There have been many exceptional coaches in Oregon’s long history. Oregon has been home to the best and most elite coaches since it’s foundation. Coaches are what have driven teams to incredible, even perfect, seasons. Coaches provide the fuel to keep teams going, even when they are tired in the fourth quarter. Coaches are what have won many amazing bowl games, with plenty more victories still to come. These coaches are what make the prestigious Oregon football program.
The first Oregon coach known to human kind was Cal Young. He coached a single game, and became the only ever Oregonian to retire undefeated, a perfect 1-0. Then, in 1906, Oregon attained possession of what could be called their first successful head coach, Hugo Bezdek. He coached for five seasons, with a several year break in between his first and second year, returning to coach his last four seasons in 1913, and finished his career with a record of 30-10-4. He also coached Oregon to its fist ever Rose Bowl win with the 1916 Ducks team against Pennsylvania. Charles “Shy” Huntington became Oregon’s first All-American and continued to coach the team to its second Rose Bowl, this time though a loss to Harvard. When Shy left after the 1923 season, the next notable coach, John McEwan, lead his 1928 and 1929 teams to the impressive records of 9-2 and 7-3. Then, in 1932 former all-conference Oregon center Prink Callison lead Oregon to four winning seasons from 1932 to 1935. It took until 1947 for the next great, Jim Aiken, to fix Oregon’s program, going 7-3 in his first season. They went on to go 9-1, but lost in the Cotton Bowl to SMU (Libby 1-14).
The next coach, Leonard J. Casanova, or “Cas,” would leave one of the most memorable imprints on the Ducks left by a coach. While he would not be their best winning coach, his players and fans supported him: “Oregon would surpass his success on the field, but Casanova’s memory endures as one of the program’s most beloved figures” (Libby 71). Casanova historically coached Oregon to a 20-12 upset of Nebraska on the first ever NBC game of the week. He coached from 1951 to 1966, leading the Ducks to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1919 in the 1957 season. After a disappointing season in 1958, he lead the Ducks in 1959 to a record of 8-2 and in 1960, a record of 7-2-1. Then, after a few disappointing seasons, Casanova’s teams would go into the 1962-1964 seasons and have an overall record of 21-8-2, including the 1963 Rose Bowl win. Unfortunately, Casanova’s great legacy ended with disappointment and in 1965-66, two losing records, before his change to athletic director at the end of the 1966 season (Libby 70-90).
After Casanova, the coaching quality of the Ducks unfortunately fell downwards, after Casanova’s successor, Jerry Frei, failed to produce results: “Frei would be gone before he deserved, after five seasons. His successors, Dick Enright and Don Read, lasted two and three seasons apiece, unable to muster winning teams. The 1970s was Oregon’s worst decade” (Libby 93). Oregon would amass 37 wins with 69 losses from 1967-1976, one of the worst records the team would ever have.
New coach Rich Brooks would finally bring back some stability to the Ducks program, although it took time. He was hired in 1977, and it was not until 1979 until Brooks got his first winning season, with a record of 6-5. He continued the momentum, going 6-3-2 in 1980, but lost it the next two years, amassing two losing records, but still retained his job even with another losing season in 1983. Brooks finally put his team back together in 1948; he salvaged a 6-5 season by winning two out of his last three games. His rebuilding achieved a new high in 1989. The Ducks finally were going to a bowl game! They went on to win the Independence Bowl versus the Golden Hurricanes. In the 1994 season, Brooks would reach an all-time high, leading the Ducks to a close loss versus Penn State, 38-20 (Moseley 171-176).
Brooks laid down the foundation for perhaps the greatest coaches ever to lead football teams: “After serving as offensive coordinator for six seasons, Mike Bellotti made a smooth transition to head coach” (Libby 121). Bellotti lead the team to a record of 116-55 from 1995-2008. He amassed several bowl wins and appearances, winning the Holiday Bowl, the Sun Bowl, and the Fiesta Bowl during his time at Oregon. He even led the Ducks to a number 2 AP poll ranking after an 11-1 season in 2001. He would also give Oregon one of the greatest gifts in school history, the next coach, a man by the name of Chip Kelly (Libby 169-202).
Kelly was an extraordinary coach; he led Oregon to a record of 46-7 from 2009-2012. He led the team to their first ever National Championships (a loss), two Rose Bowls, one of which they would win, and a Fiesta Bowl victory to cap out his incredible coaching year.
The final and current coach of the Ducks, Mark Helfrich, would also work miracles. He has only had 4 losses in two seasons. He brought the Ducks to the first ever college football playoffs and lost in the championship game. This coach, like Kelly, brought the Ducks to the highest game in college football in his second year of coaching. That is an amazing feat which puts Helfrich up with the legendary Oregon coaches of history.
In conclusion, while there have been many great coaches in Oregon history, the best coaches are the more recent ones, including Rich Brooks, Mike Bellotti, Chip Kelly, and Mark Helfrich. These men have worked hard to mold Oregon from a mediocre team that could sometimes compete into one of the top college football programs in the United States. They are the best because they all produced, winning game after game, and bowl after bowl, and being able to do it consistently. These men make the Ducks the prestigious program it is today.
Goe, Ken. “Pac-10 Insider: A Farewell to Oregon Great Rich Brooks.” Oregon Live. The Oregonian, 31 Jan. 2010. Web. 01 May 2015.
Libby, Brian. Tales from the Oregon Ducks Sideline a Collection of the Greatest Ducks Stories Ever Told. New York, NY: Sports, 2011. Print.
Libby, Brian. University of Oregon Football Vault: The History of the Ducks. Atlanta, GA: Whitman Pub., 2008.Print.
Moseley, Rob. What It Means to Be a Duck: Mike Bellotti and Oregon’s Greatest Players. Chicago, IL: Triumph, 2009. Print.