Saturday, June 18, 2011

The problem is exaggerated and already addressed in a profound way

The screed from the screechers, blatherers and oxygen depleters on talk radio and in the columns is that Oregon has become a rogue program, the new Jailblazers, and Chip Kelly has lost control.  Rachel Bachman goes back 18 months to build a shaky and ill-supported case that Oregon has a grievous issue and is headed for certain ruin.  "The latest in a string of incidents," the Oregonian calls it, attempting to make an ill-connected litany out of isolated incidents long-since settled:  players who have been booted from the program are cited as the surest representatives of the whole.

What the shrill finger-pointing ignores is that Chip Kelly is transforming the program one solid recruiting decision at a time.  The Duck staff is so painstaking and thorough in evaluating players that they are steadily accumulating an eye-popping array of talent with equally stalwart credentials in character and academics.  This weekend Kelly and his coaches welcome their second recruiting class to Eugene; many of the troublemakers and rule stretchers Bachman cites are holdovers from the Belotti era.

Mike Bellotti was a good man and a good coach, but his competitive fire often led him to shortcuts and compromises in the area of discipline and roster structure.  He was a coach who took chances on marginal guys.  Rodney Woods made it, completing four years without further incident, although he never became the star he was projected to be.   Herman Ho-Ching, Onterrio Smith,  Jackie Bates and Luke Bellotti were given multiple chances and multiple passes in the name of not penalizing the team or weakening the program on the field.  In recruiting, Dewitt Stuckey and Cliff Harris got invited to campus and enrolled in spite of serious incidents before they even got here.  The coach took shortcuts and made deals with the devil, and there were a couple of years the program blew up because of a poisonous locker room.

I don't see that happening now.  As Kelly begins to put together his third class, I'm struck with how many of the kids he is signing are leaders and exceptional achievers, sharp, focused kids who set the pace and buy in from the beginning.  Oshay Dunmore, Jake Rodrigues, Anthony Wallace, Lake Koa-Ka'i, Marcus Mariota, Jared Ebert--you start reading the bios of these young men, and you are struck by their balance and self-awareness and solid foundation.  The latest signee, Cory Carriger of Montana, is being recruited by half the Ivy League.

Duck Territory is running a series on the new kids on the block, this weekend's arrivals as they prepare to get on a plane or make the drive to Eugene.  It's startling to hear the determination and maturity in their voices as they make their way here:

Tyler Johnstone: "As a freshman I just want to get to the point where I can compete for a spot on the field. I think that's what every freshman wants actually but I want to make that my reality. I love the atmosphere and the fact they are still on the rise and compete for titles every year. It's going to be great to get up there." (story by Brandon Oliver of Duck Territory)

Johnstone, by the way, is a 4.0 student, one of several honor students in this recruiting class, a group that includes quarterback prospect Marcus Mariota.  Lake Koa Ka'ai has a 3.6 GPA and scored a 1720 SAT.  Grades aren't everything; they still have to run, pass, block and tackle, but kids who take their academics this seriously while excelling on the football field have the family structure and intrinsic motivation to continue to succeed at a high level with a minimum of drama and distraction.
De'Anthony Thomas, again from Brandon Oliver: "I had always liked Oregon but I fell in love when I stepped foot on campus. The campus is awesome and the coaching staff is amazing. I cannot wait to play for Coach Kelly and that offense. I just hope everyone is as supportive as I have heard. It will be tough to leave home but it is also a big step for me. The support Eugene gives the Ducks is as good as it gets. They are real fans that care about the team and the school and I look forward to doing what I can to make them proud that I am a Duck."

"I won LA City two straight years at "The Shaw" and the last two years for Oregon were just the beginning for us. I am a winner and I accept nothing less than titles. I expect to leave Eugene with the Ducks being the 5 or 6 time (reigning) PAC-10/12 Champs and a BCS title or two."

Andre Yruretagoyena: (Oliver) "My goals are to get good grades first and foremost and if playing time is an option then play to my best ability. If it doesn't work out and I red-shirt, then I'll give my best efforts in practice to help work towards a National Championship. I also want to get stronger and faster so I can perform at the highest level."

Were you that self-directed at 17 or 18, that singularly focused?  These kids are, nearly to a man.  What's striking is that the Oregon staff isn't putting together a quick laundry list of the highest-rated four and five-star knuckleheads they can assemble.  They're looking for players who are sharp enough to fit in here, aware enough to understand what's expected of them.

Kids are going to screw up.  That can happen anywhere.  Your bright, sensible daughter can come home with a stupid tattoo on her wrist.  Mine got the pi symbol, of all things.  I watch the young men Kelly chooses, the ones who choose to come here, and I observe the discipline he applies when correction is necessary, and it becomes obvious that this is no Ohio State, flaming out of control while the head man looks for an alibi or a way to plead ignorance.  Oregon operates in the same gray areas as all major programs, but the players they are choosing, going forward, with Kelly establishing his first four full recruiting classes, combine exceptional talent with exceptional character.  It's by design. Wait and see.


  1. Great article. You nailed it again.

    Part of the issue with these individual incidents is the big stage that the Ducks now find themselves on. Being a winner and on the national championship level brings that much more increased scrutiny and attention.

    When I think about Chip Kelly being thrust into the LeGarrette Blount fiasco in his first day as coach I have to think he's done everything humanly possible to reinforce the message of Ducks football being a privilege.

    While we have to remember, these are kids and they are going to make mistakes, the vast majority of kids seem to be a great fit for the ideals of the school, as well as talented.

    Let's just hope that the Ducks are afforded the luxury of top talent AND that maturity in future recruiting classes.

  2. Nice to hear from you GD. Thanks for the comment. Increased attention and scrutiny is definitely a key factor--something happens in Corvallis, hardly anyone notices.