Back from Eugene after a nice Thanksgiving trip (sans the head-scratching loss to little brother). After having to listen to several Beaver fans talk about how they weren’t going to brag (but end up doing so in spades), I now have to face the reality where a 12 year stretch of dominance over a hated enemy and an 8 year stretch over a a hapless younger sibling come to an end. I suppose we have another shot in another year’s time to avenge the losses. Here are my thoughts:
In Memoriam, Mark Helfrich
I like Helf. I like his laid-back personality. I like that he’s from Coos Bay and that he grew up rooting for the Ducks. I like that he’s tried to build on the foundation set by his predecessors to create an Oregon "tradition" that we can always take to the bank. If Helf wins the 2014 NCG, he goes down in history and does something that none of his predecessors were able to do. No one necessarily thinks of firing Helf either if he wins that 2014 NCG. But here we are: at the end of the worst season we’ve had in over a decade and needing to address the growing arms race in the PAC 12. I think we all know what the solution is at this juncture – it’s not pleasant and certainly our last 3 coaches have all left of their own volition. For a team that loved to challenge the emphasis on tradition, we sure loved it when it came to our coaching staff. I, for one, posted up and down these boards about how it was a nice change of pace from the messiness of the business of college football. But I think the time has come to face the reality that college football requires the right personnel on and off the field and a change needs to be made: Mark Helfrich should be fired. If Uncle Phil can provide the money to the athletic department to fire Helf, I think he should do it. In addition, I think whomever comes in to steward the ship should take a strong look at letting go most if not all of our coaching staff. Outside of Coach Campbell, I can’t think of a single person who deserves to stay given the last two seasons’ performance.
How to Revitalize a Program?
Let’s do a quick comparison:
Oregon Recruiting Class Rank:
- 2013 (when Helf was hired as HC): 19th
- 2014: 21st
- 2015: 16th
- 2016: 27th
- 2017: 23rd
washington Recruiting Class Rankings:
- 2014 (when Chris Petersen was hired): 37th
- 2015: 27th
- 2016: 29th
- 2017: Currently 17th
So as we speak, Chris Petersen has the fuskies in position for a berth to the playoff this year on the strength of an average recruiting class of 31st in the country, while we are not going to a bowl game with recruiting classes that average around 21st in the country (and having only won 2 conference games this season). We should all be worried about our respective 2017 classes as well. My concern about our program is that outside of a nice decade (2004-2014 + 2001), we’ve not had the type of longevity as a program to bring players in like programs that have had recent dark periods (USC, Notre Dame, Penn St., Florida, Michigan etc.) We are trending in the opposite direction of a fair deal of the PAC 12 and the concern for me is that while we had a great run for a decade, we will turn into an also ran or worse, that we’ll fall out and take decades to come back.
So how do we revitalize the program? Well, I just complain here so I can’t really offer the program any real solutions, but I think the first step would be to look at the best available coaches. My list looks like this:
- Chip Kelly (if he’s leaving SF this year)
- PJ Fleck (after Tom Herman was scooped up by Texas)
- Sonny Cumbie
- Matt Rhule
- Jeff Brohm
Then we’d need to shore up our defense with a new coach. I’d take any of the following if we could get them here with a godfather offer:
- Pete Kwiatowski (would have to pry him from washington)
- Rocky Long
- Charlie Strong
- Jeremy Pruitt
- John Chavis
From there, recommit to the run game! In our halcyon days, we were a run first team, using variants of similar option plays to get guys in space. Having a guy like Marcus Mariota will tempt you into becoming a throwing team, but not every QB can hit a receiver like Mariota could (even VA couldn’t when it truly mattered). It is an absolute travesty that we did not have a single 1000 yard rusher this year. In all of the games that I watched this weekend, teams started rolling when they did two things: use the QB in the run game to pick up yards and run the ball to the outside. While we have been primarily an IZR team for the past few years, the Chip Kelly teams of yore were significant in their ability to stretch the field horizontally. Upstart programs like Houston, Louisville, Colorado and Western Michigan are all running zone read variants, while established teams like Ohio State and Clemson are having sustained success with it. Let’s get back to our bread and butter. We are not an Air Raid team until someone comes in and makes us one – let’s remember who we are.
From there, the Football Program needs to stop with the daily practice reports and the overall "ra ra ra" crap that they’ve been doing the past two years. The spin or outright lies coming from carefully selected dispatches from the front line is downright disrespectful to the fans who spend hundreds and thousands of dollars each year to support this team. Do not lie to us – we can tell that our QBs are not prepared just by watching a few series in our opening game. We don’t need you to tell us how well they did in a red-zone situation in practice. I don’t care about that. I care about the red-zone situation in games (ESPECIALLY ON OUR FIRST DRIVE OF THE GAME).
Recommit to recruiting more heavily in-state. Show in-state stars that we want them here and that we value their contributions to our team. Recommit to getting back into Texas (the most fertile recruiting ground). We do not have a single commit in the 2017 class who is from Texas (we have one recruit from the South in total – Rutger Reitmaeir) and all of the work we did in that state under Chip seems to have unraveled. Recommit to identifying guys who grew up rooting for us (we were in a NCG 6 years ago – a lot of these recruits were 8-12 years old at the time). Recommit to getting back into Hawaii and shoring up the islands. Marcus Mariota is still a popular figure there and a generation of young football players are going to grow up idolizing him. Bring them here. Let them be part of the Oregon story.
From there, I would tell Phil Knight to reign in his designers at NIKE so that our gear doesn’t look so stupid (let’s face it, we’ve gone downhill in the last two years as it relates to our gear choices). Teams are having no trouble bringing in big name recruits without having to have a uniform combination broadcast every week and without dressing like their mascot. We look doubly stupid wearing stupid stuff and then losing badly. Partner with HydroFX once more for our helmets and bring back some sanity to our uniform combinations (let’s wear some Hunter Green again please). Save the cute stuff for team exclusives and bring back clean throwbacks (Cal/washington ones come to mind immediately).
I like the attitude of some of our young guys. Brendan Schooler’s tweet was referenced above and even though he lauds the coaching staff for keeping the team together (right, wrong or indifferent), his play has been refreshing. As has been the play and leadership of Troy Dye, who was one of the players who was trotted out after the loss to the Beavs. I hope that Troy keeps the same head on his shoulders his entire college career – he spoke about accountability and how everyone on the team needs to be trusted to do the right things: learn technique, apply what you’ve learned and follow through in games. We have a young QB who is primed to be a star in the conference if he can keep his development up. He also cares deeply about the team – as a Sheldon grad and someone who grew up rooting for the Ducks, this is exactly the type of guy we want here – someone who clearly shows emotion for the team and wants to do it the right way.
The future is bright and we will be OK. After all, it’s only a game. I will be eagerly awaiting to see what happens next. As usual, feel free to drop your comments in below.