Bellotti takes one last shot at a conference title and maybe more.

By default, this means Chip Kelly remains offensive coordinator and Pat Kilkenny remains athletic director.

LeGarrette Blount: Suspended or reinstated when spring practice starts March 30th.

My prediction: Reinstated.

I'm guessing the next major Bellotti news conference - where he announces he'll coach for one more year - will include a note about having reinstated Blount and linebacker Terrance Pritchett to the football team. It's unlikely any of the above will be announced until after March 16, when the next guy on our list makes his big decision.

Bryce Brown: Is he coming to Oregon or going elsewhere?

My prediction: Going elsewhere.

Brown could be a good fit at Oregon (sans his personal advisor). The Ducks would most certainly be a good fit for Brown. In the end, Oregon lacks the history; that trophy in the athletic department lobby that says "we've proven that we can be the very best". I would love to be wrong, but I think Brown ends up at Miami or LSU. We'll know on March 16th.

Ernie Kent: Is he coming back or hitting the road?

My prediction: Coming back.

I admire Ernie Kent. I got his autograph as a kid when he was a member of Dick Harter's Kamikaze Kids. Ernie has done more for the Oregon basketball program than just about any coach before him. However, the economics of Oregon's commitment to a new arena (specifically, the need to fill said arena on game nights) and a new department directive that all Duck sports should compete at a very high level provide significant rationale for a change.

Ernie has not developed a program that consistently wins, yet. There have been great players and great moments. There have been just as many seasons of mediocrity. In Kent's 12 seasons at Oregon, the Ducks have had a losing Pac-10 conference record as often as they've had a winning conference record, and that's giving Ernie the benefit of two 9-9 seasons. Kent's Ducks have finished higher than fifth in the Pac-10 only four times. Getting to the NCAA tourney five times in 12 years isn't good enough at Oregon any longer.

That is exactly what Kilkenny will tell Kent when they agree that Ernie will get a chance to see his latest recruits through their careers. Nothing special is going to happen during the Porter and Catron era. Good things probably lie ahead for the current group of freshman, and for some nice inbound recruits who will wear Duck uniforms next season. Ernie will get his shot and will be the Duck's basketball coach when the Matthew Knight Arena is opened in 2011.

Bev Smith: Is she coming back or hitting the road?

My prediction: Hitting the road.

The University of Oregon bio for Bev Smith kind of says it all..."Oregon hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2005, a streak Oregon has faith will be snapped in 2009." Faith doesn't snap losing streaks, winning does. And the Duck women haven't done a lot of winning under Smith since the 2004-05 season.

Remember, Kilkenny has cleared a new philosophical path for Oregon athletics.

You may remember these comments in the Register Guard from George Schroeder's interview with Kilkenny about a month ago: "We compete in the Pac-10. So all of our sports programs have the tools and the resources that they need in order to compete in the Pac-10, and the expectation is that they will succeed over long periods of time. That was never stated here before. Other than our softball program and our men’s and women’s tennis program, they have all the budgets, facilities, everything they need in order to compete — and that means the top five. Because they come in seventh, they’re not getting fired, but over a reasonable period of time, that’s what the expectation is."

When asked by Schroeder, "If you come in seventh too often?" Kilkenny replied, "Yeah, you're not going to have a job."

Like Kent, Bev Smith is a fan favorite. She is among the greatest Oregon women's basketball players ever; maybe the greatest ever. The Oregon women over the past four seasons have finished eighth, sixth, seventh and seventh. Enough said.

So there you have it:

Bellotti - Head coach
Blount - Reinstated
Brown - Going elsewhere
Kent - Coming back
Smith - Gone

I've never gone 5-0 in anything in my life and all of the above is highly debatable. Post your predictions and rationale in the comments. Then we'll all hold our collective breath and see how it unfolds.

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