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Thoughts on Mike Bellotti, Hall of Famer

Despite a .620 winning percentage, Mike Bellotti is an unquestionable Hall of Famer.

Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports


That number reflects Mike Bellotti's career winning percentage at Chico State and Oregon. It barely rests above the .600 cutoff that is the minimum for HOF candidacy. He won only one outright conference title. He coached Oregon in only one BCS game. It was Chip Kelly, and not Mike Bellotti, who got Oregon over the hump and made them a yearly national power.

Yet, not only is Mike Bellotti a Hall of Famer, he is unquestionably so.

Remember what Oregon was in the time before Bellotti. Rich Brooks' final year saw the Ducks win the conference title and earn a berth into the Rose Bowl--a culmination of 17 seasons at Oregon which saw Brooks have only seven winning seasons and four bowl games, having only one winning season in his last four with the Ducks. The No. 11 final ranking in 1994 was the only time Oregon finished in the rankings under Brooks, who left Oregon for the Rams with a 91-109 record.

It wasn't exactly an easy task to build on that 17-year project. These were the days before Phil Knight was the driving force behind the program. Oregon had many obstacles to consistent football success that seemed insurmountable--absolutely no in-state talent base, severely substandard facilities, no history or name recognition. Bellotti consistently chipped away at these hinderances, leaving with the infrastructure to sustain a national power.

A key was Bellotti's first season, which would see the Ducks build on that Rose Bowl season with another nine-win campaign and Cotton Bowl appearance. It was this game that famously got Phil Knight into the picture. When asked what needed to be done to sustain this, Bellotti replied, "an indoor practice facility." And it was done...followed by a myriad of other facility improvements culminating in the Hatfield-Dowling Center, which is the finest in the country.

But at every step of the way, it was Bellotti's innovations on the field that kept Knight in the fray. After a step back to 6-5 in 1996 amidst the losses of several players, Bellotti's record improved for five consecutive seasons--culminating with an 11-win season and No. 2 national ranking in 2001. He built Oregon into an offensive power, recognizing early that scoring points was the key to getting recruits on the West Coast excited about Oregon football. From 1996-2001, Bellotti orchestrated a quarterback pipeline that went from Tony Graziani to Akili Smith to Joey Harrington, and an OC pipeline that spread from Al Borges to Dirk Koetter to Jeff Tedford.

From there, Bellotti dipped. After consistently improving at quarterback and OC, Bellotti finally made a mistake in hiring Andy Ludwig to replace Jeff Tedford. For many lesser coaches this would have led to their undoing. For Bellotti, it led to his greatest innovation. Rather that clinging to his system, he recognized where football was headed, and put his career on the line to make the wholesale change to a spread offense. When that change saw mixed results under Gary Crowton, he doubled down, bringing in an unknown in Chip Kelly, and created the foundation of a juggernaut.

At 91-109, Brooks was arguably the second most successful coach in Oregon history. Bellotti obliterated his predecessor in every way. In 14 seasons at Oregon, he finished 116-55, with 13 winning seasons and 12 bowl games.  The Ducks had never won ten games before Bellotti arrived--he achieved that milestone four times. He brought Phil Knight into the fold. His six bowl victories were more than the program had in its entirety before his arrival.

He never won that elusive national title. But he turned a college football never-has-been in to a consistent winner, and laid the foundation for them to become much more.

In the entire BCS era, there were 16 BCS Championship games. Of 32 participants, only two weren't a traditional power. One was Virginia Tech. The other was Oregon--and if not for shenanigans in the rankings, Oregon goes there twice.

It's nearly impossible for a have not to become a have in the world of college football. Mike Bellotti orchestrated just that.