Located in “Track Town, USA,” the University of Oregon has a reputation as a running school.
True, UO did churn out such running luminaries as Nike founder Phil Knight (whose company is rooted in the creation of running shoes), legendary track and field coach Bill Bowerman and charismatic running star Steve Prefontaine.
But with a slew of successful seasons followed by an offseason filled with negative publicity, the Ducks are now, for better or worse, synonymous with football.
From Len Casanova to Rich Brooks, Mike Bellotti to Chip Kelly, the Oregon Ducks football team has seen several eras of success.
Bellotti oversaw the most successful of those, as he put together a 116-55 record during 13 seasons to become the winningest coach in team history. He led the Ducks to Pac-10 Conference titles in 2000 and 2001 and a Fiesta Bowl victory in ’01.
Bellotti’s teams reached or topped 10 wins four times – in 2000, 2001, 2005 and 2008 – and his success changed the perception, and expectations, of the University of Oregon football program.
Bellotti went 6-6 in bowl games with the Ducks, winning the 1997 Las Vegas Bowl, the 1999 Sun Bowl, the 2000 Holiday Bowl, the 2001 Fiesta Bowl, the 2007 Sun Bowl and the 2008 Holiday Bowl.
The ’08 Holiday Bowl victory was Bellotti’s last game as the Ducks’ head coach, and he took over as the school’s athletic director shortly afterward to make way for then-offensive coordinator Chip Kelly to become head coach.
Kelly picked up where Bellotti left off … sort of.
His first game as UO head coach was the Boise State debacle, in which the Ducks lost 19-8 and after which Oregon running back LeGarrette Blount punched the Broncos’ Byron Hout before attempting to go after taunting fans and having to be restrained by UO personnel and on-field security officers.
Kelly responded by suspending Blount for the season. The coach allowed Blount to continue practicing with the team, and later reinstated him near the end of the season for adhering to specified guidelines and meeting a series of goals the coach had laid out.
In between Blount’s suspension and his reinstatement, the team carried on, putting together one of the best season’s in school history, winning the Pac-10 Conference title and earning a berth in the Rose Bowl, the team’s first since 1995.
The Ducks lost to Ohio State, 26-17, in the Rose Bowl, but Kelly’s inaugural season as head coach had already been a success – he was the first in conference history to win a Pac-10 title outright in his opening season. Oregon ended up 10-3 despite losing a number of star players – including Blount and defensive standout Walter Thurmond III – for significant chunks of the season.
The Ducks followed their impressive Rose Bowl season with an offseason full of turmoil, as several players were reprimanded by Kelly for off-the-field indiscretions. Running back LaMichael James, whose breakout freshman season helped fill the void left by Blount’s absence, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor physical harassment charge and was suspended for the opening game of the 2010 season. Worse yet, star quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, who had been mentioned by many as a potential Heisman Trophy candidate in 2010, was dismissed from the team following a citation for marijuana possession that came only a couple of months after Kelly had suspended Masoli for the entire 2010 season, after the quarterback pleaded guilty to second-degree burglary charges.
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Official Site of Oregon Athletics
Oregon Ducks football, Wikipedia