Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What a Difference a Year Makes

Oregon overcame a huge dose of adversity last spring.  By the time spring practice started it was a relief to get on the field, a relief for fans to have something to talk about other than defections, incidents, legal trouble and classroom failures.

A year later, the story is continuity and leadership.  Ted Miller notes Oregon and Washington are the only two schools in the conference who have kept their coaching staffs intact for the last two seasons.  That's a superficial comparison however.  The core of Oregon's staff has been intact for twenty years.  And Steve Greatwood, Gary Campbell, Don Pellum, Jim Radcliffe and Nick Aliotti are not just old warhorses with too much tenure to be ousted.  They are masters of their profession, dynamite recruiters, great talent evaluators, and exceptional teachers.  It's a wonder they haven't been offered the moon to coach elsewhere.   Keeping a staff of that caliber together for such an incredible length of time is a testimony to great head coaching that's provided these men with the combination of consistency, direction and autonomy that's led them to stay so long, and to the quality of life in Eugene.  Coaches don't stay in one place that long, through three head coaches, just any place.

As to leadership, last season there was a vacuum at the top.  A Heisman trophy candidate at quarterback imploded, making himself a candidate for the National Knucklehead of the Year Award.  It was uncertain who would win the job, and it remained so until late August.  This year there is no doubt.  This is Darron Thomas' team, and Rob Moseley of the Register-Guard reports he's setting the pace in the weight room and voluntary workouts.  As a redshirt sophomore he threw for over 2800 yards, with 30 touchdowns against nine interceptions.  It was a better sophomore year than any quarterback in Duck history.  Better than Masoli.  Better than Harrington, Fouts, Musgrave or Dixon.  Better than a lot of senior years.

It is awesome to contemplate the fact that this young man has two seasons remaining as the Oregon starter.  With his work ethic and desire to compete, with the talent that surrounds him and the coaching and direction he gets, if he stays healthy, he'll own the Oregon record book.

It's five weeks till spring practice.  The Ducks have won two straight conference titles, and they're not done improving.  The kids aren't satisfied, they're not complacent; they're preparing with the same intensity and purpose that got them there.

The signs and the news could not be more positive.  If they stay reasonably healthy, and some key newcomers take their place in the rotation, they could be even better in 2011.  If you look around the league, Stanford has a new head coach two new coordinators, and a hole at wide receiver.  Washington has an inexperienced quarterback.  Arizona will field an entirely new offensive line.  USC's head coach is under investigation again. Cal has numerous question marks on offense.  Oregon State may be without either Rodgers brother.

In any season you have to earn every win.  But from this vantage point, the wins are there to be earned.  They are so far ahead of last year's pace it's hard not to look back and laugh.

Last year's team had a fantastic spring camp.  Their work, energy and commitment set them apart from the very beginning.  So the challenge for this group is clear:  finish winter workouts strong, and hit the field like champions on March 28th.  It will interesting to see the results of the testing at the beginning of camp.

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