Meet Devon Allen: Oregon's Newest Dual-Sport Duck

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Meet Devon Allen: Oregon's Newest Dual-Sport Duck

Every Sunday, the best 200 meter sprinter on USA's Junior Track and Field Team shows up for his evening shift at Honey Bear's BBQ in Phoenix, Arizona.

Devon Allen chooses to contribute, and those who know him best, like Brophy Prep football Coach Scooter Molander, know this is exactly where he wants to be

“You could tell he had talent early on, but his work ethic has allowed him to achieve tremendous goals in high school. You're not going to find a better person, and we are very proud of him,” he told me on Tuesday.

Right now, he's giving to his family in Arizona. Soon, he will do the same for his new ones in Eugene: the Oregon football and track squads.

“Devon was a three-year starter for us in football, a four-year track athlete, excellent hurdler and a very fine student," said Coach Molander. "He was also accepted to Stanford, but he's proud to be a Duck now."

Proud to be a Duck, but nearly wasn't.

Allen knew an offer from Oregon might not happen, “Coach Frost said they were only taking two receivers with scholarships because they needed linemen and defensive players, but if one opened up, then he'd give me a call.”

The day after Bryan Bennett transferred to Southeastern Louisiana, Scott Frost made good on his word.

“I wasn't really expecting it. I was all set to visit Arkansas and had just returned from my Stanford visit. But it was cool. I was excited.”

With or without a spot, he was willing to do the work.

“I may or may not have come just on a track scholarship and grey shirted my first year in football, but that would have been kind of rough. So it  definitely became an easier decision.”

As part of USA's Junior Outdoor Track and Field Team, Allen has seen a world beyond the Sonoran Desert.

“Last year we were in Puerto Rico. This August I'm hoping to make it to Lima, Peru for the Pan American games. I'll be in a bunch of different countries before fall camp starts.”



Sounds glamorous, but being a dual-sport athlete is not without it's conundrums. In track and field, speed breeds success. But in football, the Oregon offense is a slightly different animal; it takes more than fleetness of foot to get on the field.

“Actually, it's my style of play. It's pretty physical. I like to block and get down and dirty. The run-and gun-offense fits perfectly with what I've been doing the last couple of years.”

Having a speed and agility trainer from NFL power facility Brett Fischer Sports at arm's length has contributed to Allen's confidence heading to Eugene. Will Sullivan, who's currently prepping with All-American corner Jordan Poyer for the combine, is also the Brophy Prep receivers coach.

“Yeah, I got pretty luck with that,” he laughs.

Something tells me luck has nothing to do with it.

*Devon Allen's Bio (From Oregon Athletics )
Wide Receiver 6-0, 187, Phoenix, AZ (Brophy Prep)
The Rivals.com four-star prospect and 16th-ranked receiver in the country by Scout.com grabbed 43 receptions for 749 yards and nine touchdowns his senior season to go along with 251 yards and five scores on the ground . . . Selected to The Sporting News Top 125 (No. 104), averaged 62.4 receiving yards per game and 17.42 yards per catch .… Also a prep track standout who is expected to compete for the Ducks after claiming the 2012 state titles in the 110-meter and 300-meter hurdles, claiming state records in both events of 13.52 and 36.39, respectively.

Oregon rolls the dice and they come up Taggart

Oregon rolls the dice and they come up Taggart

Oregon stepped up to the craps table on Wednesday, grabbed the dice and let them fly with the hiring of Willie Taggart as the next head football coach. 

How this roll plays out won't be determined for a few of years. Oregon could hit its number with the hiring of the South Florida coach who comes with a modest 40-45 record but has rebuilt two programs, or the Ducks could roll snake eyes. 

Right now, many fans and boosters are freaking out a bit. How, they ask, could UO athletic director Rob Mullens fire former coach Mark Helfrich (37-16) after one losing season (4-8) just two years removed from appearing in the national championship game only to hire a successor not from a Power Five conference and someone armed with arguably a weaker résumé ?

Fair questions, to be sure. But to surely be fair, Taggart must be given a chance. Said one current UO player about the firing of Helfrich and the hiring of Taggart: "Yeah, kinda surprising, but there's nothing to be done about it now. Hopefully they come in and do a great job."

That's all anyone could hope for. The problem is measuring what "do a great job" entails. 

Helfrich went 9-4 in 2015 and that was viewed by many as a down season, even though it's tied for the 11th most victories in the history of the program. The bar has been set so high that even the coach of arguably the greatest season ever (2014) didn't survive one losing season in 2016. Taggart, most certainly, will be given at least three seasons to prove himself before his job would be in danger. But what will constitute success? Must he get to 10 wins inside of those three years? Must he have won a Pac-12 championship?

If so, Taggart, who will be introduced during an 11 a.m. press conference on Thursday, could be in big trouble. The Pac-12 is deeper than it's ever been and is loaded with quality proven coaches from Washington's Chris Petersen to Stanford's David Shaw to even Oregon State's Gary Andersen, who is clearly rebuilding the Beavers.

Oregon should certainly be in the thick of the Pac-12 race in most seasons, but is also not immune to the occasional down year. Oregon's run of dominance from 2009 through 2014 (the first four seasons under Chip Kelly) was largely done within an inferior conference that where it stands now. 

What Taggart certainly brings to the table is offensive firepower.  No. 25 South Florida this season ranks 10th in the nation in total offense (515 yards per game) and seventh in scoring (43.6). With Oregon's returning talent, led by a promising offensive line and quarterback Justin Herbert, the Ducks' offense should remain formidable.

The questions come on defense. USF, 10-2 this season, this season ranks 120th in total defense (482.1 yards per game) and 86th in scoring defense (31.0). Taggart must make a strong hire at defensive coordinator to assure improvement for an Oregon defense that ranks 126th in the nation but does return 10 starters.

Taggart is considered to be a strong recruiter. But check yourself if you think he is going to start a flood of Florida's rich talent base to Oregon. First off, Taggart mostly recruited to USF the talent left over after Florida State, Florida and Miami (and major out-of-state programs) got through combing over the area. USF's 2017 recruiting ranks 54th in the nation, according to Rivals.com. The 2016 class ranked 72nd, and the 2015 class, 57th. 

The truth is that Oregon would never be after most of the commits Taggart recruited to USF. However, that doesn't mean that he couldn't entice some higher-ranked players to turn down the local bigger programs and get them to Eugene. 

Speaking of Eugene: It will still be a tough sell to get Florida kids to travel to the small city in the much colder and wetter Northwest to play football when there are plenty of options in sunny Florida, including Central Florida, coached by former Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost. The city of Eugene is not easy to get to. Travelling to home games can be a burden for some families who would prefer that their children remain closer to home. 

So while Taggart has recruited well to USF, there's zero guarantee he will recruit well enough to the Ducks to return the program to glory. 

One aspect of Taggart that will help him is that he reportedly possesses a strong personality. He's reportedly a very positive person who runs a tight ship. Oregon's players became at least somewhat lackadaisical in the area of discipline over the past couple of seasons. Taggart could establish some order with a fresh voice and approach.

Taggart, the running backs coach at Stanford from 2007-2009, comes highly recommended from former Cardinal and current Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, as well as from former NFL coach, Tony Dungy. Harbaugh's coaching tree also produced Shaw, who worked alongside Taggart at Stanford. 

None of that, however, has stopped some of the naysayers from barking.

Said one mid-level booster: "I'm officially out of the donor program. Mullens should be fired immediately."

Said another: "I'm disgusted by how the firing of Helfrich was handled, but I'm willing to give Taggart a chance."

In the end, that's all Taggart could ask for. How this roll of the dice plays out will be fascinating to watch.

Place your bets!

 

"Everything you see in the Jim Harbaugh way of doing things is echoed in Willie Taggart"

"Everything you see in the Jim Harbaugh way of doing things is echoed in Willie Taggart"

Rick Neuheisel was a guest Wednesday morning on the Dan Patrick Show and the host wasted no time asking the former head coach at Washington, Colorado and UCLA about new Oregon football coach Willie Taggart.

"He's a Harbaugh guy," Taggart said.  "He was the running-back coach at Stanford for Jim and he played for Jim's dad, Jack Harbaugh, at Western Kentucky. So he believes in the power, he's going to run downhill. Everything you see in the Jim Harbaugh way of doing things is echoed in Willie Taggart."

Actually, Taggart has shown himself to be very flexible with his offense. He has relied on the Harbaugh power game when he can, but at South Florida he opened his offense up and used west-coast offense principles and some spread offense.

Neuheisel had some opinions on where the Ducks have gone wrong in recruiting.

"I was surprised that they made the move on Mark Helfrich," Neuheisel said. "Now certainly the performance this year probably merited a change, but the problem was 'Who are you going to get?'

"As I looked around the landscape, what Willie Taggart will have to do and do quickly is: Stanford is a completely different recruiting animal, which is his experience on the west coast. He is going to have to get a staff that understands California.

"What Oregon did wrong in my estimation is -- and if you watched them play and saw some of the matchups athletically with their guys, when Ronald Jones came through the line of scrimmage as the running back for USC and all of a sudden a safety couldn't even lay a hand on him. It's an evaluation problem. They missed on a lot of recruits.

"If you look at their roster, they're from all over the country -- Pennsylvania, Florida, Tennessee, Georgia -- Oregon was in the air too far and should have been down in California like my old buddy Nick Aliotti was down there scouring the northern California area and getting guys like Patrick Chung and T.J. Ward, those guys who are still playing on Sundays. Those guys are missing right now for Oregon so Willie has got to just get back in the film room and make sure they are doing great evaluations because they've got a lot to recruit to there in Eugene."

 

Source: Oregon to name Willie Taggart new head football coach

Source: Oregon to name Willie Taggart new head football coach

South Florida's Willie Taggart will become Oregon's new head football coach, a source has confirmed, ending a week-long search to replace Mark Helfrich.

ESPN's Brett McMurphy first reported the news

Taggart, 40, is expected to be officially announced today.
Taggart has a 40-45 record with stints at Western Kentucky (16-20) and South Florida (20-25). But don't let his record fool you. Taggart rebuilt both programs, elevating Western Kentucky from 2-10 his first year in 2010 to 7-5 over the next two seasons. He then moved on to South Florida where he went 2-10, 4-8, 8-4 and then 10-2 this season.

Taggart, who served as Stanford's running backs coach under Jim Harbaugh from 2007-2009, is a risky hire with potentially great upside. Oregon sought to replace Helfrich (37-16 over four seasons) with a more experienced coach from a Power Five conference, but efforts fell through. 

[WATCH: Facebook Live reaction to the hiring]

Helfrich guided the Ducks to the national title game during the 2014 season, but this year saw his program fall to 4-8, resulting in his dismissal on Nov. 29. 

Taggart's South Florida offense this season ranks 10th in the nation (515 yards per game) and seventh in scoring (43.6). But his team ranks 120th in total defense (482.1 yards per game) and 86th in scoring defense (31.0).

Taggart played quarterback at Western Kentucky from 1995 through 1998. He was a finalist for the Division I-AA Walter Payton award his final two seasons. 

Ducks' coaching search continues, new candidate rankings

Ducks' coaching search continues, new candidate rankings

Oregon's search for the a new head coach moved right through Sunday night with no resolution. 

Strong indications are that Oregon had its man in place but a deal fell through in the 11th hour. That man was likely Florida's Jim McElwain, whom on Sunday I ranked as the most likely replacement for Mark Helfrich.  

McElwain fits the bill as a relatively big name coming from a major program in a major conference. Those reasons might have led McElwain, who has openly denied being interested in Oregon's vacant job, to come to his senses and elect to remain at Florida.

So where does that leave Oregon and athletic director Rob Mullens? Scrambling.

The Ducks, who reportedly have already interviewed Boise State's Bryan Harsin and Southern Florida's Willie Taggart, are now conducting more interviews. On the list could be Western Michigan's P.J. Fleck.

But all indications are that Oregon wants a coach with a track record of success in a Power Five conference. That leads us to my new candidate rankings 2.0: 

1. Mystery candidate: Oregon wants to hire a coach with at least some name recognition out of a major conference. That person could have been McElwain, but now he is out. Expect UO to reach out to some similar candidates, if they haven't already. Mississippi State's Dan Mullen is a name that has been tossed around. Other names will likely be in the mix. 

2. P.J. Fleck, Western Michigan: Fleck had not been interviewed by Oregon as of Sunday, confirmed by a UO source. That doesn't mean he won't be interviewed today or tomorrow. Fleck is all the rage right now, but could be more hype than substance at this point. His team does, however, play defense, an area where Oregon must improve. The Broncos rank 25th in the nation in total defense (353 yards allowed per game) and 16th in scoring defense (19.5). His team ranks 16th in total offense (496.7) and eighth in scoring offense (43.5).  

Fleck would be a gamble, and that might be what Oregon needs. Seeking a potential star coach would be far sexier and intriguing than hiring someone who has been strong but not great at another major program. Fleck, and other young coaches mentioned below, are on the rise. Who knows how great one of them could become?

Hiring a more proven major college coach that hasn't been to the national championship game or even won a major conference championship to replace someone in Helfrich who has done both would be rather ho-hum. At the very least, Fleck would win the press conference and re-energize the fan base with his rah-rah approach. 

3. Willie Taggart, South Florida: Out of all of the coaches from smaller conferences, Taggart, who has interviewed with Oregon, is the most intriguing. He has rebuilt Western Kentucky and South Florida. His offense ranks 10th in the nation (515 yards per game) and seventh in scoring 43.6). But his defense ranks 120th. Sound familiar? Still, the fact that he has rebuilt two programs should carry some weight. Just not sure he would beat out Fleck if the latter gets an interview. 

4. Bryan Harsin Boise State: Another guy that is on the rise. Intriguing choice who is 31-8 at Boise State. A source has confirmed reports stating Harsin has interviewed with UO. The question mark here is that Harsin took over a strong program from Chris Peterson after he left for Washington three years ago. Helfrich has been marginalized for taking over a well-oiled machine from Chip Kelly. 

5. Matt Rhule, Temple: I throw him in simply because, why not? He is a young coach at 39 with a strong record. Plus, folks are saying that Temple's recruiting coordinator is now following all of Oregon's recruiting commits on Twitter. Hmmm...

 

McElwain, Taggart, Harsin and Fleck lead list of possible Oregon targets

McElwain, Taggart, Harsin and Fleck lead list of possible Oregon targets

Oregon could name a head coach as soon as tonight. At the very latest, expect news in the next couple of days.

If you're still holding out hope for Chip Kelly the sequel, stop! Not going to happen. He isn't leaving San Francisco unless he is fired and the Ducks are not going to wait until the end of this month to hire a new coach. 

So who will replace Mark Helfrich, fired on Tuesday? Well, there appear to be four names that are realistically in play. Here is my rankings based on probability that's based mostly on pure hearsay with some inside info:

1. Jim McElwain, Florida: I've heard this name come up more than anyone else in my discussion travels. It wouldn't be a sexy hire, but he has a strong resume that includes stints with the Oakland Raiders, Michigan State and Alabama. He has been a head coach twice, rebuilding Colorado State, and he is now doing a solid job at Florida. Three coaches I've spoken with had varying opinions on McElwain. One dislikes him. Another isn't wildly impressed. Yet another thinks the world of him. Sounds about right for just about anybody. McElwain could very well succeed at Oregon, but he would be far from a slam-dunk to get the Ducks back into national title contention. The Gators lost 54-16 to Alabama in Saturday's SEC title game. That came with players from recruiting classes that over the past five seasons ranked No. 3 (2012), No. 4 (2013), No. 8 (2014), No. 23 (2015) and No. 14 (2016). His most experienced players came from classes that ranked in the top 10, yet the best McElwain could do was go 8-4 and get blown out in his final two games, including a 31-13 loss at Florida State two weeks ago.  

Still, he is a proven head coach with experience, and reportedly could want to return to the Northwest. He used to coach at Eastern Washington. Oregon could say it stole a coach away from one of the most successful programs of the past 30 seasons. Not a bad get. Just not a lock that he would do better than Helfrich and company. 

2. Willie Taggart, South Florida: Taggart has reportedly interviewed with Oregon and if he doesn't land at a big time program this year, he very well could be snatched up next year. Taggert rebuilt Western Kentucky from 2-10 to 7-5 over consecutive seasons before heading to South Florida. There, he has gone 2-10, 4-8, 8-4 and then 10-2 this season. Taggart also has Pac-12 experience having served as Stanford's running backs coach from 2007-2009.  This could be a risky hire with potentially great upside. Boise State's Bryan Harsin's name has come up more often as a more likely candidate, but Taggart's resume is probably stronger. If it were my choice, I'd go with Taggart. He graduates his players, has been in the Pac-12 and might be able to recruit well out of Florida. 

3. Bryan Harsin Boise State: Another guy that is on the rise. Intriguing choice who is 31-8 at Boise State, and has reportedly interviewed with UO. A source has confirmed the same. UO could catch Harsin, 40, on the rise and possibly see him blossom in Eugene. However, it is a risky move. He has not won in a major conference. Hiring Harsin would be a roll of the dice after blowing out Helfrich and at least most of his staff that included coaches who went to two national title games.  But this might be what Oregon needs. Live on the edge. See what happens. 

4. P.J. Fleck, Western Michigan: Fleck is all the rage but appears to be more hype than substance at this point. He is loud and fun, so he receives a lot of attention. But appears to be more media creation than legitimate big time candidate at the moment. Going 13-0 in any conference is impressive, but is it enough to land him the Oregon job? Reports are that he hasn't interviewed with Oregon. Yet. Maybe that's because he simply needs more experience. 

No. 23 Oregon breaks records in 128-59 win over Savannah State

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No. 23 Oregon breaks records in 128-59 win over Savannah State

Most points in Oregon basketball history: 128 (previous 121 vs. Portland on Feb. 16, 1970). Check.

Most points scored at Matthew Knight arena: 128 (previous 108 vs. Iowa on Mar. 18, 2012). Check. 

The No. 23 Oregon Ducks will look back on this day as one for the record books, quite literally. The Ducks, led by sophomore guard Tyler Dorsey, got it done on both sides of the court in their blowout 128-59 win over Savannah State.

Dorsey had 20 points on nine for 13 shooting and two for five from three-point range in the first half. Savannah State threw a full court press on Oregon which passed its way through to find Dorsey on a number of occasions at his favorite spot behind the arc. Dorsey would finish with 29 points. His counterpart, junior forward Dillon Brooks, scored 12 first half points as the duo combined for Oregon's first 18 points of the game. Brooks finished with 22 points.

The Tigers were not afraid to pull the trigger behind the arc. Dribble down, stop just before the three-point line, spot up... rinse and repeat. Savannah State finished the game 11 for 50 from three-point range. That’s 50 three-point shots taken in a single game! This would have been a completely different ball game if the Tigers had shot better from long distance. 

In a post-game press conference, Oregon coach Dana Altman said, "They (Savannah State) lead the nation in three's made and were eighth in scoring so I thought our activity was pretty good. I thought in the first half they had a lot better looks than they did in the second half."

The future of the Ducks> looks bright. Freshamn guard Payton Pritchard found teammates all over the court while dishing out 13 assists, tyin the Matthew Knight Arena record. One of his targets was fellow freshman forward Keith Smith, who came off the bench to shine down low with 15 points and eight rebounds.

The Oregon bench sure got their minutes today as coach Altman tried to get everyone of his players involved.

"We needed a couple ball games just to get everybody on the floor and get some guys comfortable playing in front of people," said Altman. "We're having a hard time blending Kavell [Bigby-Williams] and Keith [Smith] in and getting it smoothe... We just got to get everyone comfortable playing with each other. We just don't have that flow that we hoped we would have at this time."

Just being able to add guys into the mix and add new plays to an already dynamic Oregon team is something that a coach would hope for. Having that depth is crucial especially when the Ducks are the Pac-12 with other strong teams such as No. 11 UCLA, which today won 97-92 at No. 1 Kentucky. The Ducks host UCLA on Dec. 28. 

Next up for Oregon is unranked Alabama at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 11 at Matthew Knight Arena. 

No. 23 Oregon hopes to continue the home win streak to 30 today vs. The Savannah State Tigers

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No. 23 Oregon hopes to continue the home win streak to 30 today vs. The Savannah State Tigers

The No. 23 Ducks will have another big test today… themselves.

Following Wednesday night’s 93-54 blowout of Western Oregon, UO coach Dana Altman discussed the inner turmoil in the heads of his players.

“They quit playing when they miss a shot and feeling sorry for themselves," Altman said. "We got to forget about that and make it up somewhere else,” Altman said. “Our whole identity in some of those things has got to improve… Once we get that figured out, we can make some big steps.”

The timing to figure something like this out won’t just be over the course of one practice or one game. However, the Ducks should get it done sooner rather than later, as PAC-12 conference play lurks at the end of this month. Oregon hopes to reach 30 home victories in a row as they host the Savannah State Tigers at 3 p.m., today. The Ducks have the fifth-longest active home winning streak.

The Tigers only returned one starter from last year’s roster: Senior guard Troyce Manassa is who a young team will rely on. The 6-4 guard is shooting 48.6 percent from the field and 45.5 percent from three-point range.

A quick look at the game:

Savannah State at Oregon

Where: Matthew Knight Arena, Eugene, Oregon.

When: 3:00 p.m.

TV: PAC-12 Networks

Records: Ducks (6-2, 31-7 last season), Wolves (2-6, 16-16 last season).

Last outings: Oregon won 93-54 over Western Oregon at home last Wednesday. The Tigers lost 94-75 to Georgia Southern last Thursday.

Coaches: UO's Dana Altman (160-66 at Oregon, 693-333 overall), Savannah State: Horace Broadnax (145-202 at Savannah State, 187-291 overall).

Key Ducks: G Tyler Dorsey, 6-4, So., (11.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg, .375 3FG Pct.), G Dylan Ennis, 6-2, Sr., (9.9 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 2.9 apg), G Payton Pritchard, 6-2, Fr., (7.9 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 2.5 apg), F Jordan Bell, 6-9, Jr., (10.4 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 2.9 bpg), F Chris Boucher, 6-10, Sr. (13.8 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 3.3 bpg)

Key Tigers: G Austin Dasent, 6-3, Jr. (12.0 ppg, 4.1 rpg), G Troyce Manassa, 6-4, Sr. (12.2 ppg, 3.8 rpg), G Dexter McClanahan (13.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg)

Notes: Oregon leads all-time series 2-0…The Ducks won the last meeting, 77-59 on Nov. 20, 2015…Dillon Brooks is hoping to see increased minutes to 20 per game…Oregon ranks second nationally in blocks per game with 8.5…Ducks defense has held seven opponents in a row to under 70 points per game.

Mark Helfrich gives candid interview with ESPN radio

Mark Helfrich gives candid interview with ESPN radio

The now former head coach of the Oregon Ducks joined ESPN’S Russillo and Kanell for his first public interview since he was fired earlier this week.

As the university continues its search for a new coach, Helfrich is left to wonder what might have been. Could he have turned the program around? Was the 4-8 season just a blip on the radar? We will never know.  But what better way to understand the situation than to hear from Helfrich himself. Here are a few of the takeaways from the interview:

-Feeling like he was coaching for his job in the Civil War – “That’s kind of a week to week deal in our existence, and that’s kind of the mode we were in the last month or two…Nobody’s safe in this business.”

-Future of Oregon the program: “Whoever ends up being the coach here is going to inherit a very talented team”

-Challenges of being at Oregon now versus 10 years ago: “The uniform thing…has caught on everywhere else. Everybody is doing that in some way, shape, or form. The facilities in the conference, and nationally…there’s an ongoing battle to one-up everybody…People go elsewhere and are sometimes equally ‘wowed’ as when they came to Eugene.”

-What he thinks Oregon should do now: "I thought they had a pretty good situation going, but obviously they disagreed."

- Chip Kelly hating recruiting: “That’s a fact. Don’t know if he hated recruiting, but disliked, strong dislike.”

- Oregon’s press release: “We gave everything to this place. Little disappointed for sure, but nothing I’ll think twice about”

- Calling Chip Kelly: “I just wanted to let him know that to take our personal relationship out of it in every shape and form if he wanted to consider this”

- Why he chose to call Kelly: "It was probably more selfishly than anything. When you start thinking about your assistants and your support staff, if he were to come back, some of those people would be saved…Just trying to take our personal relationship out of it, remove me from the equation, and let him think of it that way."

-His coaching future: “I don’t know. Had a few conversations with different people for…as a head coach, as an assistant, a couple NFL things. I don’t really know at this point. Got a few things going on… again, just trying to help out the guys that helped me out so much; our assistants and our support staff.”

You can listen to the entire interview here

 

DB coach John Neal reflects on his time at Oregon, his future, Helfrich's firing and 'Win the Day'

DB coach John Neal reflects on his time at Oregon, his future, Helfrich's firing and 'Win the Day'

John Neal isn't bitter and he isn't angry.

Granted, the defensive backs coach isn't exactly pleased that Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens decided to fire coach Mark Helfrich on Tuesday. Neal would have liked to have seen Helfrich and the rest of the coaching staff get a chance to turn things around following a 4-8 season. But Neal also said he understands how the coaching game works. Firings are a part of the business. Tough decisions need to be made. 

“I’m not one of the ones that is surprised," Neal said. "I’m not ill-prepared, either. You have to win games and you have to produce.”

For 12 out of 14 seasons at Oregon, Neal was a part of a coaching staff that under three head coaches produced great success. During the last eight seasons, Oregon made two trips to the national championship game, claimed four conference titles and won two Rose Bowls. 

Most of all, however, Neal said he will remember working with so many great coaches, and building great relationships with players that will last a lifetime. 

“That’s what I’m most happy about in my time at Oregon," Neal said. "I’ve received a lot of feedback from a lot of my players just thanking me for everything that’s happened here. Ultimately, it’s about relationships.”

--- Reflecting on the positives

It took only the program's second losing season in 12 years to end a legacy that stretched from Rich Brooks to Mike Bellotti to Chip Kelly and then to Helfrich. All are linked through a chain of successions from within. For the first time in 40 years, Oregon has fired a head coach. There is a chance that a new coach could retain some of Oregon's assistants, but it appears obvious that most, which includes some who have been at Oregon for more than 25 years, if not all will be gone. 

Rather than lament on the end, Neal accepts his part in the rise and the downfall. 

Neal recruited and developed many great defensive backfields. Several of his former players reached the NFL, including Patrick Chung, T.J. Ward, Jairus Byrd, Terrance Mitchell and Walter Thurmond. 

The past couple of seasons, however, have seen a dip in production out of Neal's group, and the rest of the defense. Hurting the situation has been missing out on some quality prospects such as Washington's Budda Baker.

Whether or not the staff deserved a mulligan is neither here nor there for Neal. He said he readily shares in the blame for the team's fall from grace. 

“I look at myself and I know I could have done better in a lot of ways,” Neal said.

Neal said that he would always reflect kindly on working at such a great place for so long and being a part of the greatest run of success in program history. Now, at 60, Neal said he gets an opportunity, albeit forced, to stop, reflect and decide what his next move should be. His religious faith, Neal, said leads him to believe that good things will happen for him. 

If the chance arises, he would love to interview for a position with the next Oregon head coach. If that doesn't work out, Neal said he would look for other opportunities. 

“I absolutely have to keep every option open that I have,” Neal said.

Some have questioned how Mullens handled the firing of Helfrich. Instead of informing him on Sunday, Mullens waited until Tuesday while the assistants were already out recruiting. Neal said the "how" is not important to him. He said he understands and respects that the Mullens is making what he believes to be the right choice for Oregon. 

“I don’t care how it was handled," Neal said. "The bottom line is that you’ve got to do the right things. If the right thing takes time, it takes time. It’s not personal...I don’t blame anybody.”

Neal said all coaches live with the constant fear of being fired at any moment. It could be for a personality conflict, or for breaking a rule, or simply because someone simply wanted to make a change. 

"National championship game, or not, the feeling is, 'I've got to do it again,'" Neal said. "You have that constant motivation to try to keep this standard going...We live in a world of constant pressure. The pressure from winning is the same as when you lose."

--- Reflecting on 'Win the Day'"

Neal remembers how bad things were after the 2006 season when the Ducks finished 7-6 after getting destroyed by BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl under Bellotti. 

“There was very, very high probably I could lose my job," Neal said. "Mike might have had to fire people."

Instead, the coaching staff set out to fix the problems by exploring all ideas from all avenues.  Neal said Bellotti allowed anyone and everyone to chime in on how to turn things around. 

It was then that Neal reached out to BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall, one of his former players, to discuss his team's strong culture. That led to a more day-to-day focus that manifested itself into the "Win the Day" mantra under Kelly, who took over for Bellotti in 2009 after serving as offensive coordinator in 2007 and 2008. 

"That was the beginning of the cultural turn around," Neal said. 

Neal was a big part of the creation of that mindset, which led to a lot of success. The Ducks contended for a national title in 2007 before quarterback Dennis Dixon, a Heisman Trophy favorite, went down with a knee injury. 

“That was the greatest experience of my life because I got to be extremely and heavily involved in what ultimately came down to Chip Kelly saying 'let’s win the day,'" Neal said. 

Kelly, Neal said, is a one-of-a-kind coach.

“Kelly is a standard I’ll never get to work with again,” Neal said.

The team-wide mantra has somewhat eroded in recent years, Neal said.

Mullens, while announcing Helfrich's firing, referred to a lack of attention to detail and program direction for reasons to make a coaching change.

Neal said the bottom line is that the further away Oregon moved from the past it becomes more and more difficult to get new players and coaches to fully buy into the established culture.

Those who weren't there when it all began were tougher and tougher to get onboard. New assistants who hadn't experience that culture shift and new players had no reference point. If things went south, some who hadn't experienced the previous magic would question the philosophies. 

"Believers are the ones who were there and went through the (creation) of it all," Neal said. 

His biggest fear, Neal said, was losing that momentum.

“The minute momentum changes it starts rolling back on you,” he said.

Negative momentum rolled right over Oregon this season. 

--- Oregon's future remains bright

Neal believes Helfrich and this staff could have fixed the problems and returned the program to glory. He also believes a new coaching staff could accomplish the same. 

“No doubt," he said. "Everything is there to win. We have infrastructure. We have the fan base.”

The first step is becoming consistently competitive again. Oregon had a very young team and was beset by injuries this season. That contributed to Oregon getting blown out by Washington, USC and Stanford. 

Neal said dealing with Washington, coached by Chris Petersen, in the Pac-12 North Division is going to be tough for the Ducks moving forward. 

"I looked at Washington two years ago and went 'oh crap.'" he said. "In two years this team is going to be scary. Chris Petersen is going to go down as one of the top 10 football coaches in history."

Recruiting to Eugene will always be a challenge, but Neal said the elements remains there to be successful.

“I still think it’s extremely attractive," he said of UO. "I think it’s a remarkable deal in the sense of marketing and having your product be the best out there.”

However, not having a ton of regional talent to choose from does hurt.

“You’re going to lose in geography," Neal said, "but you can win in personality and what they believe your saying to them."