Oregon, under Taggart, needs to show it will do the right things
The University of Oregon spoke volumes with its news release Tuesday night, in which the school announced it had taken oversight of the football team's strength and conditioning program away from Willie Taggart.
Yet, questions remain.
Wow, barely a month into Taggarts reign and the new coach acknowledges in a prepared statement that he has accepted the decision.
Not saying it was a fireable offense, but its a public relations nightmare and an egregious mistake by both the head man and new UO strength and conditioning coach Irele Oderinde to work athletes to the point where three go to the hospital and need to stay there, at least two for a while, with extreme fatigue, muscle breakdown and possible kidney damage (in laymans terms for rhabdomyolysis).
It casts into doubt how much Taggart and his staff can be trusted to not only do something quoting one of what he says are his three tenets but to do the right thing.
And, lets not be naive, the now suspended Oderinde has been thrown under the bus, and the bus has been driven by Taggart and athletic director Rob Mullens. Oderinde comes across as a soldier and the others as generals trying to toughen up the Ducks Taggart putting the hammer down to change the culture, and Mullens complying because he hired the guy.
With deaths from workouts well-documented in sports, including college football, nothing should put multiple players in the hospital. In fact, following concussion protocol, one can assume therell be NCAA legislation and restrictions coming for workout routines and body balance, even though most schools (including Oregon) have been conscious of sports science more than ever. (Remember, under coach Mark Helfrich, Oregon hooked players up to GPS units to monitor exertion; needless to say, if a player goes to the hospital, the GPS reading probably would be out of this world).
The student-athletes should not be blamed, one iota. Were Doug Brenner, Cam McCormick and Sam Poutasi out of shape, or at least not in prime shape? Maybe, as many college football players throughout the country especially ones not involved in bowl games typically are just after the holidays. Were these three Ducks weak links, while teammates persevered through the workouts, reportedly an hour's worth of up-downs? Maybe, but no group of athletes should be pushed to the point where some need to go to the hospital. What if somebody had died?
Im not a strength and conditioning coach, and Im not a trainer and Im not a doctor. But, I can tell you from firsthand knowledge, as somebody who took workouts and conditioning pretty seriously and outclassed most sportswriters in such areas yeah, high standard, huh? that one doesnt come right off vacation or extended break and go military-style basic training without building up to such energy, cardio and muscle output.
Lets see, right now I probably could run six miles without stopping, but itd probably severely hurt and fatigue me. And, no way would I be able to go to the weight room after the run and push up five sets-of-five reps with 185 pounds on bench press, among other weight-training exercises.
Well, rewind to 1999, and I remember one day where, in the midst of a stretch of years of hardcore training, I ran eight miles in Forest Park and then went to 24 Hour Fitness for a weight workout that involved doing five sets-of-five reps with 225 pounds and pushing it up easily.
It would probably kill me if I tried to replicate the combination workout today.
You get the point? You ease into things, folks. I wasnt in the UO weight room, I wasnt listening to Oderinde, I wasnt surrounded by teammates not tapping out during the up-downs (which, to me, seems like more of a control exercise than an actual functional one). You teach and build attitude and then bodies. Its a process a mind-set, and a commitment and a program. Working out and puking is one thing, working out and three people going to the hospital is another.
Its interesting that the U of O has taken strength and conditioning away from Taggart, put it into the control of Andrew Murray, the school's relatively new director of performance and sports science, and also brought back veteran Jim Radcliffe to the football side with Oderinde being suspended for one month without pay. Radcliffe had been re-assigned away from football with Taggarts hiring.
I and some colleagues often thought the Ducks had slipped under Radcliffe and Helfrich. Not been in as good of shape as the Ducks had been in previous years, especially under Chip Kelly. And that it had contributed to losses and poor play. Coaches dismissed such questions.
It wasnt Radcliffes fault. Staying in shape, being strong, playing with an edge is often an individual decision, or part of peer bonding, and can help elevate someone to high performance.
Radcliffe trained athletes for conditioning, endurance and flexibility, and not necessarily power. Enough power came with the workouts, Coach Rad and players told me. It wasnt like UO players were not strong, but maybe they werent football strong enough? Debatable, Id say.
Then again, Radcliffes strength and conditioning worked pretty well for Kelly and Helfrich in his early years, and Kellys high-repetition practice regimen pushed players to great conditioning heights, and I cant recall anybody being sent to the hospital for workout-induced illnesses.
And, remember, the Ducks are not far removed from winning nine games or more for nine consecutive seasons, and playing for two national titles. They must have been doing something right with athletes.
Im not jumping on the bandwagon, as Im not convinced that Taggart has the chops to return the Ducks to national glory. He has hired a nice staff including defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt, and co-offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Mario Cristobal but the Pac-12 is a lot different now, as is the recruiting and competitive environment, than when Kelly and UOs now-departed veteran assistants ruled the league.
The Ducks had a unique culture for years, including well-conditioned players and uptempo offense, which proved to separate them from other teams.
The Ducks are playing from behind now.
It remains to be seen how effective Taggart can be as the head man at a Pac-12 school with a background that includes Western Kentucky and South Florida.
Three players going to the hospital during early offseason workouts is not exactly the best of starts to his official tenure, which has included Taggart hiring assistants and all of them recruiting hard.
And, Im not really sure how to feel when I see Taggart on Twitter (and assistants) flashing an O with potential recruits, including all day Tuesday and dont hear from the U of O about the workout incidents and fallout until 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.
For Oregons sake, hopefully the whole thing is a wakeup call for the coach to do the right thing and not to just do something.