Multiple outlets are reporting that Oregon linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator Don Pellum will be named as Nick Aliotti's successor at defensive coordinator. AD Rob Mullens and head coach Mark Helfrich are expected to announce the hire early next week. This choice comes as a surprise to many Ducks fans: the top internal choice was thought to be secondary coach John Neal, and external names mentioned included former Miami head coach Randy Shannon, former Cal and USC defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, and Utah State defensive coordinator Todd Orlando.
Pellum isn't an impressive hire, but I get why he ended up being the guy. It's completely natural to want a splashy and exciting hire, but I don't think that hire existed for Oregon. Ed Orgeron is just a transient, Cajun version of Don Pellum, and wasn't ever coming to Oregon anyway; the timing wasn't right for Justin Wilcox, who may not even be a better coordinator than a lower-profile (and lower-cost) option than any of the viable choices; and Tony Dungy just flat-out was never going to happen. So with the pipe dreams out of the picture, the choice became staff continuity at the expense of coordinator experience, or bringing in a more seasoned coordinator who is unfamiliar with staff and program philosophies. And knowing Oregon's current propensity for in-house hires, this decision is right in line with the direction of the program. I don't think Oregon's adherence to the familiar is definitively a winning strategy, but it's clear at this point that it's THE priority in football hirings, especially given the concurrent rumor that former Oregon intern and GA - and current Philadelphia Eagles defensive line assistant under Chip Kelly and Jerry Azzinaro - Erik Chinander could replace Pellum as linebackers coach. It makes sense to go with what you know, but Oregon is new at this whole "football elite" thing, and making familiar choices in an attempt to sustain that status could actually be detrimental.
The choice of Pellum over Neal is an unexpected one, and is a decision that potentially says a lot. Oregon values Pellum's recruiting connections to Southern California, and he's been a player developer that has been able to get the most out of his players in lean years, with unheralded recruits like Casey Matthews and Spencer Paysinger turning into NFL players under Pellum's tutelage. My concern with this move lies not with Pellum's ability to command respect and game plan for Pac-12 foes that are extremely familiar. My concern is with John Neal potentially leaving Oregon. Neal is the former defensive coordinator at Alabama-Birmingham, and UAB is currently looking for a head coach. Neal was a candidate for the same job in 2011, and is rumored to be a candidate again. Now that he's been passed over for the DC position, I'd expect him to more aggressive pursue that UAB head coaching position. And if he does leave, does that impact Ifo Ekpre-Olomu's decision to stay for his senior season?
I trust Don Pellum's ability to recruit. I trust his rapport with his players. I trust his football knowledge. But I'm concerned. I'm concerned that the athletic department, by making internal moves to try not to get worse, might not get any better. I'm concerned that we'll lose John Neal. I'm concerned that the playcalling under Pellum in 2014 will have the lack of rhythm and flow that Scott Frost's offensive playcalling had in 2013.
Though, when Oregon hires Tony Dungy on Monday morning, this whole article will seem a bit silly.