Tuesday, February 13, 2018

February 13, 2018

Sounds like the title of a strange B-grade horror flick from the 1950’s; so what does it have to do with sports? Everything.

I have not been one to make too many open criticisms of local media in Oregon; I have to work with them, have a decent relationship with them and attempt to treat them with respect. But it is interesting to me how much the local media is trying to fan the flames of longing in Duck fans.

Psychologically speaking, a romanticized infatuation with a past love is unhealthy; it disallows those caught in it’s grips to move forward; always comparing what they have to what they think they used to have. Oftentimes this ‘hindsight’ becomes blind to reality.

Such is the case with the state of Oregon football. And local media just love to bring up the past with Chip Kelly. They like to compare whoever might be the current head coach to the ‘gold standard’ of Oregon coaches; Chip Kelly. It seems reasonable to some on the outside looking in – after all, Kelly just returned to the Pac-12 and will have the manner in which he attempts to build UCLA compared to how Mario Cristobal continues the rebuild of Oregon.

Except. It is not a reasonable thing for fans to continue hanging on to a past that no longer exists. Chip Kelly was the head coach at Oregon for four seasons; he has been gone longer than his tenure as head coach. Think about that for a minute. He left over five years ago and yet everyone involved is intent on continuing the push Oregon fans into a forlorn infatuation with its former head coach.
Little innuendo like “he was torn about taking the UCLA job because of his deep admiration for Phil Knight” (a reference to the fact that UCLA is not a Nike school). Two things: Kelly has a career and it was not made and will not be broken by Phil Knight. He has a lot of ‘friends’ that he has not taken with him. Like most high-level college football coaches, he has a gigantic belief in his abilities (read: ego) and is only as loyal as his next paycheck allows him to be.

If Chip Kelly really wanted to be the Oregon head coach again – he would have been. So why do some fans continue to act as if he is their only hope? Their savior from college football mediocrity? Because that is what other media outlets have programmed. When he was here, many vilified him; they needed a method to counter the glowing love affair fans had with him and so they created the proper narrative.

Now that he’s gone? They quickly forget all of the vitriol; the sanctions; the (their words) ‘smarmy narcissism’ with which he answered every question; the utter contempt they contend he had for everyone not included in his very small inner circle. They want you to conveniently forget all of those criticisms too and long for ‘days gone by’ when Oregon was competing for national championships.

‘Good vs. Evil’

Now that Kelly is in the Pac-12, the local media are pitting his success against Cristobal. Most in the local media love to say ‘I am not buying what Cristobal is selling.’ Really? Interesting because he is not selling you anything!

Cristobal has repeatedly said that he wants to maintain the offensive identity, speed, explosiveness and tempo; but wants to do so while also building the most formidable defense and best offensive line he can find. The criticism that ‘he wants to bring the SEC type of football to the West coast and I don’t think that will work’ rings very hollow indeed.

This implies that, outside of USC, no one else on the West coast can play shut down defense and score a lot of points. That is more than just elitist; it is wrong. Ask Stanford if you can have a top-notch defense on the West coast? Ask them if you can have explosive offenses with playmakers (Christian McCaffrey, Bryce Love). It can be done. The problem is that too many people buy into this fake belief that only USC can have SEC style football teams.

Will Cristobal succeed? There is no method (yet) I have discovered for seeing into the future and determining what level of success any coach will have. But while media would like to make this a ‘Chip vs. Mario’ debate; and fans want to make it a ‘Mario vs. Taggart’ debate; it’s really nothing more than what can Mario do for Oregon. He is competing against 11 other Pac-12 coaches – not just Chip Kelly. In fact, Cristobal’s biggest competition is not likely to come from Chip Kelly, but Chris Peterson and Clay Helton.

The rest of the stories we read are just a bit of an illusion; a way to pass time when feeling some particular angst following a loss, or glee following a win. It gives writers a tactic to elicit emotions (isn’t that what we do?). Following a loss, there will be the inevitable ‘Well, Chip Kelly won’ or so did Willie Taggart. Following a victory, the narrative will still be to refer to the success of other programs.

The funny part? That very ‘name’ once said that he was only concerned with how his team prepared; he did not compare his team to anyone else; if he and the team did things their way, they would find success. I guess maybe it is more ironic that local media want to drive the comparative value narrative.

Sit back and enjoy the moments for what they are rather than lament what might have been. The two most destructive emotions are hatred and jealousy. Feel not angry for what isn’t; feel not jealousy for what others have; just enjoy.

Mario and “The Process”

It is a simplistic view to assume that because Mario Cristobal worked for four seasons under Nick Saban he wants to simply emulate everything Nick Saban did and make Oregon into ‘Bama West.’ It also ignores the reality that Saban adapted his program to fit a better model offensively. While he is never likely to fully embrace a true spread option concept, he has definitely added in tempo, RPO plays and changed the offense to move forward.

This particularly lazy assumption also ignores the fact that Cristobal has been coaching for 20 years; not just four. It conveniently ignores the fact that he played under Dennis Erickson; known for offense. This laziness also overlooks the reality that Cristobal apparently has no ability to learn; he is simply a blind bull wandering through a China shop shouting that Oregon is going back to the Bo Schembechler ‘three yards and a cloud of dust’ days.

When Cristobal talks about what he wants for the Oregon program; it is not to replicate exactly what Alabama as done; but to take what he has learned – at all stops – and make Oregon what he believes it could be. That starts with recruiting. Any analyst worth their salt said during the days when Oregon was contending for a national championship that their flaw was a lack of physicality on the offensive and defensive lines and a defense incapable of stopping the ‘big boys’ of college football. To some extent, those very cogent thoughts played out on the field as predicted.

To combat this, Cristobal is putting a premium on the offensive and defensive lines. He is not going to let anyone run over Oregon. To use this as criticism is lazy.

But, I get it, the ‘real’ portion of their criticism, they will say, is that he will run a boring, stale, tired offense that does not fit the Oregon brand. That is just lazy thinking and simplistic writing. In fact, it ignores the obvious that Cristobal’s immediate predecessor Willie Taggart was on the verge of being fired at South Florida heading into the 2015 season. He had run a stagnant offense at USF that was devoid of any creativity and was one of the worst in the nation. His first two seasons were led by two different offensive coordinators (Walt Wells 2013; Paul Wulff 2014). It was by necessity that Taggart switched to what he termed the ‘Gulf Coast’ offense led by his third coordinator in as many seasons. (He would later have a fourth set of coordinators in his fourth season at USF.)

Will the Cristobal offense be in 2018 what Chip Kelly brought in 2009? No. That was a unique circumstance and time. It will favor speed and tempo still, but with a better overall quarterback and a different mentality. It also ignores the reality that what Chip Kelly brought was very similar in its goal; he wanted to run the ball primarily and use tempo to keep other teams off balance. Boil it down. That’s what his offense was about. Cristobal (and his Offensive Coordinator Marcus Arroyo) have a similar goal; it is really just the type of run game that will be different.

I guess that is too difficult to discuss and it probably doesn’t make good radio to say all of this, but the truth is that what I hear about ‘not buying’ is either sheer laziness, or purposefully creating a future narrative.
What does this have to do with the tile Torches, Flames and Pitchforks?
Torches: Stop carrying the torch for what was, remember the tiems fondly
Flames: Let go of the old flames, they linger acridly around the recesses of your mind
Pitchforks: Beware of those creating a non-existent battle as they are just laying the groundwork for future stories.