Evanson: Oregon football's new staff is talking the talk, but can they walk it
Well, they're off and running.
The Oregon Ducks and Oregon State Beavers football teams took to the practice field this past week, and in the process, they stoked a perpetual fire in football fans across the state.
While both programs are for all intents and purposes still going through the motions as players and coaches refamiliarize themselves with the game and players they left behind roughly nine months ago, it will be all systems go this coming week as the pads go on and the intensity ramps up for what both hope will be a season to remember.
But while much remains the same for an Oregon State program continuing to build, far more is different for a Ducks team with more questions than answers.
Dan Lanning is the new head coach. That we know. But what Lanning will bring to the table beyond enthusiasm, a magnetic personality, and some hardware from his three-year-stint as the defensive coordinator at the University of Georgia is still yet-to-be-determined.
Duh, right? How can anyone know the results of a season still to be played? But I'm not speaking as much to how the season will playout in the win/loss column, but more so the manner in which the team will play and the first-year head coach will manage what will be a very difficult job.
Oregon has players — not quite to the caliber of what the 36-year-old head coach had to work with in the SEC, but personnel the likes of standout linebackers Noah Sewell and Justin Flowe; a formidable defensive front with a good mixture of returning talent, transfer additions, as well as reputable incoming freshmen; and a stable of skill players including 10 four-star talents at the wide receiver position, three more at running back, two five-star signal-callers including Auburn transfer Bo Nix, and an offensive line with a wealth of experience.
But with that talent — and the Ducks' winning history over the past decade-and-a-half — come expectations from a fanbase looking to win now.
While Jonathan Smith had the luxury of limited expectations due to inheriting a Beaver program running on fumes, Lanning is taking the reins of one that has two Pac-12 titles in the last three seasons and has advanced to the conference championship game in each of the last three.
The Ducks also have two national title game appearances, six conference championships, three Rose Bowl titles, and eight "New Years 6" bowl appearances (counting the College Football Playoff and National Championship games) in the last 13 years — not to mention a Heisman Trophy winner.
So, realistic or not, no one waving green and yellow pom-poms in the bleachers at Autzen Stadium this fall will be toasting Lanning and his staff in the wake of an eight-win season and a Holiday Bowl berth come December.
Great moments are born from great opportunity. At least that's what former USA Olympic hockey coach Herb Brooks was purported to have said in his speech to his team prior to their famous 1980 win over the Soviets. Well, Lanning has that opportunity this season to earn everything from the adoration of an exuberant Oregon fanbase to the respect of a national media presence anxiously awaiting what the rookie head coach has to offer.
For the past 30 years, everyone has won in Eugene. Mike Bellotti took the Ducks to a Fiesta Bowl win and No. 2-end-of-year-ranking; Chip Kelly won three conference titles and earned a spot in the 2010 national title game; Mark Helfrich's Oregon team won a Rose Bowl and too played for the ultimate prize; and most recently Mario Cristobal parlayed his winning ways into a sweetheart deal at his alma mater, Miami. Heck, even Willie Taggart managed a winning season (7-5) in his one and only campaign for the Ducks.
So, we know there's a history of the program winning games, but what we lack is that same knowledge of a staff only associated with it.
There's no one with head coaching experience on Oregon's team of coaches, and its two primary coordinators, Tosh Lupoi (defense) and Kenny Dillingham, aren't what one would call "experienced" even in their current roles.
Yes, Lupoi was technically the defensive coordinator for a year at Alabama, but raise your hand if you think head coach Nick Saban was actually running the show.
And Dillingham has but three years' experience as an offensive coordinator, spending one each at Memphis, Auburn and Florida State, at none of which he was responsible for calling the plays.
Add those to Lanning's equally limited resume and there's more than enough reason to be at least a little concerned about what's to come in the forthcoming months.
I'm interested. In fact, I'm very interested to see what the new, young and fresh staff have to offer.
They've proven they can recruit, seem to have built the trust of the players, and the Oregon community has whispered nothing but sweet nothings to anyone who'll listen regarding the man who is Dan Lanning. But while recruiting, trust and integrity will get you far, it's whether it gets you wins that will ultimately matter — and the Ducks' new staff doesn't have a single one yet.
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