In the words of the immortal Groucho Marx, nepotism is all right as long as you keep it in the family.
With Nick Aliotti retiring Oregon has both a challenge and an opportunity in hiring the next defensive coordinator.
After Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Marcus Mariota and Hroniss Grasu elected to stay in school, the Ducks are ranked #3 or better in the preseason polls. They're a national title contender in 2014.
Can we communicate?: Todd Orlando, Oregon defensive coordinator candidate, works practice this summer at Utah State, where he coached a group that allowed 17.1 points a game, 7th best in the nation while competing in the offense-happy Mountain West. They held USC to 17, shut out Colorado State, and topped Boise State 34-23.
The Ducks lose 6 starters from the 2013 defense, a defense that allowed 164.3 yards per game on the ground, the worst in five years. Five defensive tackles graduate, and in November, linebackers couldn't fill a hole.
Oregon needs a transformation on defense, a mix of innovation and will that maximizes its talent.
John Neal has done a great job for the Ducks as secondary coach. 247 Sports just came out with its national recruiting rankings and Neal is the highest rated Duck coach at 27th in the country (Scott Frost is next at 67). Neal's unit has been the top-performing group on the Oregon defense ever since he arrived 10 seasons ago.
He's groomed all-conference and all-pro players, lock-down cornerbacks and slobberknocking safeties, ballhawks against the pass, fierce in run support. In the Civil War there is no win without Ifo's interception in the end zone or Terrance Mitchell forcing a fumble at the 3. At the Alamo Bowl Avery Patterson ignited a 30-7 victory with a 37-yard pick six on the first series of the game. They play the way he taught them, competing on every play.
The 57-year-old from from Foothill JC and BYU earns $322,833 as defensive backs coach, and the hope is that he'll stay in the event that he's passed over for the coordinator job. They Ducks need him: with conference and national title hopes on the line they have to replace three starters in the secondary. Whether as coordinator or assistant, Neal is the perfect guy to mold a new back four around Ekpre-Olomu, coaching up part-time starter Erick Dargan, five-star verbal commit Arrion Springs, 3-year contributor Dior Mathis, and a bevy of young talent and kids that have waited their turn in the program.
In 2012, the Ducks led the country with 26 interceptions, returned for 502 yards and four touchdowns. They were playing the way Neal taught them to play, and he's been consistent in both his results and methods since arriving here from Alabama-Birmingham.
Neal's a tireless worker and a dedicated recruiter and teacher with a great knowledge of the game. He sharpens his skills at coaching clinics and in film study. As defensive coordinator at UAB he crafted a Top Ten defense using an aggressive 4-3 scheme. He's coached in the SEC.
Oregon's four principal candidates for DC are Neal, Clancy Pendergast, Randy Shannon, and Todd Orlando.
Pendergast and Shannon have impressive resumes, but neither is a long-term solution. Shannon coached five Top Ten defenses at Miami in the early 2000s, winning a national championship in 2001 with a squad that allowed just 9.2 points a game. He's a 4-3 proponent who emphasizes pressure and intimidation. The '01 championship team allowed just 12 touchdowns all year while scoring 7.
Pendergast transformed USC defense into a ferocious, attacking unit with his 5-2 scheme, employing three down linemen while playing the outside linebackers up close to the line of scrimmage. In his previous stop at Cal he shut down Chip Kelly's offense in a 2009 meeting, allowing just one offensive touchdown in a 15-13 squeaker at Strawberry Canyon.
The problem with Shannon and Pendergast is that their eyes are elsewhere: Pendergast has no taste for the recruiting wars and covets an NFL job. Shannon wants to be a head coach again after an unsuccessful stint with the Hurricanes and one-year rehabilitation tours as a linebacker coach at TCU and Arkansas.
Todd Orlando is the intriguing, compelling candidate.
Imagine how this intensity could transform the Oregon defense.
Orlando burns 5,000 calories a day in practice. He never stops teaching. Chip Kelly used to say that if coaches didn't take stretching seriously, players wouldn't either, and it's dramatic how the 40-year-old Utah State defensive coordinator starts employing the philosophy and the vision of his defense starting in warmups. A former inside linebacker for Barry Alvarez at Wisconsin, a three-year letterman who was a part of the Badger's first Rose Bowl win in 40 years, Orlando coaches with linebacker passion. He has a degree in Agricultural Economics, and his approach reflects both a love of the game and a thorough understanding of systems, logistics and motivation.
He's a rising star in coaching who combines the intensity of Nick Aliotti with the vision, and attention to detail of Kelly.
Lame Kiffin is interviewing for OC at Alabama. What a dream scenario that would be. They would cease to be a national power. How is the bowl schedule affected by the playoff system? Where will the PAC-12 champion play if they don't make the top 4? Hire Orlando and keep Neal, giving him a huge raise. If he's doing a really good job where he is, why make him into something else. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
I really like Orlando's enthusiasm. I vote for him. Have Neal keep doing a bang up job where he is now.
Looks like Orlando is affordable. I was hoping Oregon would get an energetic guy that can show young players what to do by example and it looks like Orlando has no problem doing that. I have no clue how Neal acts in practice, but at least his voice sounds like he is quite involved, and he definitely gets results. I don't really think too highly of Pendergast, even though he has had some notable success, let's not forget that his California defense gave up a combined 121 points to Oregon and Oregon State at the end of 2012. Arkansas defense did not have a good year, so I don't mind if the Ducks skip on Randy Shannon. Dana Altman loves defense, so if the basketball thing doesn't work out for him, maybe he wouldn't mind a pay cut to DC some football.
2014 Oregon Football Schedule
Aug. 30 (Sat.) South Dakota
Sep. 6 (Sat.) Michigan State
Sep. 13 (Sat.) Wyoming
Sep. 20 (Sat.) @Washington State*
Oct. 2 (Thr.) Arizona*
Oct. 11 (Sat.) @UCLA*
Oct. 18 (Sat.) Washington* (Homecoming)
Oct. 24 (Fri.) @California* (Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara)
Nov. 1 (Sat.) Stanford*
Nov. 8 (Sat.) @Utah*
Nov. 22 (Sat.) Colorado*
Nov. 29 (Sat.) @Oregon State*
*Pac-12 Conference Games
If we hire an outside DC, what about the assistants? Would we require the new DC to use the present assistants or would he be able to hire his own selections and fire the ones we now have? I don't know if getting rid of all the assistants would be a good thing.
Df, it's weird how Kiffin keeps getting hired for things, and it would be highly amusing for him to go to Alabama and try to keep up with the driven and meticulous Saban. Of course, Lame's best work was opposite Pete Carroll, another driven head coach, so who knows? Maybe that's what he needs.
Thanks Z. I was really impressed by the drive and intensity he displays. I think he would bring something extra to the job and make it his own. An outstanding coaching talent with youthful energy.
I'm confident he will also, gd. Matt Lubick, his first outside coaching hire, has proven to be excellent. Ron Aiken has a stellar resume but the defensive line didn't progress this season and seemed to miss jerry Azzinaro. Interested to see how they do in year two.
Retaining Neal is essential, in my mind. He is an outstanding position coach.
@GlennHanna Good point Glenn. Salary is another piece of the equation. Fully expect Pendergast to wind up in the NFL or maybe even back at Cal. Altman has defensive issues of his own, it seems. Watched Neal in practice before and absolutely he is also a great teacher and a highly qualified candidate.
The selection process is a tightly-guarded secret, Pete, but it's at least leaked out that these four are the most viable candidates. Oregon is a plum job and Orlando has accomplished a lot with less talent. As a former linebacker he would infuse that unit with better technique and toughness. The video is like a 3-minute job audition: he outlines the tenants of his philosophy in every frame.
How many wins do you see on that schedule, df? There are some challenges, but it's favorable in that the Ducks have key opponents at home and miss two tough PAC-12 teams due to the schedule rotation.
It's likely that assistants will be retained. As ATV points out, Helfrich hires the football staff, with input from coordinators and the AD.
Helfrich maintains the right to shape his staff, though I'm sure he accepts input from his coordinators.
I think taking a small amount of information about an outside coach and applying a blue sky possibility to it is a little bit optimistic. If I was Cal (who is looking for a DC now that they've demoted Buh) would I rather have John Neal or Todd Orlando? I think it's a very obvious answer. Promote Neal. Orlando seems like a fine coach but John Neal has a tremendous impact on the defense through coaching, recruiting, and mentoring.
The big one, of course, is Michigan State. That game determines whether we are in the top five or out of the top fifteen. After that, UCLA will be interesting as will Stanford. If MM stays healthy, I see us going undefeated and playing in the playoff. Arizona was a highly important game for us last year as it taught the Ducks that they can't take a game off. We should be favored in every game except Sparky.
I would like to see a fiery, animated, confident, loud, cheer leading, ass slapping type in the position. The team needs some spark and MH's nickname will never be "Sparky". That's the part of NA I'll miss most. It's okay if MH is calm, cool and collected but someone needs to bring the fire.
I'd like Neal as DC and Todd Lyght for DBs. Just the energy and freshness of bringing in Orlando might be the fire that lights up the whole team and staff, like AZZ did but with more of a taste for recruiting. As much as I appreciate the long tenured and HQ coaching staff, they sometimes seem a bit too entrenched.
I wouldn't object to either as a coaching hire. I formed an impression of Orlando based on the way he coaches and reading his track record. He's dynamic, tough, intense, and has had success as a coordinator at three stops. He comes from a football coaching tree with a tremendous emphasis on hard-nosed smash-mouth football, and the Ducks could use an infusion of that. I've researched Orlando extensively and could write a 3,000-word white paper on his qualifications. The purpose of this article was to give an overview of the search and introduce him as a candidate. I respect Coach Neal greatly and have always been impressed by both his results and methods, and that's expressed in the body of this story. Thanks atv for your insights and comments, always.
@Dale NewtonOf course, Dale. The article reflects the feeling held by a great deal of the Oregon fanbase. I am in the corner with those who believe the first priority is keeping John Neal. If Helfrich interviews with Orlando, he knocks it out of the park, and Neal agrees to stay on staff, well then that certainly works for me.
I suppose I think about if I were starting a defense from scratch, would I take one of the best recruiters in the country who also has shown a strong ability to scheme at a previous school, or a guy who hasn't been anywhere long enough to really show his recruiting chops and but who has found success using other people's players? I feel like fans often forget that hiring from the outside doesn't work 100% of the time, too, so Neal could possibly have higher upside AND lower risk.
I 100% agree that the defense needs to ascertain a fiery coach. We have a job opening. Maybe that guy comes in to coach the outside backers?
My thoughts are like this:
I don't want to lose Neal, as I don't think anyone would argue that we have one of, if not THE best defensive secondaries in the nation. With the addition of a prototypical NFL safety, (or two, Robinson? Daniels? Dunmore?) we are there. (Yes I believe Neal will find a replacement/upgrade for T-Mitch, and Dargan is ready)
That being said, I like everything I have seen from Todd Orlando, and I believe he'd say the same about not losing John Neal.
If he doesn't, he's not the coach we think he is.
But if Neal wants the job, and would begin looking elsewhere if he gets passed over, I say promote from within.
I don't envy Mark's job in making this decision. This is a tough one.
Hopefully we can get T.O. and keep Neal happy, and they'll mesh.
Kind like having our cake and eating it too!
@Dale Newton@atvinton I think it really has to be either Neal or Orlando. If Helfrich told me that i got to make the choice, I'd go with Orlando. Because of the "infusion" that he would bring. Helfrich said, and rightly so, that he couldn't be "Chip", he couldn't.
But in breaking away from the CK era, the fire went out. Helfrich's low key style seemed to take over for Kelly's fire. The identity of the Ducks seemed to be missing. So, while the stability of the coaching staff is a strong part of the success.I think Helfrich has already changed it,and it needs a new spark!